Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Nonsense

Colin Coward in The Changing Attitude blog writes an article that gives a little more insight into life for all the gay (celibate) bishops that Rowan William is absolutely fine with, the ones that don't exist in the Church of England, even though there are apparently 10-13 of them...

It reminded me of this from my childhood:

When I was going up the stair
I met a man who wasn't there
He wasn't there again today
Oh, how I wish he'd go away.

Goodness, C of E policy in verse.

Wonder why they call it nonsense rhyme?

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Won't say, daren't say

I do value the comments on the blog, they often clarify my thoughts and recently some of the contributions have formed the basis and inspiration for blog posts. A recent comment today has set me thinking about whether Rowan Williams is much like Jesus in that Jesus often refused to answer questions, as in Luke 201-7 when he asks the religious teachers by whose authority John baptised, and when they will not answer him (for fear of alienating the people) he responds in like.
I think Rowan Williams is a good and holy man, I think the job of being Archbishop of Canterbury is an impossible task, I am sure he is as much like Christ as other Christians, possibly more so than some. I am not convinced though that his “pass” cast him in a Christ like mould.
Jesus did often answer a question with a question or story. Jesus was often questioned by those who longed to incriminate him, but his response to the religious leaders in Luke seems to me to be a way of trapping them in their own caution and political expediency, not retreating behind his own fears. Jesus always had the courage of his convictions, he never felt it wasn’t his job to have an opinion and he wasn’t afraid to speak out, especially when he saw injustice to the weak, or hypocrisy on the part of the religious leaders.
Lesley wishes Rowan Williams would be candid, I do as well. It isn’t so much a case of won’t answer, more daren’t answer. I sometimes wish he would have the courage of his convictions. He reminds me, not so much of Jesus, but of Chamberlain clutching his piece of paper and declaring “peace in our time.” He also reminds me of the Aesop’s fable in which the man tries to please everyone and pleases no-one.
There have been calls for Williams to be more prophetic; there have been prophetic voices, but I do not hear his among them. I wish that he would heed the call of those such as James Jones and Michael Perham, who have suggested that we accept a diversity of views. Seeing as there IS a range of conscientious opinion, their pleas are surely not unreasonable or so terribly divisive – the world really would not come to an end.
What has not been discussed as much is William’s intimation that he may not continue in the role much longer. The prospect of the unholy row that may ensue between liberals and traditionalists over his successor doesn’t bear thinking about. The day may come when we long for William’s gentle evasion. When it comes to the hopes of liberal Christians, Williams has been neither prophet nor saviour, but we might all find it a case of better the devil you know.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Not ashamed!

I was interested to read that CCFON (Christian Concern for our Nation) are organising a Not Ashamed campaign. On the first of December, CCFON urges us all to don T-shirts proclaiming our Christian faith for the benefit of all the heathens...

I'm not even remotely ashamed of being a Christian, but I would definitely be ashamed to be associated with CCFON! I also wonder whether I'd be a bit ashamed of proclaiming my faith on a T shirt, with the danger that others might think that I was suggesting that I am somehow better, more worthy, holier than others.

I am not sure hard line proselytizing works; I think it is more likely to alienate those who see Christians as judgemental, self righteous, or just plain weird. When people get to know you and learn that you genuinely respect them, then they sometimes open up to you about faith.

I might just be puerile, but I am amused by T shirts with slogans such as, "I've found Jesus - he's behind the sofa!" On the other hand, a T-shirt starkly proclaiming your faith to all and sundry, might just get you a seat all to yourself on the bus ride to work on a Monday morning.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Archbishop asks to pass...

Dearie, dearie me! Rowan Williams has just given an interview and made the mistake trying to say something wise and sensible about gay bishops! This venture is clearly doomed to failure on the simple basis that the official line taken by the Church of England, and its conduct to its openly gay clergy is illogical/ inconsistent /hypocritical/ cruel/offensive/ laughable (delete as applicable.) The interview itself is behind a pay wall, so let's be thankful for small mercies, but there have been quite a few ascerbic reports already, my favorite being this article from Damian Thompson.
It seems that the ABC has, with his usual gift for prevarication, said something along these lines ...
"Well, I like them really, especially if they don't have sex- it's so much easier for everyone else if they don't, I'm sure we're all agreed on that one! Yes, yes, I did once think God was alright with them having sex, but holding those views just isn't my job anymore, it's in the job description you know - must pretend (after all, that's what I'm asking them to do every single day... ) Have I changed my views then?.. pass... Is it actually wrong for them to have sex?...pass...Will it be alright one day?....pass...
So, I think that celibate bishops are just hunkydory, absolutely fine with it, no discrimination whatsoever! So, why didn't I support Jeffrey John in becoming a bishop? I know, it wasn't very nice was it? I felt really bad about it. But it wasn't anything to do with me, you know, it's the church that just wasn't ready to cope with Jeffrey John. And the Church still isn't ready to cope with the thought of gay bishops actually having a relationship with someone they love instead of spending a lifetime alone. The cost is just tooooooooo great. That's the cost to the church you understand, we're not going to worry about the cost to them.

Is that very Christian of me? Pass...

Er.. do you have a bowl for me to use to wash my hands?

Rowan Williams is a lovely man. From what I saw and heard at Synod, which took place just after the Southwark debacle, he was deeply harrowed over the treatment of Jeffrey John. He is genuinely tormented over the divisions about sexuality and women bishops.

It seems almost wrong to parody him, but I really can't take this sort of thing seriously. My burning question is; how can he?

Friday, 24 September 2010

Father Ted



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

The House of Bishops and the listening process

I felt quite inspired reading Colin Coward's report on Changing Attitude's recommendations to the House of Bishops. It is quite a wish list. I hope and pray that we can make it a reality in the church sooner rather than later!

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.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

The V sign

Over the last year a few of my friends have confided that they are thinking about going into ministry or are considering ordination in the Church of England. One of them, a former colleague, has been accepted and has left teaching, another is going through the selection process for an evangelical bible college. I also have a number of cyber friends and acquaintances who have recently been ordained, are considering this, or have given up on this cherished idea because of various difficulties and constraints. I was interested today to see that Red is also agonising about whether to become a priest - and in my experience people often do agonise before coming to a decision, rightly so as it is a big step to take.

From time to time people ask me if I am considering ordination. My response is usually "no"; my private thoughts are that I would rather have my arms sawn off ! I am not sure my faith is strong enough for a start, or at least it is something that is too private and idiosyncratic. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with church, it is not a place where I always feel at ease. Furthermore, I have never felt that God is calling me to the priesthood, I think he knows that I am not cut out for church, or rather church is not cut out for me! I also think I do have my own "ministry", even if it is not an official one.
I don't get asked the "vicar question" as much these days, but at one point it was happening so frequently that I wondered if God really was trying to tell me something! It came to a head when a colleague, Tony, who had earlier been teasing me about my supposed vicar potential, was trying to decide which horse to place a bet on. I suggested that, given our earlier conversation, he should either put the money on a horse named "The Lord" or alternatively gamble on one called "Holy Orders" ( you can see that I would be good at leading others to righteousness...) Tony put bets on both horses.

Putting trust in The Lord did pay off as he came in at five to one and won a tidy sum. Holy Orders was a complete disaster, I don't think he even stayed the course.

I'm not making this up, it really did happen!

I think it was a sign...

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?

How was it for you?

Well, the Pope’s visit is over, the crowds, placards and Papal tack have been cleared away, but whether his message will endure to have a lasting impact on British society remains to be seen. Did heart truly speak to heart?
There is no one definitive experience of the Papal visit, but many. For some it will have hardened feelings of anger and outrage, or confirmed their view of the superstition and adulation involved, for others, not only Catholics but other Christians, the visit has been a source of hope and inspiration, of spiritual guidance and encouragement much needed in a society where some feel Christianity is marginalised and derided.
What of the response of that society, the one which the Pope sees as “aggressively secular”, but Cameron sees as having faith woven into its fabric? Will the UK really “sit up and think” about whether faith is a “gift to be cherished rather than a problem to be overcome?”
I, for one, am hopeful that it will. It seemed to me that there was an awareness in the coverage of the potential of faith as a positive force for good. The first four pages of my Sunday paper were devoted to the Pope’s visit, and, although many articles dealt with protest and scandals, the overriding images were of celebration, exhilaration, devotion, awe, reverence. The spectacle of thousands attending the mass in Hyde Park, of young Catholics engrossed or attentive, of people unified by common bonds, of a child waving a flag held high, were all embodiments of heart speaking to heart. Faith, which is sometimes rather hidden away in our homes and churches, was out there, visible and on display.
Organised religion often fails to have a human face. Injustice, oppression, cruelty, atrocity can quite justifiably be laid at its door. Yet, at its best, religious faith nurtures our humanity, teaches us the infinite value of ourselves and others and inspires us to service. The best of religious faith should involve the intellect; it should connect the heart, soul and mind in an impulse towards God and towards each other.
I hope that the enduring message of the Papal visit will be that heart can speak unto heart. God inhabits our hearts much more than he inhabits church-as-institution, and it is his ability to transform human hearts that makes faith a gift to be cherished.

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.

Monday, 13 September 2010

A mention from Thinking Anglicans!

I was very encouraged today to discover that my previous post, Protest, Prejudice - and the Pope, is mentioned on Thinking Anglicans. I shall definitely have to try to keep up the blogging alongside all the other things I have resolved to do this year.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Protest, prejudice - and the Pope

I am looking forward to the Pope’s visit to the UK. For a start I am interested to see what reactions it will actually evoke among the British people and in the media. I am expecting to see hostility, appreciation and indifference, but I am not sure which of these reactions will predominate. Another thing that I am looking forward to is the variety of programmes, news articles and radio discussions focusing on the Papal visit. I think that some of these may serve to raise some interesting questions, not only about the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church, but also about the changing role and nature of religion in British society and the huge shift we have seen in attitudes to religious faith and institutionalised religion.
I understand the reasons why many people object to the attitudes and approach of the Roman Catholic (and Anglican) church. People will tell you that they have been shaken and sickened by the stories of the cover up of child abuse, the position of women, the attitudes towards sexuality, the hypocrisy, the obsession with hierarchy, ritual and power that seems so far removed from the teachings of Christ or our instinctive understanding of a God who tells us to love each other.
And that’s just the Roman Catholics themselves! As reported on Radio four this morning, two thirds of Roman Catholics in the UK disagree with the fact that women are marginalised in the Roman Catholic Church and about half disagree with the need for priests to be celibate. There is increasingly a widening gap between the “official” pronouncements of the Vatican and what everyone actually thinks and does! Then, of course, you have what I am coming to think of as the “fundamentalist atheists”, people whose virulent dislike of religion latches with scorn and disgust on the Papacy – a soft target which can be so easily caricatured as an inward looking, ridiculously outdated, potentially kiddie-fiddling, misogynistic, all male enclave, wearing ludicrous embroidered frocks and expecting the rest of us to revere them as a source of spiritual truth and moral guidance.
While it is true to say that the Church is its own worst enemy and deserves some of these criticisms, it should also be said that there is a need for a sense of proportion in the reactions of those who condemn the Church or religious belief in general. I am far from thinking that Christians are a persecuted minority in the UK; nevertheless there can be a level of hostility that topples into rank prejudice, and, like all prejudice, is fuelled by ignorance, stereotyping and arrogance.
I am hoping the level of coverage (and even protest) that we see will be proportionate, sensible and balanced. I do expect that we will see some excellent and challenging debate; I hope we will not see too much anti Catholic prejudice, disrespect or ignorance, but I won’t be surprised if we do!

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Glasshouses and stones

I know I will not be the only one aware of the irony inherent in the name of the , “Dove World Outreach Church” at the centre of a political and religious storm over the proposals of its pastor, Terry Smith, to burn copies of the Koran tomorrow. Doves are a symbol of peace and reconciliation, as for “outreach”, there might well be better ways to achieve this than burning the sacred text of another faith.
There are, of course, other ironies in the situation. Pastor Terry Smith has justified his actions on the grounds that,
“Maybe it’s time to send a message to radical Islam that we will not tolerate their behaviour.”
And burning the Koran is clearly the best strategy to show radical Muslims the error of their narrow, aggressive, fundamentalist attitudes...

Moreover, Terry Smith, who has written a book about Islam as a satanic religion, and seems to base a lot of his religious thinking around the evils of Islam, has never actually read the Koran and allegedly doesn’t know any Muslims.

At the same time you can’t help but despair at the publicity this proposed action has received. Dove World Outreach has no more than fifty members and is not affiliated to any other religious institution. So, a tin pot organisation, a handful of crazies does something stupid and offensive – sure it should be condemned, but does it really warrant the high level interventions, or the hype and hysteria that has been generated?

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

All work and no play

One of the big issues for me, as for many people, is how to achieve work- life balance. I return every year full of good resolutions that this year there will be more to my life than work, that I will continue to exercise, eat healthily, keep up with friends, maintain the blog, and manage at least one night a week when I go out and do something. By November most of these good intentions have lapsed and I am unfit, tired, find it hard to blog midweek, spend every evening indoors, and the only friends I see are similarly stressed colleagues.
The consequence is that I reach the summer holidays and discover that I have lost touch with friends, stopped attending groups and clubs, and am suddenly at a loose end. This summer has been easier because I have had Kevin around, but I am conscious that to rely entirely on a spouse for your social life is not ideal.
So, yet again, here are my “September resolutions”:
1.I will continue to go to the gym two or three times a week.
2.We will try to see friends at least once a month, and I will attend at least one event with another group of friends who meet every so often for a meal (even though this involves some travelling.)
3.I will keep up with interests such as Speaker’s Club (as a start I have put myself down for an impromptu speech tomorrow...)
One thing I am not aiming to do is to blog more, I shall still blog, but as and when I have time.
Did I also mention that the list includes spending more time with my family, catching up on sleep at the weekend, keeping up with prayer and time alone, helping the boys more with their homework, helping Kev out with household stuff, walking the dog (to get her fit as well), getting some overdue redecorating done and managing to take more short breaks away?
Wish me luck!

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

H is for honesty?

I have not written anything about the All African Bishops' Conference in Entebbe, partly because I have been busy with other things, partly because the pronouncement of individuals such as Orombi , the various statements that will be issued , and the calls for Williams to take hardline punitive action (when he neither can nor will do this) are depressingly predictable. This is not to say that there is not a comic element to the conflict in the Anglican communion, but it takes a dark humour to appreciate it, especially (for me) when I think of the ongoing difficulty and danger faced by many LGBT Africans.

Nevertheless, some light relief was provided in this communique in which the UK is identified as a place of worrying liberal developments! The report refers to the consecration of Mary Glasspool, and then writes of,
" similar progressive developments in Canada and the UK." (!)
Obviously the African bishops know something I don't! I really haven't noticed any (0penly) gay people being consecrated as bishops, or any official endorsement of same sex blessings. Might it possibly be a reference to the fact that Jeffrey John's name was purportedly forwarded for Southwark - and then rejected?

Obviously it is ludicrous to claim that anything that has happened in the UK is "similar" to the consecration of Glasspool, and it indicates the level of ranting hysteria among some present at this event. It is true that there is some freedom of opinion and expression in the UK, many of our bishops, for example James Jones and Michael Perham, have been brave enough to speak their minds about the need to embrace a diversity of views. Meanwhile, I was pleased to see that the new bishop of Ely is the Right Rev Stephen Conway , a member of Affirming Catholicism. I think it is healthy that there is a broad range of attitude and approach in our church and a tolerance of people's right to hold different opinions.
A gulf exists between what the Church of England officially is and does and what it really is and does, and that saddens me. There will increasingly be more grassroots tolerance, but not necessarily more honesty higher up. I do not see how this is tenable in terms of basic integrity; our "H" issue is not so much about homosexuality, but more about whether to choose honesty or hypocrisy.