Sunday, 31 January 2010

Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early
And put his clothes on in the blueback cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?

by Robert Hayden

This poem, fitting for a chilly Sunday in winter, by contemporary American poet, Robert Hayden, appeals to me with its honesty and the double lens of child and adult looking back. Parents play such a key role in our lives and in retrospect can appear in a whole new light. In this poem, the child’s fears of the “chronic angers of that house” are not minimised and we feel from the “indifferent speech” that there is a lack of warmth between father and son. Yet the adult, looking back, sees the “labour” of the adult who had “driven out the cold “ and achieves an understanding that there was “love” but a love concealed in “austere and lonely offices” that the child could not recognise. What moves me most is that the sense of failure and guilt and forgiveness and tenderness sit side by side in this poem.

More of that white stuff

I was not too thrilled this morning to draw the blinds and find that the snow had fallen and was still falling on Macclesfield. Yes, it is beautiful, but I do not want a repeat of the slithery, white knuckle ride to work that I experienced only a few weeks ago, nor of having to get up fifteen minutes earlier to defrost my car. There was nothing on the news, of course, it is only if they get a few flakes in London that there is suddenly a national emergency.

It is all going to thaw tomorrow with predicted temperatures of 4 degrees, or so one optimist at church told me this morning, so I did take these photos while trudging back over the fields , just as a momento.
(The top is of the estate taken from the school ground and the one above is of the playing field behind the leisure centre.)

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Prayer for the New Year

God of surprises,
You constantly refuse to be giftwrapped into a box,
And are always calling us on to new places and challenges.
Be with us at the times of change,
At the moments of expectancy and departure.
Be with us every time we are called to go against society’s expectations
And speak out your message of truth and justice.
Be with us as we move into the New Year,
Be with us, and give us peace.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Blessed are the poor?

According to a recent survey, the British are becoming more liberal – but only in some ways. While attitudes to living together and to homosexuality are much more accepting, our hostility to the poor in our society has increased. Moreover, another study just published reveals the gap between the richest and poorest in our society is greater than at any time since the Second World War. I think most of us are aware of , and maybe share , these prejudices ; casual and contemptuous references to "chavs" among young people underline the fact that becoming more liberal does not necessarily mean we are more caring. Do we lose our prejudices, or do we just find another target for our prejudice, dislike and the frisson we can feel when we consider ourselves superior to others?
For Christians the news that we feel little shame about our prejudice against the poor should give grave cause for concern. The bible is full of fairly dire warnings against wealth and our tendency to respect those who possess it over those who do not.
In Luke we are told that the poor are blessed–“for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs”, although there is some debate as to whether "the poor" in Luke really refers to the economically impoverished or more to a state of mind, as in Matthew. What is clear is that these definitions of what it is to be blessed fly in the face of worldly wisdom and they do really challenge us. What I think is most challenging about the Beatitudes is not just the “blessed are the...” parts but the rewards that we are told will be given to those such as the poor and meek.
I particularly like the depiction of the Sermon on the Mount in Monty Python’s Life of Brian and the fantastic line, “Oh, that's nice, the meek are going to get something. I am glad, cos they do have a hell of a time – the meek.” This patronising, sentimental attitude does of course miss the point; what the meek and the poor are going to inherit is not a little something to make it up to them, but the heart’s desire of the rich and powerful – to rule over the earth and gain an everlasting Kingdom.
Many of us would rightly hesitate to say that the poor are “blessed”- at least in this world - as this can seem trite in the face of the detrimental effects of poverty to peoples’ prospects and mental and physical health. Matthew 5 renders the verse as “blessed are the poor in spirit” – again an idea which contradicts our accepted wisdom but which can at least be understood as meaning a poverty, or humility of heart and mind, an attitude that understands its need for God and finds its treasure in things the world despises.
Above is the scene on the Sermon on the Mount – or rather the mishearing of it – shown in Life of Brian. I actually think that this film, despite being seen by some as blasphemous, offers a wonderful satire of religion, with particularly challenging ideas for Christians. It is also just funny – so enjoy!

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Women: don't drive!

Rising wives/ falling husbands

Anglican Mainstream has published an article about how wives are catching up with their husbands in terms of education and salary. They don't actually say so, but I get the feeling that we are meant to consider this a bad thing!

In 1970 only 4% of women had a greater income than their husbands, a fact which meant the vast majority of men could feel comfortably superior. Now a shocking 22% of women are flaunting more dosh than their spouses.

I think the same trend is happening in education, but the graph had too many colours on it and so I got all confused and couldn't be bothered to interpret it ( see video below for scientific explanation.)

Never mind, Anglican Mainstream, less than a quarter of women may be earning more than we used to but most of us still can't drive. That's just the way God made us ( see video above for explanation and warning.)

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Women: know your limits!

I do sometimes try to see the silly side of the Church's apparent inability to adjust to the dangerous idea that girls are just as good as boys. I thought you might enjoy this, it's one of my favourites.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Can you be a Christian and a feminist?

According to Mary Daly, the radical feminist who died last Sunday, aged 81, the term "Christian feminist" is an oxymoron. Brought up a Roman Catholic, Daly went on to challenge most monotheistic religions as “phallocentric” and as committing “gynocide.”

Daly was certainly controversial and anti-male, apparently she avoided the company of men as much as possible and refused to allow them in her classes, but her theological feminism is interesting.

The "post Christian" Daly expressed her ideas in some outspoken ways that can easily be dismissed as extreme feminist rhetoric, yet there is a sense of the spiritual in her writing. Consider , for example, Daly’s challenging idea that worship should not be, “kneeling in front of a so and so , but swirling in energy” or her question ,
“Why indeed must God be a noun? Why not a verb- the most active and dynamic of all.”
I don’t know much theology but I do know literature and feminist writers , such as Alice Walker, also challenge the concept of God as a static , hierarchical entity and see the divine as fluid and participatory ,
Tell the truth, have you ever found God in a church? I never did. I just found a bunch of folks hoping for him to show. Any God I ever felt in church I brought in with me. And I think all the other folks did too. They come to church to share God, not find God. ( The Colour Purple)

So can you be a Christian and a feminist? Daly would say not and yet there seems to me to be an irony in that her attempts to define “God” were focused on the active and dynamic, what she might have seen as the feminine attributes of fecundity and creativity, and yet her mindset on the issue so often seems inflexible, sterile and rigid.
Many feminist theologians endeavour to escape from the "irremediable patriarchal bias" of Christianity through articulating fresh understandings and using new language. Daly regarded these attempts to reclaim religion as compromise and capitulation but then Daly was an iconoclast. The work of an iconoclast is to shatter our illusions but the impulse that is, to use Daly’s words, “active and dynamic” in all of us, will stoop and use the fragments to recreate and rebuild.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Frost Fair

The wonderful excerpt below is taken from Chapter One of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and imagines the great freeze of 1603 and the resulting “frost fair” held on the Thames. It is a wonderful blend of fact, legend and literary reconstruction. Well worth reading!

"The great Frost was, the historians tell us, the most severe that has ever visited these islands. Birds froze in the mid-air and fell like stones to the ground. At Norwich a young countrywoman started to cross the road in her usual health and was seen by onlookers to turn visibly to powder and be blown in a puff of dust over the roofs as the icy blast struck her at the street corner.

But while the country people suffered the extremity of want, and the trade of the country was at a standstill, London enjoyed a carnival ofthe utmost brilliancy. The Court was at Greenwich, and the new King seized the opportunity that his coronation gave him to curry favour with the citizens. He directed that the river, which was frozen to a depth of twenty feet and more for six or seven miles on either side, should be swept, decorated and given all the semblance of a park or pleasure ground, with arbours,mazes, alleys, drinking booths, etc. at his expense. For himself and the courtiers, he reserved a certain space immediately opposite the Palace gates; which, railed off from the public only by a silken rope, became at once the centre of the most brilliant society in England. Great statesmen, in their beards and ruffs,despatched affairs of state under the crimson awning of the Royal Pagoda.Soldiers planned the conquest of the Moor and the downfall of the Turk in striped arbours surmounted by plumes of ostrich feathers. Admirals strode up and down the narrow pathways, glass in hand, sweeping the horizon and telling stories of the north-west passage and the Spanish Armada. Lovers dallied upon divans spread with sables. Frozen roses fell in showers when the Queen and her ladies walked abroad. Coloured balloons hovered motionless in the air. Here and there burnt vast bonfires of cedar and oak wood, lavishly salted, so that the flames were of green, orange, and purple fire. But however fiercely they burnt, the heat was not enough to melt the ice which, though of singular transparency, was yet of the hardness of steel. So clear indeed was it that there could be seen, congealed at a depth of several feet, here a porpoise, there a flounder.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Now, that's an idea!

This looks fun to me! I have a feeling Bessie might be less than enthusiastic though...

Bleak Midwinter

I made the decision at about seven o'clock this morning that getting out of our estate was going to be a tall order ( we live on a hill and it had snowed again.) I have some marking to keep me occupied but did venture out to the local shops to discover that there was no bread, no milk etc. I walked Bessie up to the running track but the snow was so deep that she almost disappeared in one drift and looked so reproachful that we turned for home.
The top photo is a view across the field taken just before Christmas, the one above is the same view, a little further back and looking much grimmer, taken this afternoon.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Clergy victims

Several recent reports and articles have highlighted the fact that clergy are a group particularly vulnerable to abuse and nastiness. Rowan Williams himself contributed to a report, The Future of the Parish System: Shaping the Church of England for the 21st Century which was published earlier this month.
I think there are several factors that make the clergy particularly susceptible, from the appalling lack of legal protection in the workplace, an issue rightly highlighted by Unite, to the attitude of superiors and parishioners.
Having grown up as a clergy child, it never fails to amaze me that parishoners think vicars exist in some special category of human being and responses can range from resentment to venom when people discover otherwise. So, just remember, only Jesus was without fault, loved everyone unconditionally, performed miracles and walked on water - and he still upset people and got crucified!
Lets get some decent legal protection to make sure our clergy aren't nailed up.

NB: the image above in no way represents the abilities of any Church of England clergy person

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Anglican Covenant and a theology of unity

A number of early responses to the Anglican Covenant have been published, some positive, others less so. The Fulcrum website has two perspectives, one by Graham Kings, the other by Dr Josiah Idowu Fearon (Nigeria), Kings feels the working party has achieved its aim “admirably” and is “ to be commended” but has also commented that,
“In the light of recent developments, it may be that not all Provinces will enter the Covenant. Tragically, that may be appropriate.”

Dr Josiah Idowu Fearon
claims that section 4.2.8 is already “operational” in the Church of Nigeria, he explains that,
“polygamists and the divorced are not officially accepted as leaders at any level and not even allowed Holy Communion. In addition, all women who are not willing to accept the discipline of this Church in holy matrimony cannot be members of the Mothers’ Union.” I don’t know how Idowu Fearon makes the cognitive leap from the wording of (4.2.8) to the exclusion of divorcees and errant women and it does worryingly suggest that the very general wording of the Covenant might well be used to justify all sorts of practices within particular regions and that it may be used to support condemnation and rejection.

Another conservative commentator, Peter Carrell, of the Living Church, rather movingly writes,
One challenge of the Covenant, then, is whether we are committed to a theology of unity in our Communion. Such a theology, drawn from Ephesians and the Gospel of John, calls us to speak the truth in love and to love one another in truth. It offers no easy recourse either to dismiss unity in the name of “truth” or to suppress commitment to truth in the name of “unity.” But a theology of unity, faithful to Christ and the Spirit, provokes us with searching questions. If we claim to know the truth, are we willing to submit that claim to the whole body of Christ for judgment? If we claim to live in unity, is it on the basis of truth we believe together? Are we making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace? Should that effort include commitment to signing the Covenant?”

Ephesians undoubtedly does speak of unity within the body of Christ, but 1 Corinthians also speaks of unity in diversity, where the body is made up of many different parts, the weaker parts are to be given particular honour and no part can say to another that it is indispensible or dishonourable. Perhaps there is a lesson in this for our communion, if it is truly to live in unity?

Along with various publications, the blogosphere has, of course, spoken. Tobias Haller also draws on New Testament parallels,
“With the capacity for intramural carping and critique a highlight of its discipline, [the Covenant] could become a modern version of the perverse "communion" Paul condemned in Galatians 5:15 — "If you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another."

The response of some members of the ACNA has been to bite and devour. The Rev. Matt Kennedy describes the Covenant as a “sub-Christian” document and does not shrink from denouncing TEC in language which he presumably feels would make for a Christian document. He describes TEC as, “a gangrenous infection”, using a metaphor that suggests that this part of the body is not to be treated with honour but to be seen as worse than worthless. He says TEC is “grossly heretical “, sick and twisted”, “a beast” and an “out of the closet, full speed ahead, no holds barred advocate for sexual perversion.” This may be the Reverend Kennedy’s “truth” but it is not mine and nor would I feel confident about “submitting” my truth to Kennedy, or those who hold similar views, for “judgement”, or to Henry Orombi, Archbishop of Uganda, who has described gay people as drug addicts, people who could “kill anyone” , akin to “cockroaches” and paedophiles.

I have said before that I do not believe that the rift in Anglicanism is in any way akin to the reformation which split the Church in the 16th century, nevertheless Kennedy’s language did bring to mind the invective found in the exchanges between Luther and Sir Thomas More. I kept expecting at any moment to find phrases such as More’s, “the shit pool of all shit” to describe TEC.

Thinking of the reformation and the establishment of the Church of England made me breathe a prayer that we will not lose, over these issues, the tolerance, breadth and generosity that marked the birth of Anglicanism - this is the theology of unity that I long for.

Fred Hiltz in his New Year’s address has touched upon the Covenant and the potential this document has not to heal but to deepen wounds. He says that,
“the language of relational consequences is deeply disturbing, given that our relationships with the Anglican Communion are and never should be fixed on one issue only.”
It is the rest of what he says that is so very interesting,

I maintain that in the midst of our differences over sexuality we are called to with difference and do so with grace. It is precisely a lack of graciousness that has fired tempers and sparked words of condemnation and dismissal that have been so destructive to relationships within the Communion. I pray that our attitudes and conversations with one another be more and more centered in Him in whom, beyond our understanding, we are forever one.
Hiltz also offers here a "theology of unity". If the Communion is prepared to exclude over a "single issue" , then it is the rest of the Anglican Communion who show a lack of grace, who cannot live in unity but must bite and devour. There is also a suggestion (one I agree with) that if Christians were more focused on Christ we would be more able to live with one another in grace.

The ACoC may well sign the Covenant – even if this leads to their exclusion – signing would put the onus on the rest of the Communion to either live with difference or to act in ways which may well seem to the world at large to be unloving, even unchristian.

Graham Kings feels the working party has achieved its aims – and that may well be. I would advise anyone to hold their peace a little longer before they claim that the Covenant itself will achieve anything, given our capacity to create discord and unity with or without its aid.

Friday, 1 January 2010

ABC's New Year message

Correct New Year's video, courtesy of Rajm at Scatter Cushions:

Thanks Robert!