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.