Sunday, 26 December 2010

St Stephen's Day

SAINT STEPHEN was a clerk
In King Herod’s hall,
And servéd him of bread and cloth
As every king befall.

Stephen out of kitchen came 
With boar’s head on hand,
He saw a star was fair and bright
Over Bethlehem stand.

He cast adown the boar’s head
And went into the hall:
‘I forsake thee, Herod,
And thy workés all.

‘I forsake thee, King Herod,
And thy workés all,
There is a child in Bethlehem born
Is better than we all.’—

‘What aileth thee, Stephen?
What is thee befall?
Lacketh thee either meat or drink
In King Herod’s hall?’

‘Lacketh me neither meat ne drink
In King Herod’s hall;
There is a child in Bethlehem born
Is better than we all.’—

‘What aileth thee, Stephen? 
Art wode or ’ginnest to brede?
Lacketh thee either gold or fee,
Or any rich weed?’—

‘Lacketh me neither gold ne fee
Ne none rich weed;
There is a child in Bethlehem born
Shall helpen us at our need.’—

‘That is all so sooth, Stephen,
All so sooth, I-wys,
As this capon crowé shall
That li’th here in my dish.’

That word was not so soon said,
That word in that hall,
The capon crew "Christus natus est "
Among the lordés all.

‘Risit up, my tormentors,
By two and all by one,
And leadit Stephen out of this town,
And stonit him with stone.’

Tooken they Stephen 
And stoned him in the way;
And therefore is his even
On Christe’s own day.

I am not really one for saints' days and the like, but I am rather fond of this 14th Century poem that presents an entirely unbiblical version of the legend of St Stephen. The unknown author makes the story more accessible to his readers by depicting Stephen as a medieval page in Herod's castle. However the prophetic element of the biblical story remains and Stephen's reiteration of the phrase, "there is a child in Bethlehem born/ is better than we all" shows the single minded nature of his message. The theme of Kingship is present in the poem, with the paradox that the divine King does not possess the wordly pomp that Herod has, but offers, as Stephen knows, riches that Herod cannot match. Also evident is the  idea that following Christ is a form of madness to wordly minds, Stephen is asked if he is "wode" (mad) or "ginst to brede" (rave.) Following Christ is also a renunciation, Stephen apparently has everything he needs supplied by Herod, and involves sacrifice.
It is worth noting that Christmas, far from being surrounded by sanitised images of the crib, angels and wise men, is followed by feast of martyrdom and violence, St Stephen's day being one and Holy Innocents another. Close on the joy of Christmas comes the cost of following. Stephen is the first martyr, he gives and does not count the cost and so  St Stephen's eve is, "on Christe's own day."

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Sensational Spiced Sprouts recipe

Ingredients

Onions
Coriander seeds
Cumin seeds
Brussels sprouts
Unsalted butter

Method

1. Fry 2 peeled and chopped onions in a pan over a low heat for 5-10 minutes until just tender.

2. Crush 2 teaspoons cumin seeds with 2 teaspoons coriander seeds and add to the pan.

3. Cook for a further minute, then stir in 500g Brussels sprouts, sliced, and cook for 8-10 minutes until soft.

4. Stir in 30g unsalted butter and serve for a tasty seasonal side dish.

The recipe above is from Sainsbury's. It is easy to make and has proved popular in the M household even amongst those with a known sprout aversion. We commend this recipe to you, and  are even considering having sprouts served in this fashion on the  big day.

Dreaming of a Brussel Sprout Christmas...



I nicked this amusing little ditty from The Vernacular Curate blog. I quite like brussel sprouts, although they can be an acquired taste. If you, or some members of your family, are not keen fans, try the recipe above. It is absolutely delicious!

H/T The Vernacular Curate

Saturday, 18 December 2010

God of infinite variety

It started snowing here last night and we woke up this morning to be greeted with a blanket of snow while the presents were being uwrapped (it is our son's birthday - we haven't time warped forward one week!) During breakfast more flakes started to drift down and it made me think about snow generally, especially in the light of the post last week about James Joyce's The Dead.
So, when I logged on later and had a browse around some blogs I read, I was delighted to see this beautiful image of a snowflake on the eChurch Christian blog, with some links to other blogs.
This photography of snowflakes amaze me. The designs are geometrical, echoing the laws and rules of physics that govern our world, but also so beautiful and infinitely varied, suggesting ( to me anyway) the creativity of God, his energy and abudance. If you do have faith, then the thought that such care to attention goes into even the tinest fragment of creation does make you stop and wonder and rejoice.
It also made me think that if God lavishes so much care and personal attention on each snowflake, how much more care and thought goes into the crafting of each human being, each of us unique and  individual. The images brought to mind two passages from scripture, the first from Matthew 10:30,  where we are told that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without God knowing, and that every hair on our head is numbered, the second from  Psalm139:
                    For you created my innermost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that well, My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be."
                                         
So, if you are tempted to curse the snow over the next few days, do at least think. On the one hand it can be difficult, dangerous, annoying, slushy stuff, but like life itself, behind it lies a creative energy, and a beautiful design!
You can read more about snowflakes here and see some of the infinitely varied designs.


Friday, 17 December 2010

Animals of Youtube sing "Deck the Halls"!



I don't send a lot of this sort of stuff, but I did inflict this on colleagues this morning as a little Christmas farewell. H/T What's the Story in Dalamory.

All bishops should blog!

The appointment of Nick Baines as Bishop of Bradford has been announced. Nick is also a blogging bish! I am all approval. 
If you are interested, you can find his blog, which he describes as the musings of a restless bishop here. At the moment he is (unsurprisingly) discussing his new appointment, but I did have a browse and  I was particularly interested in this post on why Christians are sometimes afraid to engage with the media.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Joseph the role model

We don't often hear the nativity story from Joseph's point of view, but the birth of Jesus and the events surrounding it must have involved huge emotional upheaval : fear, doubt, anxiety, anguish and joy must have been felt by him as well as Mary.  Joseph was chosen to parent Christ, just as Mary was, and I think it is well worth looking at what sort of man he was.
Perhaps the most revealing comment about Joseph is that he was an upright man, but not upright in the sense of wishing to condemn others. Doubtless the first news of Mary's pregnancy was an enormous blow to him - what must he have felt? Shock, disbelief, anger, grief, jealousy, humiliation all spring to mind. I think it is so telling that Joseph's main concern, in spite of all these  undoubted emotions, was for Mary's welfare. Had he wanted to take revenge, or to make a point, or to bolster up his wounded pride, then the society  he lived in, where a disgraced woman was cruelly vulnerable, would have offered him ample opportunity.

Instead Joseph seems to have quickly decided that he would  put Mary away quietly and not expose her to public disgrace. Where else did Jesus learn his tenderness for women who faced disgrace, shame and  condemnation other than from his earthly father, someone who was chosen as the kind of male  role model God had in mind?

Fortunately we do not live in a society which stones women to death, but I do not think we live in a society which particularly respects women. I do not think we live in a society which is tender towards those who find themselves in difficult situations, are vulnerable or easily singled out. You only have to watch our reality TV shows to know you only need to scratch the surface to find that contempt and the desire to ridicule and humiliate others, when society tells us we are free to do so, is alive and kicking. Moreover we do not live in a society which holds up an image to men that tenderness, gentleness and respect are strengths, too often the message they receive is that these are weaknesses.

What Joseph gave was largely unseen, he must have had his worries, doubts and private anguish. He is often an unsung hero, not really a central figure in the story. But to Mary and to Jesus, Joseph was very much centre stage, he was a key player and he was undoubtedly a bit of a hero! So, perhaps one of his messages is that our  unseen contributions are deeply valued, not by a shallow public, but by those who  really count - and by God.

That is why I think that we should think more about Joseph's story, and, like Jesus, have the humility to learn from  his example.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

How should we approach scripture?

The Washington Post is publishing a series of articles by Gene Robinson on the subject of sexuality. The first  article  looks at how we read and interpret scripture. I have to say that I read this article and it was very much in line with how I approach scripture. What I always find amazing is that some Christians contextualise, minimise or even largely ignore, certain parts of scripture, but then complain that "liberals" pick and choose when they use the same approach to texts on certain issues, homosexuality being the main one.
I shall be reading the rest of these articles with interest.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Link to Doorman Priest

A wonderful blog post in which Doorman Priest grapples with some experiences at the heart of Christmas. It starts off with a wonderful description of the horror of being subjected to the School Christmas Bazaar for yet another year.  Enjoy!

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Back to the Covenant

I have been listening to and reading the transcript of Michael Perham's speech, reproduced here on Lesley's
Blog. In it he says something to the effect that he does not agree with the Anglican Covenant, but he is going to vote for it reluctantly, firstly because if he doesn't it will weaken the hand of the Archbishop of Canterbury and secondly, that "the Covenant process keeps us talking, keeps us all in Communion through challenging times."
I am not sure that feeling sorry for Rowan Williams is really a good enough reason to vote for something as momentous as the Covenant may be. It is also clear that Michael Perham is not convinced that the Covenant process will "keep us talking" and that it will further the indaba process, he simply hopes it will.

All this week, whenever I feel down about Synod's vote on the Covenant, I think of James Jones. Thank God for him, because his abstention gives me faith that some people act on their convictions. And feeling that way about an abstention seems a bit sad!

Friday, 10 December 2010

Are Christians persecuted?



I've been reading a lot of articles on the thorny subject of whether Christians are *persecuted* in Britain. It is a subject I find frustrating because it is so often presented in limited and shallow ways and relies upon anecdotes, half truths and extreme examples.
The headline "woman is sacked for refusing to remove cross" is shocking, for example, but less so if it is explained that her employers were perfectly happy for her to wear the cross tucked under clothes, and also banned all other jewellry. Headlines that shriek about how Muslims burn poppies stoke anger in many people, but they don't take into account that the majority of Muslims do not engage in such actions any more than most Christians burn the Koran. Complaints that Islam is favoured over and above Christianity in this country present a skewed picture when tabloid newspapers run regular articles presenting Muslims in a negative light and when you are much, much more likely to be physically attacked on our streets for being a practising Muslim than for being a Christian.

And then, as always, there are the truths behind the rants. The role of Christianity has declined over the last few decades, we have become an increasingly multi cultural society and Christianity , quite rightly in my view, can no longer impose itself as the only legitimate faith in Britain. Increasingly it is not acceptable to act or speak disrespectfully to those of other faiths, or none, or to other minority groups. There is, in some people, an increasing hostility to Christianity, and there can be a perception that Christians are narrow, bigoted, irrational. Sometimes there is a grain of truth there too - but not always - and Christians too should be treated with respect and not subject to assumptions and stereotypes.

I've said before that I don't think Christians are persecuted. I do think the Christian faith has been marginalised, I do think we are often stereotyped. I think some Christians are in shock that our privileged status in society no longer exists, that we are not above the law in any respect,  that we are derided for our faith more often than we are respected for it.

It does sadden me that our culture sees faith as a threat rather than as something that can enrich society. It also saddens me that the divisions described in the clip above lead some faith groups to view each other with suspicion and hostility. Instead of complaining that Islam will soon overtake Christianity as the faith of Britain, why don't we join together, as seen at the start of this clip, to show faith as a force which can unite, to demonstrate through our actions that faith has something to offer each and every one of us?

Worse!

I did warn you that there was worse to come! I strongly suspect that this is a spoof, especially given the  name is suspiciously similar to the "amazon" twins. I did google it and found their profile on some seemingly bona fide websites though...
They look amazingly like my Aunt Flossie after she had over indulged on the starches once too often BTW.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

The sound of Christmas Angels

Here is a cover featuring two of my Aunties delighting the congregation with their heavenly mastery of an accordion at the Pentecostal Church last Christmas.
(What do you mean you don't believe I have any Norwegian aunties? Not all my relatives live in Grimsby and keep ferrets you know.)

PS: There is worse to come...

Corrie as it used to be...



I stopped watching Coronation Street some years back due to lack of time (and now I am so boring that all I do is blog) but even I may have a sneaky look at the 50th anniversary episode on tonight. A colleague sent me this wonderful clip from the early days of Corrie featuring the first appearance of Ena Sharples. It is truly wonderful, a sort of Oscar Wilde meets Alan Bennett - if I am not being too fanciful- and the timing and delivery is spot on.
I love depictions of strong Northern women, in fact a few of my  female relatives and their friends from my childhood  could  fit the Ena Sharples  mould and wouldn't have thought the questions "Are you a widder woman?" and "What's your place of worship?" at all intrusive or personal. As for the phrase, "it's very bay window down there"...well, I'll leave you to enjoy...

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

All I don't want for Christmas...

That time of year has come around again. No, not just the season of goodwill, but the chance look at all the stuff out there that you wouldn't inflict on your worst enemy. Here are two things that are not on my Christmas list:
 I think I might be able to live without the crusaders (but I do have worse up my sleeve, just wait and see.)

And this "Jesus soap on a rope" was withdrawn last year not because it is tacky, overpriced and a lurid blue colour, but due to its sacreligious nature (well go figure...)

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows



We went to see this today, but our eldest declined on the grounds that he "had homework" which I took to mean that he has grown out of watching Harry Potter films since having homework never seems to stop him doing anything else he really wants to do! I have so many memories of reading the books to the boys while they were growing up, they used to snuggle up in bed with me and take it in turns to read a page each when they were little. And they were so excited to go and see the films or any films. I suspect my fourteen year old accompanied us today largely for old times sake.
The film was good though, much darker than the others. "Harry Potter has grown up" proclaimed one of the reviews - hmmmm, he's not the only one!

Drifting

It has been over a week since I last typed the words "Anglican Covenant". I decided this week to focus on faith rather than the church and to think about the things that make my faith and my life matter and which feed me rather than draining me. I have, however, been reading about the Covenant, about how it was spoken against in Synod, and then voted for, and whether this was a loyalty vote for Rowan Williams. I have also read of how GAFCON, the very people whom the Covenant aimed to appease, have firmly rejected it. I have read a range of reactions from the view that the Communion is now dead to the suggestion that liberals, if their allegiances do not tie them solely to Anglicanism, should walk away , to the view that the GAFCONITES have perhaps been right to do what they do - leave a "bad marriage" rather than stay.

I do not feel sanguine about the Church of England. Jeffrey John sermon at Colin Slee's funeral spoke of Colin Slee's fearlessness, and this seemed moving but poignant in the face of a church that seems more and more cautious, expedient, dishonest, fearful and less and less real or relevant. I've noticed that those who are disillusioned choose from three broad options, to stay , to stay but seek some kind of "respite care" or to go. Those who go either change their allegiances to another church or invent their own self styled "anglican" church. Those who stay either do nothing or seek respite care, for example through societies such as St Hilda and St Wilfred. Liberals have tended to stay so far, although I suspect many lay people have just quietly left congregations and churches.
I do not want to walk away, although sometimes this decision is necessary, but I do not honestly feel I belong but rather that I have been drifting along recently. If the Anglican Covenant is adopted by the Church of England, I wonder if there might be a greater role for organisations such as Inclusive Church to operate as a form of "respite care" offering pastoral support and a voice for individuals and parishes that have become a part of the second tier? If the Anglican Covenant is adopted by the Church of England, when I am so opposed to it, I will immediately feel that I belong to the second tier of Anglicanism. I really feel that I belong there anyhow. Perhaps I should relax and not be afraid, knowing that Jesus would have been in the second tier and I am always in good company.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

The beauty of snow

Yes, I am glad that the white stuff is starting to disappear. The pavements ( here at least)are covered with a treacherous slush and the ground is all soggy. However there is no doubting that snow is beautiful and I was rather moved by this lovely post from the Colophon blog run by the nuns of East Hendred last Sunday, in which they liken the snow to Advent, something that descends softly and gently into our hearts and souls, silencing and transforming the world with its impossible purity.

The post made me think of other writers who have seen snow as a symbol of something beyond us, perhaps the beauty and fragility of mortality. I leave you with the ending to James Joyce's short story, The Dead, it is also beautifully written, read it and feel your "soul swoon" with Gabriel, the central character. ( And don't say we don't educate you on this blog :)

"A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Beer and Bessie

There is nothing Bessie likes more, especially in this cold wintry weather, than to take me down the pub for a companionable pint of ale.
That's why I was delighted to hear that the Horse and Jockey pub in Chorlton, South Manchester has won the Kennel Club award as 2010 most dog friendly pub. And this award is well deserved. Although Bessie and I only manage a trip there on rare occasions, she has a very good canine friend who is a regular and sings (barks?) its praises. The Horse and Jockey is not only inclusive of dogs, it also serves a lovely pint of doggie ale and this year hosted a dogs and owners Halloween party.
Last year I treated Bessie to a "bible believing dog T shirt", but this year she has requested a crate of real doggie ale.
I have no problems with this particular present, but I have warned her not to over indulge as in the picture below!

(No Bessies were harmed while making this blog post...)

Monday, 29 November 2010

Simplicity

I clicked on Rosanna's blog Considertheway this evening and read these words,
God sent Jesus to grow up in a simple family
to have simple needs
AND his message was simple.

That God knows us and God wants us to know him.

We do over complicate things, don't we? But God did not over complicate things, he just came to live among us, to speak to us in words and ways we could understand, to simply be with us.

I hope that I will be able to wonder at the simplicity of the Christmas message this Advent.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel



It's not really Advent until you hear this hymn, is it? Apologies to anyone who automatically associates Aled Jones with Songs of Praise, but he does sing it beautifully here.

A blessed Advent to everyone who reads this blog.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Forget happiness and you just might find it

David Cameron is going to measure our happiness, according to the latest reports, and this has led to some interesting reflections on whether it is possible to objectively measure or even define something which is a concept, and arguably a wholly subjective state of mind.
Having already inflicted upon you my deep thoughts on one abstract noun, namely freedom, I am going to base this blog post around the thoughts of much wiser people on the topic of happiness – or rather the much more Christian emotion of joy.

The first is from 2 Corinthians 6:4-10,
" Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

I find it hard to say how moving I find this passage. For a start it is so beautifully written and structured and the integrity of the lived experience and the message Paul has to convey literally breathes from the page. The long list gives a sense of the enormity of the problems Paul faced but also the sheer power of the faith, hope and joy that no difficulty could destroy. The parallel structures at the end convey the paradox that absolute joy is to be found in the midst of sorrow, that with faith it is possible to simultaneously have nothing and everything. Individual words in this passage are enough to blow your mind away, for example when he writes that he is “sorrowful, but always rejoicing”, it is that “always” that amazes you. Paul was often in chains, but always rejoicing, not sometimes, but always. This passage is challenging, exuberant, irrepressible. I find it inspiring and although it was written nearly two thousand years ago, each time I read it I feel it has been written for today.

Another piece I find inspiring is by written by Julian of Norwich,
" He wants us to accept our tarrying and our suffering as lightly as we are able and to count them as nothing.For the more lightly we accept them, the less importance we ascribe to them and the less pain we shall experience from them. In this blessed revelation I was truly taught that any man or woman who voluntarily chooses God may be sure that he too is chosen."This is fantastic advice from a very wise woman. Take your sufferings lightly she says, do not dwell on them and rest in the knowledge that God knows you and all your circumstances and has chosen you. As with Paul, this offers a logic and a view of how to achieve “happiness” that is alien unless you have tasted the peace and joy of faith.

Finally the key to joy and contentment is service to others. Service is central to the Christian faith, in fact service is central to achieving happiness as a full human being whether you are Christian or not. Not a lot of people know this, but Leo Tolstoy did when he wrote,

"Joy can be real only if people look upon their life as a service, and have a definite object in life outside themselves and their personal happiness."
So, if you want to find happiness, forget it. It is buried deep in the heart of other things and it isn't served up as a dish in its own right.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Proclaiming liberty

I was going to blog on Synod's affirmation of the Anglican Covenant and all the shenanigans of GAFCON. Well, you can read about them by clicking on the links if you like, but his week is National Prison’s week, a campaign to raise awareness of those in prison, their families and victims and the role that churches and people of faith can have in reaching out to all affected by crime, and I thought this was a more important topic.
The slogan of National Prison Week is “Be with me” and their text is Luke 23:32 , a reminder that Christ too was tried, found guilty and executed between two criminals. Imprisonment and freedom is a theme that runs like a life giving river through the bible. A passage that literally sends shivers down my spine is Luke 4 ; 16-21, where Christ reads in the synagogue that he has come “proclaim liberty to the captive” and then announces that his listeners have witness scripture fulfilled. These passages offer a real challenge to all of us to be liberated by our faith and to liberate others, indeed it is hard to know how anyone could be a Christian and not think that Christ’s message had relevance to those in prison – whatever form that prison takes.
Back in June this year I nearly blogged about faith and prisons after reading this article by Naomi Phillips at The Guardian Comment is Free. Phillips argues that prisons should be secular zones and faith has no role in them. I can understand where Phillips reservations, but I don’t agree with her. It is true that prisoners are particularly vulnerable perhaps to proselytizing, but I strongly believe in the power of the cross to transform lives in all situations no matter how desperate. The Christian message is relevant to anyone who has been condemned, who may feel written off , because it offers a new start, the slate is wiped clean and sins are forgiven. It is also non discriminatory , or should be, redemption is available to all, it is not dependent on intelligence, class, wealth, race, education, background, social status, or your previous track record. In fact, all the things we commonly use to define worth and value, and which we use to define our own worth and value become irrelevant in the light of the cross.
There is some debate over the statistics and claims made for the redemptive power of faith in the lives of former offenders. Some organisations, such as Kainos, which last year made a bid to set up the first purely faith based prison in Cornwall , boast that their interventions slash reoffending rates to 13% against the average of 60%.These claims have however been disputed by The National Secular Society.
I have to admit that my knowledge in this area is shaky – and I am willing to hear from anyone who knows more. I believe that the possibility of redemption – not just social but spiritual- is badly needed in prisons. We are told that in Christ we are a new creation. What could be more relevant to the prisoner than that promise, bought by one who was degraded and executed in order to offer dignity and life to all no matter who they are or what they have done?

Monday, 22 November 2010

Vogon alert



Researchers have discovered the alien species that is most likely to be taking over the Church of England.

BTW has anyone ever noticed the strange flying saucer shaped arrangement of the Synod chamber?

OK, I know that's enough!

Sunday, 21 November 2010

No new developments in Archbishop abduction horror

Further to the post below, I have unearthed this site Abduct Anon? It has a helpful question and answer format, for example : Q: Am I going crazy? A: No, you are not crazy, many people have been abducted by aliens.

Perhaps the Archbishop might benefit from Abduct Anon.

Oh, I forgot. Latest reports suggest they've still got him...

Newsflash:Archbishop abducted by aliens...




Sorry, I need a little light relief and I couldn't resist...

What Gene Robinson says is that people who studied and trained under Rowan Williams say that his views and approach seem to have changed so much that it is as though, "he has been abducted by aliens and they've left in his place someone who just looks like him, but they don't recognise."
Hang on...didn't we recently have the director for Unity, Faith and Order (UFO) speaking up for the Anglican Covenant?


Why does the Anglican Communion have a UFO director anyway? Hmm... I feel a conspiracy theory coming on and it is all starting to make a lot more sense.

Worth listening to this interview, if you can be bothered! (The alien bit is at about 3 mins 40 secs!)

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Covenant cont...

For those of you following events to do with the Covenant, here are two potentially interesting articles, a strong and comprehensive defence from Andrew Goddard (no, I don't agree with him, but he puts forward a reasoned case and certainly knows his stuff) and another piece by Chris Sugden which condemns the Covenant as "weak" and "substituting conviction for truth."

Ah well, even the conservatives can't agree.

This is a house divided against itself (complete the saying...)

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Remembrance

I went to a church service with Kev today for the first time since last Christmas/ New Year. Kev currently classifies himself as "almost an agnostic" and saves church for special occasions. One of my sons is also agnostic, the other is a passionate atheist whose bookshelf boasts a number of works by Dawkins and Hitchens.

Twelve years ago, when we moved to this area, things were very different. The boys both attended a faith school and we worshipped as a whole family every Sunday. I remembered this today because the church we went to was the one we all attended back in those days, Kev maintains some links with it and he is still responsible for sending out cards to the next of kin at funerals. He used to offer a "listening service" for anyone who would welcome contact with a church member following bereavement.

Because of this, the vicar asks him every year to attend the memorial service and to read out the names of those whose funerals have taken place at the church during the last year. I know Kev values this role, the service draws to the church many who are not regular attenders but who wish to remember, pay tribute to, possibly pray for loved ones who have died.

I often go along, as much as anything to support Kev, who has been very closely touched by bereavement in his life and can find such services difficult as well as meaningful. The service was moving, with the hymns, readings, candles and so many people visibly affected. It made me think of the importance of remembering the past and remembering the dead, whether lost through war or other circumstances, but also the importance of valuing the life and love that we have here and now, and not taking it for granted.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Anglican Covenant fudge (please heed warnings)

Ingredients

A large quantity of extreme bitterness.
A variety of cultures and theologies .
Several demands for action .
Genuine concern about impaired relationships and a desire to find real solutions.
¾ of a cup of language about our “unity and common life.”
¼ of a cup of more ominous language about “relational consequences.”
Love and grace.
Prayer.


Method

1. Following the ordination of a gay bishop, place the large quantity of extreme bitterness in a bowl.
2. Add the mix of different cultures and theologies – be careful, it is extremely acid, volatile and potentially explosive. Try not to get your fingers burnt.
3. Add the demands to “do something”. The mixture may seethe, fizz and give off steam – try not to choke.
4. The next step is to try to neutralise the bitterness, this is essential if you are to produce a successful Anglican Covenant.
5. Take the genuine concerns about impaired relationship and desire for real solutions and stir very carefully into the seething mass with a lot of prayer
6. Now add the ¾ cup of language about unity and common life with ¼ cup of more ominous language about relational consequences while keeping your fingers crossed as the mixture reacts.
7. Realise that what you wanted to make was a covenant, and the basis of this is love, grace and mercy.
8. Look for the love, grace and mercy – realise you simply don’t have enough to hand.
9. Put the fudge through several readings, committees and submit to Synod anyway.
10. Add some more prayer, hope for a miracle.

Warning: Making this fudge is a thankless task. It requires skill, luck or a miracle. Few will like it, some won’t buy it. We cannot guarantee whether it will be tasteless, insipid, bitter or toxic. It may cause further discord, suspicion, nausea, indigestion and disaffection. It might hit the spot or it might just disintegrate.

HAPPY BAKING!

Thursday, 28 October 2010

The Lakes

We headed up to the Lake District on Tuesday in the pouring rain. The weather was truly awful! Forget lakes and mountains, low cloud, driving rain and poor visibility put paid to that. We stopped off at Sizergh Castle, which was absolutely packed with damp people who might otherwise been walking on the fells. It really was standing room only, but we fought our way through and decided to give the National Trust tea room- crammed with people in raincoats eating butternut squash soup - a miss. As I was explaining to someone, the place we were staying at fortunately has a spa and fitness centre attached. After the gym, sauna and swim, we headed out to a local pub, which is a proper old fashioned type pub, with real ale and a fire (although I haven't quite forgiven them for introducing deep fried milky way and ice cream onto the menu last year.) Yesterday was much brighter and we managed a scenic ride and short walk in the morning. Later we visited Brantwood, John Ruskin's house. Matthew is very keen on art and actually showed what might have been described a glimmer of interest in Ruskin's paintings and gardens. We spent quite a while in the house and longer in the gardens, where we took some pictures. Pictured below is the Zig-Zaggy , a garden which is meant to represent the journey of the soul through purgatory - don't ask me, I never understood those weird inventions, sorry doctrines, of the Roman Catholic Church. Anyhow, you can read it all on this helpful poster. After we had escaped through purgatory, we went to the tea room, where people without raincoats were eating bowls of butternut squash soup...
We would really have liked to go for a walk this morning, but Matthew talked us into the gym and swim option again. Just as well really, it had been quite bright but the clouds soon threatened and we came home the way we set off - in the driving rain. A description of purgatory above,and the purgatorial garden below (looks nice, doesn't it?)


We returned home to find that our elder son(whom we had daringly/ trustingly/ rashly left behind on his own) had survived and so had the house. Result.

Monday, 25 October 2010

CCFON- Stop and think campaign

Wednesday will see the forty third anniversary of the Abortion Act, which gave women access to legal abortions. Christian Concern for our Nation is marking this day with adverts on London buses urging people to “Stop and think”, other events, including a prayer vigil are being planned.
I hesitated to blog on this issue as it is one which I find so harrowing and on which I have such mixed feelings. I think that it is a terrible thing to end the life of an unborn child; equally I think it is a terrible thing to compel a woman to give birth to a child against her wishes. I sometimes wish all moral issues were black and white, but so often they are not, they are grey areas, full of complexity and also full of human pain. There are of course those who wish to reduce such matters to a simple case of black and white, but that is another issue.
A teacher friend once told me about a student in her class who was bleeding heavily as a result of a termination and was frightened that she was haemorrhaging. She had been accompanied to the clinic by another student in the class. The first student had kept the termination from her parents, she had told them she was staying the night at her friend’s house. A medical examination reassured the girl that she was not in danger, she was advised to go home and rest, but would not do so for fear of discovery. Neither girl could be persuaded to confide in a parent; both girls were in a state of absolute terror.
I think this is a tragic, harrowing story. It gives a glimpse of the pain, terror, fear, guilt and shame surrounding the issue of unwanted pregnancy and abortion, and, although it was told to me some twenty years ago, I guess such scenarios do still occur – abortion is still taboo, women do not discuss it openly, even among themselves. Those who are pro life can tell horrific stories of what abortion involves, but there are also horror stories of botched back street abortions and I for one would not want to return to those days.
I can understand that the subject of abortion raises strong feelings, it does for me. However, I do not understand the mindset of anyone who can judge others when they have never been in that situation themselves. I can understand that the slogan of this campaign is “Stop and think” because the high number of terminations carried out does give grounds for grave reflection, but at the same time I worry that the implication might be that women who terminate do not “stop and think.”
Perhaps there are women who end a pregnancy with little thought or concern, but I suspect that there are many more for whom it is a source of intense anguish and one of the most painful, if not the most painful decision they will ever face. Someone once said to me that abortions are often carried out for trivial reasons; I can understand it might seem that way, but carrying a baby, giving birth and supporting a child for eighteen years is itself not a trivial matter either.

I wish I had an easy answer or conclusion to this blog post, but I don’t. I wish I could resolve the moral dilemmas, but I can’t. The truly awful numbers of abortions performed should make us stop and think, but behind those statistics there are many different stories; the fact that we never can and never will know all those stories should also make us stop and think.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Women's Hour article

Charges against two women who protested outside an abortion clinic are to be dropped. The issues around the case were debated on Radio 4, and can be heard below:
Abortion Protest Debate, featuring Andrea Minichiello Williams

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Beer and a bible, prayer and a pint

Phil Ritchie in his Treehouse Blog writes about a new initiative he is organising called a beer and the bible (possibly followed by the equally alliterative prayer and a pint?) Timed to coincide with bible Sunday, tomorrow, Phil aims to encourage us all take bible study out to the pub, a venue which is often more popular than the local church.
In the light of the post below, the beer and bible initiative did bring to mind a William Blake poem in which the eponymous little vagabond suggests that the church might do worse than emulate the ale house. It begins,

"Oh Mother, Oh Mother, the Church is cold
But the ale house is healthy and pleasant and warm."

Fair point that, you have to admit? The little vagabond continues to outline the advantages of a session down the pub over a stint of bible bashing with your bum on a cold seat,

"But if at the Church they would give us some ale
And a pleasant fire our souls to regale
We'd sing and we'd pray the livelong day
And never once wish from the Church to stray."

I think this could just be the way to bring in the punters - but remember that Blake thought of it first!
I hope Phil Ritchie's venture is successful - that's what I call fresh expressions!

Thursday, 21 October 2010

How many layers do you want on that?

One has to feel a pang of sympathy for Rowan Williams in the midst of all the squabbling and division. He is in India at the moment (who can blame him) and gave an interview in which he said that the Anglican Communion might have to become multi-tiered (it seems we're a step further on from the two track communion he was once describing.)

"I don't at all like, or want to encourage, the idea of a multi-tier organisation. But that would, in my mind, be preferable to complete chaos and fragmentation. It's about agreeing what we could do together."

In other words, if the Anglican Communion was a cake, it would be a lot better if it looked like this:

than like this:

But if we are going to manage to be a many tiered communion, we might just need something... something to bind the layers together. Now what could that be?

(Hint: the answer is NOT "an Anglican Covenant"!)

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Doubts and deliberations

There seems to be some level of confusion as to whether the composition of the new Synod is likely to favour traditionalists and be prejudicial to the cause of groups such as WATCH, who are in favour of a code of practice as provision for those opposed to women's ministry.

We always knew that the composition of this Synod would be crucial, so it is hardly surprising that we are seeing anxiety and speculation. I remember that the different sides were recruiting supporters in July. I had to explain to one or two people that a. my job does not allow me to have the time off that is required and b. I was present at Synod as an exhibitor, but I am not currently an official member of the Church of England, not being on any electoral roll.

Now the reports have been published and there are claims of a recruitment of evangelicals to the new synod ensuring that 66% of the clergy, and almost 36% of the laity would vote against legislation if all that was offered was a code of practice. ( if you remember, the legislation in favour of greater provisions for those opposed to women bishops was only narrowly defeated in the House of Clergy in July.) However, this press statement from WATCH seems to suggest that the situation is not so clear cut, although how far this may be wishful thinking is yet unclear.
Damian Thompson suggests that the Bishop of Fulham's departure for Rome may be premature; I think not as I suspect that some opposed are leaving for the Ordinariate because they cannot accept women bishops at any price.
Meanwhile, Rod Thomas of Reform, has released this document describing the "increasingly uncertain" future of those opposed to women's ministry. He seems to give further credence to the likelihood that there will be an evangelical equivalent to the Anglo Catholic society St Wilfred and St Hilda, obviously for those opposed to women bishops on the grounds of male headship rather than sacramental assurance. Julian Mann (Cranmer's Curate) writes of the society having as its basis a group of about twenty Gafcon-supporting churches and saying this could be set up before 2012. Mann also says that they would bring in some missionary bishops to show that the new society means business. It looks like they are going to attempt that manly thrust after all!

Finally, my attention was particularly caught by this sentence in the Reform document,

"We must encourage people to keep offering themselves for the ordained ministry for as long as it is possible."
Presumably by "people" Reform actually means "men"? I am assuming they do and that this was an error, as otherwise the implication would be that Reform do not consider women to be "people"?

I hope they are not going to go back to the days of debate about whether women have souls...

Christina Rees



Christina Rees discusses some of the recent development in the movement towards the admission of women to the Episcopate.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Please pray...

">Church Mouse informs me that Cranmer ( the blogger, the other one is dead) hopes that Cliff Richard's song "Little Town" makes it as a Christmas number one this year. With memories of the truly awful Millennium Prayer playing in my mind I reluctantly typed "Little Town" in to youtube. I was not sanguine , but after only about forty seconds I switched it off. I have to say that I loathe this song , yes, it might grow on me, but I don't want it to. Please pray that nobody buys it, because if I have to lisen to this over Christmas, or worse still I find myself humming it by the 22nd December, I may just cancel the whole event.

I may just cancel the whole event anyhow.

Bah humbug...and it isn't even November yet.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

How do you wear yours?

I love this post from Benny Hazelhurst's blog, which takes a look at the phenomenon of Christian bumper stickers. I have to admit that I do not advertise or visit my views upon all and sundry on the back window of my car, on T shirts, badges, mugs or key fobs. A blog does it quite nicely instead.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Time for action (yawn...)

According to John Richardson in his Ugley Vicar blog, the evangelical organisation known as Reform is in trouble and needs a good shake up at its annual meeting, which is next week or something (couldn't be bothered to read it all.) For a variety of reasons, which I am too tired to explain, Reform has failed to deliver a manly thrust in its bid to stop the monstrous tyranny of women in the Church of England.

In short, Reform has not managed to reform anything at all and needs to be reformed, or something like that. It may also relate to something Chris Sugden has set up, a society for evangelicals called after St. Augustine. Naming the society after this macho saint seems to me a lot more auspicious than calling it St Wilf and St Winnifred - or whatever the Roman Catholic / Anglo Catholic/ do-they-know-what- they-are- anymore one is called. There are two St Augustines, St Augustine of Hippo was allegedly a bit of a goer and associated with a group of young men who liked to boast of their exploits with women. He had a lover for thirteen years and even managed to get her up the duff- honestly, read Wiki. He is also the patron saint of brewers due to his love of a couple of pints with the lads down the pub. The other St. Augustine was the first Archbishop of Canterbury... enough said then. Apparently, St Winnifred, or Hilda, or whatever her name was, was the patron saint of feisty women. Well, Reform aren't going to make that mistake, they know that women are supposed to submit! The picture of St Augustine has a serious beard, and doesn't look like a wilf.

Now perhaps they can all show us what they're made of and stop fannying around like a bunch of girls.
I'll drink to that!

Finding new homes and going new places..

A few announcements this morning have caught my eye. The first is that Bishop John Broadhurst has resigned and is going to join the Ordinariate. This really should come as no great surprise given his long standing involvement in Forward in Faith. Full marks, by the way, to anyone who can explain to me why FIF apparently is not- and presumably never has been- an Anglican organisation, and if so why we should have listened to all those speeches from its members in Synod about changes to the church to which they belong?

The second announcement is that a parish in Kent is to become the first Ordinariate parish. I, for one, will be interested to watch how this develops and pans out. There are key questions about whether those joining the Ordinariate will still remain loosely within the Anglican fold and whether they will be allowed to keep their properties and buildings. I confess that I do not know who will decide these matter and how, or indeed how long such matters will take to resolve. I will say that although I find it incomprehensible that anyone sees fit to exclude women from full ministry for any reason, theological or otherwise, I do hope that there will be a degree of generosity. I do not want to see squabbles over land and property, I do not think the numbers will warrant the conflict involved, and I think it neither very Christian, nor British to engage in such action. (Come on, chaps...)

And finally Bishop Nazir Ali, never a particular favorite of mine, has upped and gone to help out dissenting churches in South Carolina. He will join the diocese as Visiting Bishop for Global Anglican Relations( about fourth paragraph down.) I will refrain from too much comment on this, other than to say that he did announce that he was resigning in order to help persecuted Christians around the world, and there is a class of Christian that thinks that being infiltrated by gay people constitutes persecution... To be fair, his work there will only be part time, so maybe he will spend the rest of his time helping those who actually do face daily threat, violence and persecution because of their faith?

It still looks to me like a case of moving heaven and earth to ensure "no women, no gays."

Blog-U-Like

It has been a really busy week, and although I have made it to the gym twice, I have simply not found the time or inspiration to blog. I have even struggled to find the time to read or comment on other blogs, rare for me as I am a fairly keen reader of other blogs with favourites that range from the well known, widely read, such as OCICBW and Church Mouse to blogs that really are more personal, sometimes written by friends, or by individuals who have started to comment on my blog, thus letting me get to make a new cyber acquaintance. Examples include Freya’s, What’s the Story in Dalamory, Stephen’s The Problem with Religion and the wonderful Cantos of Mutabilitie, with its wonderful discourse on art and literature.

One of the problems I have with making a blog list is that the blogs I read can vary over time. It is frustrating to discover a favourite blog only to find the author is not as keen on it as you are and either stops blogging altogether or starts to post so infrequently that you forget their blog actually exists! Blog reading is also dynamic rather than static; I will have a spate of discovering new blogs, and sometimes the number of blogs I am reading becomes unmanageable. At the same time, certain blogs do have a long shelf life, especially if you get to know the people writing them. I have certain blogs that I check practically every day, Thinking Anglicans, for example, because of its comprehensive coverage of everything to do with the Church of England, Church Mouse for its sensible, moderate comment on a wide range of Anglican news stories, Lesley’s blog because I love it and the ideas and thoughts are so varied and touch on topics I care about and interest me.
I also have certain blogs that I read when wanting to understand different perspective on a story – for example Anglo Catholic, evangelical, fundamentalist or even atheist or agnostic blogs. For example I enjoy reading Re-vise Re-form for an evangelical perspective that is pro women’s ministry. Sometime I like to read on other related issues, Islamophobia blog when something about banning the veil in the news. One of my favourites is Heresy Corner, not because I always agree, but because it can be interesting and topical - and I have been known to argue my corner with the Ugley Vicar! I also have certain blogs that I read because they feed me spiritually, Bosco Peter’s Liturgy often does this and the Colophon Monastery blog is a haven of good thoughts!
The other day I counted the blogs listed in my “favourites” and found they numbered seventy four and the list is showing no signs of reducing. I hope you will find the ones listed here are worth reading.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Sunday evening prayer

In peace we will lie down and sleep;
For you alone, Lord, make us dwell in safety.
Abide with us, Lord Jesus,
For the night is at hand and the day is now past.
As the night watch looks for the morning,
So do we look for you, O Christ.
Come with the dawning of the day
And make yourself known in the breaking of bread.
The Lord bless us and watch over us;
the Lord make his face shine upon us and be gracious to us;
the Lord look kindly on us and give us peace.

Bessie and broccoli

I have had a bit of a strange weekend, most of it has been wiped out by a virus or exhaustion (not sure which), but this afternoon I felt a bit better, and I took Bessie out for a slightly less strenuous version of our customary weekend trek.
It is important that Bessie is exercised as she is currently under strict vet's orders to lose weight. Bessie seems to suffer from a propensity to gain weight easily. When we first took her home, she weighed a whole pound more than the other puppies in her litter, and has always been ... sturdy. The fact that we might be in denial about the fact that she has turned into a bit of a butterball was brought home on a recent walk when a small child greeted her with the words, "Hello, little fat doggie." A trip to the vet confirmed the worst - it was time for a diet.

The vet recommended that we give her no scraps or extras, walk her vigorously, cut her portions down and bulk up her food with plenty of vegetables. Bessie is not exactly impressed with our austerity measures, and the picture above shows her response to vegetables - pick them up and chuck them out of the bowl, especially broccoli, which she seems to consider inedible.
I had considered whether Bessie is a supertaster, but this weekend the hunger pangs must have reached a new level. After throwing her broccoli out in disdain, wolfing her food and licking the bowl all around the kitchen, she did the unheard of. She returned to the broccoli and ate it.
Times must be hard!

Friday, 8 October 2010

The children of man



Given the post below, I thought Dicken's depiction of want and ignorance as suffering children in A Christmas Carol might be relevant.

The undeserving child

The recent announcements about the capping of child benefit and the slashing of allowances to dissuade benefit-scroungers- plus -sprogs has caused quite a lot of heat, and not surprisingly as it touches on several emotive areas. Many British people feel outrage at the idea of people who produce a large number of offspring and then expect "the tax payer" to fund them for doing absolutely nothing other than bringing up said offspring to be unruly and as unemployable as they are. At the same time, most of us are aware that many who turn up in the dole queue do not fit this stereotype, they are simply people who are willing to work and have lost a job. At the back of our minds is the thought, "what if that happened to me?" and there is nothing like smelling the fire in your own kitchen, particularly in times of hardship, to suddenly make us all hesitate...

Another image that should make us hesitate is that of the impoverished child. As has been pointed out, there is no such thing as an undeserving child. When poverty knocks, it is often children who are the victims, not just in lack of food and material goods, but potentially as those who bear the brunt of increased tension. When parents are under intolerable stress, children are more likely to be neglected or abused.

These are thoughts that tug at my heart strings in this economic climate. When I heard some of the pronouncements of the coalition goverment this morning on the radio, I got this vivid and chilling image of children going to school with no shoes, without having had a meal, or without a coat in winter. I know Thatcher spoke of Victorian values, but will we see a return to raggamuffins and workhouses? Moments later I heard of outrage about bonuses for bankers, and someone asked why there is not so much talk about the undeserving rich- perhaps this is because we feel that they are out of our reach? Like the parent who goes home and hits a child, we vent our spleen on those who are vulnerable and not insulated against our hatred and contempt?

This is emotive, arguably irrational stuff, I know -and I do not like the idea of benefit scroungers any more than any of the rest of us. But I do know that Christ was unequivocal on the need to care for the poor and not to hoard riches to ourselves and that he also said that it was better to have a millstone around our necks than cause a child to stumble.

I wonder what that might have to say to us today as we try to resolve these issues with wisdom, justice and humanity?

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Southwark appointment

Congratulations are due to Christopher Chessun, the newly appointed Bishop of Southwark. I am sure he is very amply qualified for this post, and an excellent choice. I hope the wounds caused by the fact that Jeffrey John's name was reportedly put forward and then vetoed will not mar the sense of celebration over this appointment.
Colin Coward in this post on the Changing Attitude blog has written about an apparently not -very- well -publicised change in the way the Church of England appoints bishops. His point is that is unlikely to get any easier for gay priests and bishops, or at least for openly gay priests and bishops to be appointed.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Which planet are they on?

We all know the Anglican Communion is in a pretty dire state and that we are beset with divisions and conflicts (apparently over the issue of homosexuality, although some say this is just the presenting issue.) We have seen some monumentally unchristian behaviour, ranging from outright cruelty to cowardly hypocrisy. There has been a lot of petty and uncharitable behaviour, but David Anderson seems to have taken this to a new level. In his advice to those considering absenting themselves from the Primates meeting in Ireland he suggests that they do attend but that they vote Jefferts Schori off the island, or that they go into a room and stop her coming in! I have this bizarre image of a group of supposedly Christian divines leaning against a door. "You can't come in", they say, "we don't like you, so there."

I really have met four year olds who are capable of more grown up behaviour. I was torn between embarrassment and amusement when I read it. If, as is the case for me, you have great respect for many individuals within the church, but have almost entirely lost faith in the institution as a whole, it does have some comic potential.

One thing Anderson said did ring true. He wrote that Rowan Williams is not on the same page as he is. Well, that is for sure! The question is whether they even on the same planet! I would not like to be Rowan Williams at the Primates meeting in January. Unfortunately he has gone down the road of trying to appease those who are not amenable to reason, will only accept things on their own terms, and who will throw tantrums (quite literally) when others differ from them.

If you will appease the crazies, don't be surprised when you find that the lunatics are running the asylum.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Dr. Faustus

We went with friends to see Dr. Faustus last night at the Manchester Royal Exchange.
It was an excellent production, with Patrick O'Kane brilliantly cast as a tortured but inspired Faustus. Faustus has been described as a "Renaissance man who had to pay the medieval price for being one", and I don't think I was too fanciful in seeing in the play our current day conflicts between religion and science. Faustus thirsts for power, but more than that he craves knowledge. He is enquiring, challenging and contentious in his quest to truly know; so much so that he rejects the scriptures, and sees a circular element in theology, as though it is a closed loop (hmmmm...)

I am full of admiration for just how well many plays are staged these days. The stage craft was superb with excellent lighting, sound and delivery. The use of zombie like demons (see picture) was very effective, even though Kev said his overall impression was Harry-Potter-meets-Pirates- of-the-Caribbean. The play was three hours long, but even after an exhausting week I was enthralled throughout.
We had a devil of a time!

Friday, 24 September 2010

Father Ted



Just a little something in keeping with the theme of priests and ordination.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Vicars - a bit up themselves?

Excuse the expression! I really do spend too much time with teenagers, both at work and at home... For those among you uninitiated in youth dialect, "up yourself" roughly translates as "self obsessed" or having a strong sense of your own importance. Stephen from, The Problem with Religion, responded to my post on ordination by suggesting that many vicars do have a misplaced sense of themselves as being in some way "special", perhaps above the ordinary run of humanity by virtue of their priesthood.

I must admit that I have met some vicars for whom I could say that this was true, but the thing that I notice most about the vicars I have actually got to know is how ordinary they are. I don't think vicars are more prudish, less sinful, more easily shocked or in any way different from the common run of humanity. They also share exactly the same failings and weaknesses and have all the problems and difficulties that beset everyone, including problems with their relationships, children, addictions, depression and doubts about their faith. In my experience many vicars hate the way that they are treated as a different class of human being the moment they start wearing a dog collar. But maybe I've just been lucky...

If you are not a vicar, I wonder how you see vicars? I am afraid I very much believe in the priesthood of all believers, I see vicars as just ordinary punters like the rest of us, they just happen to have been called to serve in the church, as opposed to in secular life. It's really not their fault! Having said this, I do sometimes meet priests in whom I sense a depth of holiness, but this quality is not confined to priests and vicars.

I do sometime wonder how vicars cope with certain aspects of their jobs. I would hate to have to decide whether I would marry a certain couple ( say in the case of divorce and remarriage.) I don't really see why it would be any of my business to make a decision that judged that relationship. I don't frankly see why it is the business of anyone, vicar or not (you can see I just wouldn't "work" in the church!) I would also hate to have to deal with any questions about suffering, especially from anyone who had been through something I hadn't. I would so hate to utter some platitude. I'd also be conscious that if I opened my mouth and caused hurt and pain by saying the wrong thing, some people might think that my view somehow reflected God's, instead of realising it was just me and that, not being God, I just screw up and get it wrong!

I have met one or two vicars, even the nice ones, who think that when confronted with people's problems or difficulties they need to come up with solutions instead of listening. I personally rarely find other people's solutions to my difficulties very helpful, especially if they have never been in my position and have not really thought, or prayed, or lived through that experience. This is particularly true of sensitive areas, such as sexual abuse, where people sometimes turn to a priest who is just not equipped to offer appropriate advice. I don't generally look to a priest or vicar for advice on how to live my life in terms of right or wrong. I consult God and my conscience. I really believe the church should aim to draw people to God, and only tell people how to live their lives if and when they are asked.

I have a fairly positive perspective on vicars, ( which does kind of beg the question of why I go through churches like some people go through whisky...) Perhaps I owe my ability to be forgiving of the clergy to my dad, who was a vicar, and a pretty cool one in my opinion. Dad was never vicarish in his parenting, in fact one of his favourite saying was, "Oh well, let's save the sermons for Sunday"- and actually the sermons on Sunday were never lectures, they just really made you think, but they never made you think badly of yourself, or anyone else.

That's how it should be.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Secularism - friend or foe?

Stephen, from The Problem with Religion, posted this comment on my last post about the Pope's visit.

"There is a widely held belief, particularly on the part of those with a religious inclination, that ‘secularism’ is a terrible enemy and that ‘faith’ and belief will make for a better society. Yet, as I keep boring people by saying, when the churches were fuller and Bible better known in the days of the pre-welfare state, society was NOT utopian – far from it. Indeed, our modern, secular society is far, far more egalitarian, caring, fairer and equitable than when religion was in a position of considerable social power. Hence care is needed when harping on about the Pope’s message; it seems evident to me that the Pope is, like many of our religiously inclined brethren, creating a past that never existed... But isn’t that the role of religion or any ideology?"
I have to admit that, although I would like to live in a society where faith is valued and respected as part of our diversity, I would hate to live in a theocracy, or a society where any religious institution had enormous sway. If the society we live in is guilty of "aggression" in its secularism, I am convinced it is preferable to any society that is "aggressive" in its religiosity.
I don't like the mix of religion and power, that is why at the end of my last post I said that I do not particularly see God as occupying church-as-institution (including the Church of England!)but as occupying the human heart. Perhaps this is somewhat naive, but then I frequently think that the institutions of religion just get God so wrong - so possibly it is more to do with arrogance!
If you are a christian, are you one who also prefers to live in a secular ( but faith valuing) society? And is such a society a contradiction in terms?

Friday, 17 September 2010

The sound of silence

A blog that I go back to time and time again is Lesley's blog, perhaps because she deals with so many issues that come close to my own thoughts and experiences, and so often articulates them much better than I can. I am often amazed by her courage in talking about painful and personal experiences in a way that I'm not sure I could. The above post on sexual abuse is no exception, like myself Lesley has survived childhood sexual abuse and here she writes about the problem of being open about this.

People who have been abused have spent their whole childhood believing that the one thing they must never do is to tell anyone. The abuser relies on their sense of guilt and shame, the child's sense of how taboo this matter is and their fear that to tell will unleash anger, hostility, disbelief, denial, rejection, stigma and even blame. They can barely admit it to themselves. The child fears that the adults around them simply will not cope ( and how frightening is that for a child?) Someone once asked me why didn't I *simply* speak out? I answered that I kept silent so that everything would be OK and nobody would go to prison. Most victims of abuse do this, they do not realise that everything will NOT be OK and that their abuser may not go to prison - but they will.
The painful dilemma of whether to speak out or keep silent continues into adult life. Survivors fear that those they tell will see them as attention seeking, lacking appropriate boundaries, that they will label them as victims, as damaged and unstable, that they will be shocked, disgusted, too deeply affected; that they will not be able to cope. At the same time, the feeling that something that is not your fault is too taboo to be told can breed anger, resentment, isolation , shame. You feel it is not acceptable to tell people, and it takes you right back to being that silenced child.
It is interesting that Lesley's post was entitled "coming out about sexual abuse" because the experience of LGBT people, especially those in the church who cannot "come out" is very similar. Take every one of those emotions, guilt, shame, a fear of rejection, of telling a truth that others will not cope with, and they apply to those who are silenced by the "don't ask, don't tell" policy of the church, one of the reasons why I have come to see that unwritten policy as abusive. It is a policy designed for the convenience of the church, not really one that helps those who are silenced and forced to hide their truth.
I do not believe that Jesus silenced anyone. He may well have discussed everyday topics and ordinary things, but I do not believe he treated anyone as beyond the pale, or felt that they should hide their difficult stories or situations.
I suspect Jesus heard a lot of the stories of those who had been abused, seeing as he spent his time with prostitutes he might well have been privy to the painful stories of those who had faced sexual abuse and had troubled lives. No wonder he told his hearers that it is better to have a millstone around the neck and be cast into the ocean than to cause a child to stumble; Jesus was no stranger to outrage, or to truth telling.
These issues are particularly pertinent given the visit of the Pope. This visit of a spiritual father and authority figure has been overshadowed by the horror, not only of abuse, but also of the further abuse of silencing. Let us hope that those who for so long have been shamed and silenced will be allowed to speak with dignity and freedom, and that their stories will truly be heard.