Wednesday, 28 December 2011

A Poem for Holy Innocents

A Little Boy Lost

Nought loves another as itself,
Nor venerates another so,
Nor is it possible to thought
A greater than itself to know.

'And, father, how can I love you
Or any of my brothers more?
I love you like the little bird
That picks up crumbs around the door.'

The Priest sat by and heard the child;
In trembling zeal he seized his hair,
He led him by his little coat,
And all admired the priestly care.

And standing on the altar high,
'Lo, what a fiend is here! said he:
'One who sets reason up for judge
Of our most holy mystery.'

The weeping child could not be heard,
The weeping parents wept in vain:
They stripped him to his little shirt,
And bound him in an iron chain,

And burned him in a holy place
Where many had been burned before;
The weeping parents wept in vain.
Are such thing done on Albion's shore?

William Blake.  A Little Boy Lost

I have chosen this poem by William Blake for Holy Innocents day because Christmas is a time when we should be challenged. Far from being a sentimental festival, Christmas is followed by the feast of the first martyr and a commemoration of the slaughter - although it is probably not historical fact - of the male children under the age of two. We keep pretty quiet about Holy Innocents nowadays, it's not the sort of thing that can be described as "for the children", although it has to be said that it was a very popular element in the medieval mystery plays, apparently the butchers would often act out this scene and you have to admit that a villain like Herod gave great dramatic potential and the chance to boo and hiss to your heart's content.

And that is the perhaps the problem, it is only too easy to see evil and atrocity in others but we can be blind to our own cruelties and abuse of others. Holy Innocents should not be about booing or hissing Herod, but about recognising the potential for cruelty and evil closer to home, in all our systems of power and control. The Church itself has not been immune from hurting and damaging those entrusted to its care, as has been evident in some of the depressing abuse scandals which have emerged in recent years. In Little Boy Lost, a child questions the commandments to love God and others as himself and asks how can this be possible? The priest's reaction of burning anger and "trembling zeal" at this heresy is vividly conveyed and he does no more than seize the child and burn him to death on the altar while his parents weep and the onlookers approve!

What a shocking and radical poem! The little boy in his vulnerablity and innocence represents anyone small or powerless who dares to question the system, and Blake himself as a dissenter would have known about the prejudice and violence that could be condoned and colluded with in the name of religion - or indeed in the name of any insititution or ideology. Blake ends his poem with a question to make us think - "Are such things done on Albion's shore?" We might ask ourselves today whether injustice, abuse and cruelty are still perpetrated in the name of  power, greed or ideology, whether abroad or closer to home. On Holy Innocents, and at any other time of the year, we only need to look at the headlines to know the answer.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Reckless Love

A wonderful Christmas video. A reminder that Christians believe that God intervened with a plan that was not sweet or sentimental but rather implausible, unthinkable, bizarre, reckless, extravagant and amazing.

Wishing all readers a very Happy Christmas!

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Snow and Salvation


By what are you saved? And how?
Saved like a bit of string,
tucked away in a drawer?
Saved like a child rushed from
a burning building, already
singed and coughing smoke?
Or are you salvaged
like a car part -- the one good door
when the rest is wrecked?

Do you believe me when I say
you are neither salvaged nor saved,
but salved, anointed by gentle hands
where you are most tender?
Haven't you seen
the way snow curls down
like a fresh sheet, how it
covers everything,
makes everything
beautiful, without exception.

By Lynne Ungar

H/T to Blue Eyed Ennis for this lovely poem. The Advent before last I was particularly taken with a beautiful post from the Colophon blog (now the i-Benedictine blog) written by the nuns of East Hendred  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.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Joseph - a Nativity poem

They say there are signs.
Not with her.
I’m no professor
but neither am I stupid.
I asked her who she’d been seeing.
She sat there murmuring ‘Angel’.

She went north a few days
- change’ll do you good.
The solicitors said to forget it.
‘Without proof…’ they smiled.
If anything she started to brighten:
‘They’ll be cousins, same age!’
(I can’t be sure,
but I think I saw him, too.)

We left it too late, of course.
The traffic was solid,
some pop idol on the hire car radio
massacring ‘Hallelujah’.
We stopped at a Little Chef
on a B-road somewhere in the hills.

Crystal midnight it was,
good as daylight.
Then she grew wild-eyed.
Her bawling, a blunt saw,
cut through me.
It wasn’t like in the songs.

Anthony Wilson

I love this modern day version of the events leading up to the Nativity told from Joseph's perspective. H/t to Phil's Treehouse.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Grassroots God

I started thinking about Christmas in July this year, so a bit of a head start there! The above video (ht Blue Eyed Ennis) speaks to me about a grassroots God, one who chose to come not to the rich and powerful but to the poorest and most marginalised  and who starts in our hearts and works outwards to transform our lives.  John  1: 14 can apparently be translated as "The Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us." The wonderful, almost casual image of "pitching a tent" speaks to me  of a God who is resourceful, in our midst, on the move, dynamic and not static.The idea of God with us, and the way that God dwells with us and in us, is one of the key message of Advent and one that takes some time to ponder.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Rip! Rip! Rip!

This evening I read in the The Huffington Post  that each school in the UK is to receive a copy of the King James bible with a introduction written by Michael Gove. Let me make it clear that I have no problem with every school having a King James bible, students from all faith backgrounds and none should be encouraged to read the King James, a text which contains much beautiful language, thought and poetry. The bible is a key part of our cultural heritage and it is tragic that there is such ignorance of it and the ideas it contains. I always tell students that if they want to do well in Literature, they should read the bible. My main problem with the proposal lay not with the bible itself but with the nauseating prospect of such a beautiful, challenging and life altering text being sullied by  an introduction by Michael Gove.
Some critics have complained that Gove is promoting religious values at the expense of multi culturalism through this proposal. Others have asked whether he will also write an introduction to the origin of the species (please, don't encourage the man...) and put that on display in schools. But while the multiculturalists, Darwinists and Richard Dawkins bleat and complain, I'd like to jump on the band wagon and say that I really object to the likes of Mr Gove using this sacred text to convince blue rinse brigade Tories and outraged Daily Mail readers that he will tackle moral decline, instil right thinking in our youngsters and generally drag us back to the nineteen fifties. I hate to think what Mr Gove will pontificate about in his introduction to the bible, but I am pretty sure it will utterly destroy any sense of  awe, mystery or radical thought and reduce it to some sort of right wing formula.
In fact it brought to mind this sketch from Dead Poets society in which one J.Evans Pritchard advocates the use of a graph to measure poetry. If a copy of Mr Gove's bible falls into my hands,  my fingers might just be itching to rip out the introduction and leave the pure unadulterated text - because, to modify the quote at the end of this clip, "No matter what anyone tells you, the bible can change the world."

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Do dogs have souls? (part sixteen)

For those sceptics amongst you who have not come to the blindingly obvious conclusion that dogs do have souls, here is more evidence. A dog in China is staunchly keeping watch by his master's grave and it is reported that even attempts to starve him into abandoning the grave have not worked. Perhaps the most famous example of this kind of dogged devotion (I know...I'm sorry...) is the story of Greyfriar's Bobby, a Skye terrier who kept up a fourteen year vigil. There are some doubting Thomas stories circulating on the web claiming the whole Bobby thing was a bit of a hoax and that the dog spent a lot of his time in local restaurants ( well - a dog has to eat, doesn't he?)
 Hmmmm...I wonder if Bessie would show this sort of loyalty?

Sunday, 20 November 2011

From the Cloister to the World

 "I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed", wrote John Milton in  his essay Areopagitica in1634. I guess quite a few people know this quote, fewer may realise that Milton was expressing fairly controversial views about the use of the printing press- a technology that was his generation's equivalent to the Internet. It is hard for us to grasp now just how revolutionary the advent of printing was. A single Renaissance printing press could produce 3,600 pages per day compared to just a few produced laboriously by hand. Moreover, the printing press gave freedom of expression to those who might not previously have had a voice and it enabled people to access literature in their mother tongue, in particular that  radical and subversive book - the Bible. Milton saw the potential for printing as a means to allow freedom of thought and  disseminate "virtue" more widely. He acknowledged that wrong and dangerous ideas would be expressed, but he had a staunch belief that this was preferable to curtailing access to knowledge and communication.

  This is not going to be a post about press freedom, or The News of the World hacking scandals because that is more about responsibility and self regulation than censorship,  rather I want to think about the role of the Internet. This vehicle for communication does, it is true, contain many pitfalls and have negative aspects, but it can also be a force for good. Like many things in life, it is not the Internet itself, but how it is used in human hands that makes the difference. One of the blogs in which I love to read is the I-Benedictine blog run by the nuns of East Hendred. In the introduction to the blog, they write:
" We prefer to call ourselves cloistered rather than enclosed because the word “enclosed” may suggest a closed mind. We have a special interest in using contemporary technology to reach out to people who would never otherwise come to the monastery." And reach out they do. I commend to you two recent posts, the first is  Vacare Deo  which reflects on making space for God in our everyday lives and the second a short but  meaningful reflection on anxiety. This is online ministry in a very real sense. Perhaps it is because the nuns are apart from the world that they have so much to offer to the world and they truly use modern technology as a vehicle to bless others.
If Milton were writing today, I am sure he would praise their far from fugitive virtue.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Food as a moral issue

Food and food econony is definitely in the headlines at the moment; how we feed ourselves , the nation and the world is making the news much more frequently. Radio 4 promoted the toast sandwich this week, an apparently "healthy" snack consisting of a thin slice of toast between two pieces of bread. The fact that this repast was Mrs. Beeton's answer to Victorian austerity was a stark reminder that the kind of squeeze on food bills that the average Briton is facing bears no real comparison to the food poverty of the past, or to that faced in so many other parts of the world. During the Second World War, the food writer MFK Fisher recommended that people should breakfast on piles of toast or a large bowl of porridge, explaining that "You can be lavish because the meal is inexpensive."  It is the same principle as the toast sandwich.
Food shortages and the rising cost of food worldwide provides a grim backdrop to the growing need for practising thrift and avoiding wastefulness. Children still regularly die of starvation and in many parts of the world families struggle to feed their children. This is nothing new, the poor always have and always will be with us and most of us -  I include myself - are quite good at ignoring the fact.
 It is, therefore, positive that we are beginning to be more aware of how we manage food as a resource and that this is being highlighted as an important social, political and moral issue.  We still  need to seriously rethink some of our attitudes to food, for example there have been moves to try to reduce the scandalous waste in British households by axing over cautious "Best before" labels on food and encouraging supermarkets to be more ethical in the way they source and manage food.
An event that took place today in Trafalgar Square , the biblically named Feeding the 5000, aimed to highlight the  practice of supermarkets discarding "imperfect" vegetables by cooking and serving a free lunch made of wonky carrots and other weirdly shaped foodstuffs. The thought that a rather delicious free lunch would otherwise have ended up as landfill, something which happens every day and which damages the environment as well as wasting good food, really should make us stop and think! Just because we are able to afford to waste food - and  a lot of people in Britain still are in that position - does not make it alright to waste food. The reading  this week shows us that we will be judged on the extent to which we have tried to to meet both physical and spiritual needs of others. It is also clear that when we are told :"I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me", it is simply not going to be good enough to say that we were too busy enjoying our riches, building our careers, stuffing our faces, or generally looking after ourselves to notice...

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Canterbury and the Covenant

It has been a relatively long time since I composed a blog post about the Anglican Covenant. The reason for this, dear reader, is that I have grown  bored and weary. I don't mean that the intricacies of the Covenant  it self have  bored me - although to be honest it is not the most riveting document I have ever read. It is more that I have become increasingly  dull and dispirited watching the inevitable squabbling that it has  generated. Watching the reactions and voting in various dioceses and provinces around the world, it has become clear that the optimistically named "Covenant" it is not going to be wholeheartedly embraced by the majority of Anglicans. Hard line conservatives are just as likely to reject it for being "toothless" as liberals are for being "restricting". I have come to doubt the certainty of both sides; as I implied when I wrote this recipe for fudge there is no knowing what the thing will actually work out like until we have it - and that in itself seems to me a good reasons to say "No".
 The only reason that I am blogging about the whole sorry matter today (when I could be doing more exciting things like watching paint dry) is that my attention was caught by a few posts that I read about it. Lay Anglica  reports that there are attempts to rush the Covenant through Synod in 2012 and that pressure will be brought to bear to ensure its acceptance. I don't know if this is true, but it would not surprise me. One thing that is clear is that for the Church of England to reject the Covenant would be a disaster in terms of the position and reputation of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Covenant is Rowan William's baby,  for it to be rejected on home territory would undoubtedly be a humiliating defeat. It might look worse than disloyalty and  I suspect it might appear a green light for mutiny in some quarters.

Speaking of the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury, this recent post from Tobias Haller is also worth a quick glance. In it the author questions the need for the four Instruments of Communion and says that we do not find our "identity" in them at all. He opines that to claim to find our identity in the Instruments is " slightly blasphemous" as our identity should be found in Christ alone (isn't that the title of a hymn..?) The instruments of Communion, Haller tells us, " are all relatively recent entities not only in Christianity but even among Anglicans." But...hang on a minute, isn't the Archbishop himself one of the Instruments of Communion? Yes, Haller concedes, admitting that the office is " one that has been around since the sixth century"  but emphasising that it "didn't really operate as a voice in the Communion until 1785-89, with the first Lambeth Conference being in 1867. "
  Haller says the role is not “foundational or essential or definitional to Anglicanism" and he regards the Covenant as wanting to make some substantial changes in the "deep structures"  of Anglicanism without there being much apparent awareness of the implications.  Haller is not the first to focus on the  role of the ABC, and Lambeth Palace will be aware that Canterbury has its critics and those with their vested interests waiting in the wings. A rejection of the Covenant in England would be a nasty own goal.
I think we might see concerted efforts to get the Covenant through Synod at all costs. It simply can't afford to fail here. I shall be watching events Synodical with some interest again, it might be depressing, I don't think it will be dull.
(Since writing this post it has been announced that Birmingham and Truro have  both resoundingly rejected the Anglican Covenant. )

Monday, 14 November 2011

Reading or revising the parables

I have been wondering recently how wide our scope is for interpreting and reinterpreting scripture.

This weekend I was visiting family and so attended a different church. The sermon was on the parable of the talents, one of those parables which can be rather troubling. The exegesis that I am familiar with concerning the talents is that it is a warning against not using one's gifts to the glory of God, not making the most of the  talents in every sense that we have been given. However, in Sunday's sermon, it was suggested to us that the master, far from representing God, was in fact an embodiment of the Pharisees, a heartless and oppressive taskmaster who unjustly set the third servant up to fail and cruelly condemned him for his understandable fear of failure.God, we were told, does not set people up to fail or condemn them for being afraid and Jesus intended to rebuke the Pharisees through this parable.
Now, I certainly agree that God does not set people up to fail or that he condemns us for fear and I do not like to see scripture preached in ways that are damaging or insensitive - but I was not sure that I felt comfortable with such a major reworking of the traditional understanding of this parable.  I do not agree that the third servant  was set up to fail simply because he was given  one talent because  I believe this was quite a high measurement , apparently one talent of silver was worth nine man years of skilled work and burying that in the ground does seem a collosal waste! Furthermore, the beginning of the reading tells us that it is a  about the Kingdom of Heaven, "Again it (the Kingdom of Heaven) will be like a man going on  a journey" and one of the constant themes is that finding the Kingdom of Heaven requires risk, like a man buying a field to find a pearl, and taking care over the small things which matter, like a woman working yeast throughout the "dough" of daily life, or someone planting a tiny seed which grows into a flourishing tree.  I think the message of the parable is not just that the lazy servant failed but that his attitude was such that he did not try and he did not risk and he did not search to find a purpose for his life or his talents and for that he was rebuked.
  To be honest the parable of the talents is not my favourite. I too find it challenging and difficult - but then there is nothing wrong with challenge or difficulty. As a literature teacher I am aware that alternative readings can have validity, it is good to bring different perspectives, I do certainly do not think scripture always means one thing and one thing only. At the same time, we have to consider the motives behind any reading and I don't want to see messages reduced to safe dimensions but losing their force and power. I wondered if the interpretation I heard  wasn't a running away from the challenge that this parable offers into safe territory - the sort of safe territory that the third servant sought when he buried his talents instead of risking them courageously?
What do people think?

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Remembrance and reconciliation

When you are standing at your hero’s grave,
Or near some homeless village where he died,
Remember, through your heart’s rekindling pride,
The German soldiers who were loyal and brave.

Men fought like brutes; and hideous things were done;
And you have nourished hatred, harsh and blind.
But in that Golgotha perhaps you’ll find
The mothers of the men who killed your son.

Siegfried Sassoon November 1918

This year’s Remembrance Day has attracted particular attention because of the symmetry of the date – 11.11.11. It marks the 93rd anniversary of the end of the First World War and dates back to the armistice at the end of that war marking the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
One of the things that moves me about Siegfried Sassoon’s poem “Reconciliation” is quite simply its date. Written in November 1918, presumably to mark the armistice, it recognises the difficulty of achieving genuine reconciliation when events are near and feelings still raw, yet it still asks the reader to forgive. The poem courageously articulates what may have been unpalatable truths – that the German soldiers too were “loyal and brave”, that just because someone is your hero does not make them the only hero,  that men on both sides, “fought like brutes” ( and that even heroes are forced into atrocity in war), and that our jingoistic hatred is “blind.” Sassoon does recognise that grief is a personal “Golgotha” but gently suggests that in our grief we might meet our enemies and recognise them as fellow victims and sufferers and so overcome our hatred. It is a courageous poem, one that recognises that  it is not until we have understood and forgiven that we have really laid down arms.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

What makes you happy?

Some interesting responses from the participants of Question Time when asked "What makes you happy?" I've blogged on this subject before and think it is a question well worth asking ourselves, as the bible says, "Where your treasure lies, there will your heart lie also."  Most of the participants gave fairly conventional answers such as their partner or children and interestingly nobody admitted that it was actually amassing obscene amounts of wealth or power or over indulging in alchohol, food or bodily pleasures - but then they wouldn't would they?
The two responses which stood out most were the first and the last. Benjamin Zephaniah (wonderful man) spoke of just breathing and not expecting too much from life and Peter Hitchens said his faith in God brought him happiness (I am not personally keen on Hitchens, but it was a thought provoking answer.)
Happiness is  subjective  in many ways and different to different people. I don't know what your answer is, it might even be a cigar named Hamlet...

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Diagnosing Martin Luther

 Monday, as a commenter on this blog pointed out, was not just Halloween but also Reformation Day- the anniversary of the day that Martin Luther nailed his  articles on the door of Wittenberg church, an act which would have far reaching consequences bringing a level of schism and division not seen before or since and in the light of which our current divisions and conflicts will (I hope) appear  more as a blip on the graph of religious history than a seismic shift. I first studied the Reformation properly during A level History and it was  fascinating to see not only the far reaching consequences that ideas can have but also  the journey that individuals go on before those ideas are realised. Luther, for example, was reportedly a very tortured soul who punished himself excessively over his shortcomings ; it was arguably the physical, mental and spiritual exhaustion this caused that brought him to a place where, reading scripture, he rediscovered and articulated more fully to others the idea of salvation through grace rather than works.
While reading through various blog posts this week, my attention was caught by this article called Beating myself up over religion from the BBC "Ouch! (disability) blog. In it the author, who is a Jew, but also describes his Roman Catholic mother experiencing the same reaction, writes,

"While the thread uniting every religion is the belief in revering the deity, improving yourself, and behaving in a proper manner, the dogma and doctrine can easily lead a person with an anxiety disorder to believe that anything less than perfection makes you an utter failure."

The author describes suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and finding that religious belief simply imposed more rituals, as well as the fear that he had to do everything "exactly right" and that the effect of religious faith was intense "worry and anguish".  I immediately thought of Martin Luther and wondered if he too suffered from OCD or something similar?  How many saints and mystics could be described as completely sane and balanced? I once read that many periods  of mystical and extreme behaviour were then followed by periods of practical work and service. How far was this because those individuals, having wrestled their spiritual angels and demons, then found themselves free? I do not want to be too reverential about  mental illness. I have suffered from it myself and would not wish a mental health condition, or even the dark night of the soul, upon anyone. And yet sometimes to struggle spiritually leads us to insight. William Blake said that "The road of excess leads to the palace of Wisdom, and Luther's early spiritual obssessions were a form of excess that led to wisdom.
 I suspect that Luther might in this day and age be prescribed medication, counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy, no doubt enormously alleviating his problems, but perhaps preventing that journey that led him to rearticulate so powerfully something that  was always there in scripture - that we are not perfect, just forgiven.

Signs and blunders

Some more amusing signs and notices here from the wonderful Ship of Fools to cheer up your weekend:)

Monday, 31 October 2011

Lighting a candle on All Hallows Eve

The approach to Hallowe'en found below  is thought provoking and rather gentle - educational in all sorts of ways. Everyone knows about Halloween, but how many know that Halloween owes its existence to and has its roots in Christian traditions, being the Eve of the Feast of All Saints, followed by All Souls?
Every year, on Hallowe’en, I sit on the front porch of my house with a bowl of candy, a box of beeswax candles, and a large icon for the Feast of All Saints. Every child who comes to the house gets a piece of candy, and may also light a candle and place it before the icon. Very few kids (even the jaded teenagers) turn down the opportunity.For those who ask, I tell them that the meaning of the word “Hallowe’en” is “the eve of the Feast of All Saints”.
If they press me on the point, I tell them that they can think of the true meaning of Hallowe’en as being that, because of Christ, they can dress up like ghosts and goblins and whatnot, because we do not need to fear those things any longer. I wish I had a few photos of the kids in Satan masks, lighting a candle and placing it before the icon…

I found this post on Silouan - and, with the ghosts, ghouls and goblins ringing on my door as I type, I wish I could see the dressed up kids and teens  lighting candles too!

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Cleverbot the priest?

OK, so this  piece which I read on The Guardian comment is free amused me anyhow! I was quite taken with the answer to the question, "What happens at the end of the bible?" The answer: "Harry kills Voldemort. It all ends. " Given that this is a work in progress, I think we may have a solution to the problem of who should be the next Archbishop of Canterbury.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Thinking about idealism

I did not blog earlier in the week on the events at St Paul's; one of the reasons for this is that I think the issues at stake are rather complex and it irks me somewhat to hear people confidently proclaiming the rights and wrongs of a situation which can quite legitimately be viewed from a number of different perspectives. Firstly, I do sympathise somewhat with the protesters in their stand against the greed and irresponsibility of the financial markets, although I am also a little cynical given that we are all to some extent invested in global Capitalism - do none of the protesters have loans or personal finance, because most of them certainly have homes which, if reports are to be believed, 90% of them conveniently return to at night... I can also see that the custodians of the Cathedral are anxious that the site does not become a permanent fixture, although I wonder to what extent the loss of revenue, rather than the very expedient pleas of health and safety, lie at the root of their eagerness to see the protesters gone. Finally, I do understand Giles Fraser's sense of concern and outrage that the Church should use or condone force to remove peaceful demonstration, although at the same time I question whether his response is a little disproportionate and I know some feel he rapidly backed himself into a corner, or even that he is intent on being a martyr in the whole situation.

The events have made me think about idealism. I am not entirely an idealist, I think I have a healthy dose of pragmatism, not to mention an unhealthy dose of cynicism that tells me that our ideals often cannot be realised given the flawed nature of our own and others motives and understanding and the very imperfect world that we live in. However, I believe that when we are motivated by a desire to create a better world for others our humanity often shows through at its best. We would be poorer without idealists however annoying they may sometimes be! I have a great deal of respect for Giles Fraser, he is certainly committed to ideals of equality and justice. This does not mean I agree with everything that he says, at times I find his "inclusive" theology rather bland and I imagine he represents everything which some people find annoying about his particular brand of Christianity, but he has today shown himself to be someone who stands by his ideals, whether you think them misguided or not.
One of the problems with the Church is that it is an institution and institutions tend to be serve their own financial, political and practical interests , often over and above the values upon which they are meant to be based. I would argue this is true of no organisation more than the Church - you only have to look at the child abuse cover up scandals in the Roman Catholic Church to be aware of this - and the Church of England is also often guilty of putting expediency before its mission to act in Christ like ways. I think the way Giles Fraser has acted has a certain personal integrity, but it could not really be described as expedient or even particularly judicious.
I wonder what would happen if St Paul's really did think "What would Jesus do?" and tried to act on it? It would be naive and silly really, wouldn't it? They'd fall foul of health and safety laws for a start, lose all their money and maybe have to sell the building and give it all to the poor. And imagine if we all did things like that in our personal lives. The world would have us over a barrel and take us to the cleaners. Act like Jesus did! Don't be silly- they'd crucify us.

Fraser resigns

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Pure Poetry


Like a painting it is set before one,
But less brittle, ageless; these colours
Are renewed daily with variations
Of light and distance that no painter
Achieves or suggests. Then there is movement,
Change, as slowly the cloud bruises
Are healed by sunlight, or snow caps
A black mood; but gold at evening
To cheer the heart. All through history
The great brush has not rested,
Nor the paint dried; yet what eye,
Looking coolly, or, as we now,
Through the tears' lenses, ever saw
This work and it was not finished?

R. S. Thomas

I am rather partial to the poetry of R.S.Thomas. Walking Bess across some of the fields close to where we live these last few days made me think of the poem above. On Tuesday the light was so clear that the water was like a mirror reflecting the every detail of the Autumn trees and sky. Yesterday I made sure to take the camera, and although the light was not quite so good, I took these photos  which almost do justice to the scenery.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Is religion bad for women?

 In the light of the discussion a few posts below, I was interested to listen to this item debating  the question Is religion bad for women?  during Women's Hour on Radio 4. Is religious ideology largely a male construct or have women always appropriated and indeed had a key role within religious traditions? Do religions control and subjugate women or is the whole picture more complex than this? A brief but thought provoking exchange of views here.
On the theme of the post below, I noticed that Philomena Ewing  had posted a link to BBC Radio 2 discussion of "What has religion ever done for women" on Blue Eyed Ennis. The article is an hour long but worth listening to for its range and variety of perspectives, even if it does play too many Dolly Partonesque type songs!

Monday, 24 October 2011

Freedom of speech and discrimination

The Daily Mail yesterday reported on the case of Adrian Smith, an employee who has been demoted allegedly simply because he posted on Face book comments which disapproved of the new proposals to allow civil partnerships to be registered in religious premises. This is the latest in a long line of cases which are being brought, and no doubt being supported by the Christian Institute, alleging that Christians are facing discrimination for their beliefs/ opinions in the workplace and that this amounts both to discrimination and suppression of free speech. Recent examples include a builder disciplined over a palm cross on his dashboard and the case of the cafe owner who was questioned by the police for allowing homophobic comments to be played on a video relaying scripture in his Christian cafe (I didn't manage to blog on that one!)

I have blogged on these matters fairly extensively over the past few months and years. I find it depressing that so many of these cases revolve around sexuality, which seems to be a tinder point for many disagreements, although the wearing of crosses and saying of prayers for patients has also featured.  I have argued before that each case needs to be looked at on its merits and also that the the law should allow a clause for reasonableness and context , and indeed this has recently been mooted  by the Equality Commission. It is a very different matter, for example, if a cafe is playing a looped video of the whole of the bible ( in which case people should put anything that jars in context and live with it in my humble opinion!) from if they are repeatedly playing specific verses with the marked intention of targeting a particular group and causing distress or offence.

As for the case of Adrian Smith, on the basis of what has been reported  it sounds as if he has been badly treated both by colleagues and his employers. I am aware, however, that there is often more to these stories than first meets the eye and The Daily Mail  sometimes has a reputation for being less than accurate and impartial in their reporting. I note that there is a sentence about a "second colleague" who has complained and, in the Telegraph, a mention of a previous faith based complaint. I am also unsure whether the case doesn't also  say just as much about the increasing power of employers over their employees, the pitfalls of social media and the Internet, and our increasing willingness to resort to "law" and not "jaw" to resolve our disputes and disagreements. I can't help thinking that when it comes to disputes the principle of resolving matters informally and amicably whenever humanly possible would benefit us greatly.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Laws and principles

 China has been doing some soul searching this week after horrific video footage showed a two year old girl, Yueyue, knocked over by a van and then ignored by at least eighteen of her fellow human beings. Finally a woman did go to her aid, a true Samaritan , as not only did she not walk by but she was apparently a scavenger, a garbage collector, one of the least privileged in society.
       This morning it was announced that Yueyue had died and that there was talk of bringing in a  new law which would make it illegal not to go to the aid of a stranger in need, there was also some discussion of why so many had quite clearly knowingly ignored or avoided a child in desperate need, including that some might have been motivated by fear of litigation or of being accused of causing the injuries in the first place. The discussion made me think about laws and our behaviour, particularly as the gospel reading this week includes Jesus telling the experts in the Law that the greatest commandments are to love God and your neighbour and that on these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets. It is a peculiarly apt and poignant reading in the light of these events, particularly as, in the gospel of Luke, Christ's injunction to love our neighbour as ourselves leads on to the story of the Good Samaritan in answer to the question, "Who is my neighbour?"
All societies have laws and need laws, but rules and regulations arise out of human frailty and can themselves be flawed. We have all heard of instances where the law has been correctly applied but the result has seemed unjust; the law has been a blunt tool in the hands of fallible humanity and might be said to have failed to achieve its intention or to be true to underlying principles. As Christians we are commanded to love God and to love each other; those are not the kind of rules and regulations that can be simply achieved, they are more something we have to devote ourselves to as a way of life, they are overarching principles upon which more specific and measurable rules and laws should be based. Laws are important, but the principles which underlie them give them meaning and make them more than just a set of dos and don'ts. This is why God aims to write his law on our hearts, because laws should not just be sentences written on paper, they should be a living attitude and ethos in the hearts and minds of all of us. He also aims to give us hearts of flesh, not stone, because hearts of flesh respond to the suffering and pain of others.
         I am not sure that bringing in a law that compels us to help others is the right approach (although removing a law that makes people afraid to help might be.) We should not go to the aid of a child because we are afraid of breaking the law; it is something we should do instinctively out of compassion and concern for another. A law like that should be written on every heart that is made of flesh and not of stone.

Monday, 17 October 2011

The venomous theology of taint

Down from the waist they are Centaurs,
Though women all above: But to the girdle do the gods inherit,
Beneath is all the fiends';
There's hell, there's darkness, there's the sulphurous pit,
Burning, scalding, stench, consumption; fie,
fie, fie! pah, pah!
Give me an ounce of civet,
good apothecary, to sweeten my imagination:
King Lear (IV, vi)

Very few pieces that I have read convey the blind irrationality and fear that lies at the root of  true misogyny  as this evocative passage from King Lear. We all know that this kind of fear that women might contaminate and infect existed throughout history and is still alive and kicking in some parts of the world. Perhaps we don't quite expect to find it in the Church of England?
Just recently I received the account below; it was written by a woman who attended the same meeting described in the recent post on the debate on women bishops and describes the views expressed as "bile" and as "venomous". I am not going to name the diocese, but it occurs to me that it must have been quite some meeting! It reads as follows: 
     "I recently attended my first Deanery Synod. My expectations were not high; I anticipated a slightly dull evening with a serious, if somewhat worthy, discussion of the agenda items. The main issue was the legislation for the ordination of women bishops.

     My expectations were totally confounded; it was far from a dull meeting. I witnessed a shocking display of misogyny that would have led to disciplinary action being taken in any of the areas that I have worked in. There was a palpable sense of outrage expressed by one of the speakers at the temerity of women in the Church. His forcibly expressed view that the ordination of women transmitted a contagion that was irreversible and rendered those involved with their ordination unfit for ministering to, or in conjunction with, those opposed to women priests was offensive. That these views were allowed to pass unchallenged compounded the offence, and it made matters worse that those attempting to counter this bile were effectively silenced.
            There was much talk of the pain and hurt felt by the opponents of women priests and their desire for an honoured place within the Church but the hurt and distress felt by women exposed to such venomous views was not mentioned."
             Since the meeting I have been assured by a retired clergyman that my concerns regarding the role of women in our diocese are unfounded as our bishop is very tolerant of women. I, and most other women I have spoken to, do not want to be tolerated; we want to be valued and encouraged in the same way that our male counterparts are.

I don't want to comment too much on the specifics of the above, it was not a meeting I attended and it was not my experience, but it does leave me disturbed that, in the midst of what has been an overwhelming groundswell of support for women bishops, views have been expressed in such a manner to have left some women feeling shocked, offended, unvalued, spoken about as unclean.  It reminded me of the concerns that menstruating women would transfer taint to the sacrament when women were first ordained. One of the most tragic aspects of all of this is that is so contrary to the gospels, in which Christ was touched by and touched  all manner of women with a wonderful disregard for the fact that such association would have probably been regarded as rendering  him constantly ritually unclean.
I do understand those who wish to find an "honoured place" for those opposed to the ministry of women, but honouring others cuts both ways. Some of the underlying theologies of those opposed are not sound, not rational, not humane and not bibilical. It is simply not acceptable to describe others in a way that shows contempt, disgust or revulsion for who they are, and such views should be challenged.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Misogyny in the Church - the votes for women bishops

 It is extremely positive to hear that the deaneries and dioceses are voting so overwhelmingly in favour of the legislation for women bishops. Having said that, there are disturbing reports from some areas of the level of animosity being expressed at some meetings and some concerns at lack of due process, or lack of clarity about the process. The following is  guest post written by someone who comments from time to time on this blog.

Ever felt like a leper? You know, those poor individuals with a serious
infectious disease, who used to be compelled to walk through the streets
shouting ʻUnclean! Unclean!ʼ This way of treating lepers was supposed to
have died out several hundred years ago. But guess what? The Church of
England can still provide you with a taste of that experience. Sorry fellas, this
one is for women only.

The CofE is currently debating the female bishops legislation through local
and regional levels (parishes, deaneries, and dioceses). As a veteran of the
debates about ordaining women to the diaconate and priesthood, I thought I
was pretty inured to the rough and tumble of it. I was wrong.

In my area the subject was on the agenda for 2 successive Deanery Synod
meetings. At the first we had 2 speakers. The first spoke for the Measure (to
ordain women as bishops) and against the Following Motion (legalising
discrimination against female bishops). He was followed by a speaker, R,
who argued strongly for the Following Motion. R used the most extreme
arguments I had heard for many years. The gist was that women are unclean
('nasty, dirty little things, ugh!' is how one woman present summarised it), and
that any man who ordains one or is ordained by one will transmit the taint on
down the line in perpetuity. His talk contained a number of errors in fact.

A time for questions followed, and I made an attempt to correct some of these
errors. I was silenced by the Rural Dean, who said that only questions were
being allowed, and the debate would follow at the next meeting. Following the
meeting it was clear that a number of women were upset and angry at the
way it was conducted. I spoke to two who had had no idea that it was still
legal for such hatred of women to be expressed publicly without challenge,
and entertained as a valid opinion. Itʼs tragic that their only experience of it
should be within their own Church.

Some of us were looking forward to the opportunity to correct the balance
and counter the misinformation at the next meeting, and I had prepared fairly
carefully for the debate. However, in the event no debate or discussion was
allowed. I challenged the Rural Dean pretty strongly on this but he denied
ever having promised a debate. He said the first meeting had been to provide
PCC's with information for their own discussion and decision, and the second
meeting was simply for the Deanery to vote. We were then not given an
opportunity to vote on the Following Motion. We were told that no deaneries
were voting on it, but he Diocesan Synod could add its own Following Motion
if it wants to. The meeting duly voted to approve the ordination of women to
the episcopate.

After the meeting several people thanked me for speaking up, since their
recollection of the previous meeting and the process that had been promised
was similar to mine. They too were disturbed that at no time had a reply to
the extreme misogyny of the speakerʼs views been possible. PCCs had been
expected to vote on the basis of very limited information, and without ever
hearing the views of people in their own deanery.

I am not sure if the Rural Dean was right in saying that the procedure
followed in our deanery is the one being followed throughout the diocese, but
it raises some serious questions about the integrity of the process.

1) If deaneries were not to vote on the Following Motion, why was so much
time and attention given to it during the first Deanery Synod meeting?

2) Are the votes of parishes being recorded and passed up the line? If not,
weʼve wasted the time of our PCC, and the views of many ʻordinaryʼ
churchgoers are not being heard.

3) If the usual Following Motion, or a new one (as has just happened in
Manchester), is introduced at Diocesan Synod, how much weight does the
vote carry when there has been no opportunity to test opinion in the

4) Finally, I am left deeply disturbed that at an official meeting of the
Established Church feelings of such deep revulsion against women priests
should be allowed to be put without being challenged at all. These views
were so extreme that they shocked many of those present, and many of
those who heard of the meeting afterward. In a joint presentation someone
always has to speak last, but their views inevitably have more impact than
those who speak first. This is usually balanced by opening the subject up
for debate, or allowing each speaker a few moments' summary at the end.
In our Deanery Synod this did not happen.

Iʼve been left assuring women to stick with the CofE, there is still a place for
them in it. But how can I encourage lay people to get involved in the Church
of Englandʼs structures, if this is the effect it will have?

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Spiritual expression in secular songs

Secular lyrics often speak of a search for meaning and explore emotions such love, hope and fear. It is not surprising then that we sometimes hear religious or spiritual themes in the lyrics of popular songs. Crossroads by Don McLean seems to me to touch on the idea  faith is a journey and that ,although we may find ourselves walking unexpected paths, it is the journeying itself  and the closeness to God that the journey brings that matters.

Songs of Praise and the language of hymns

 I am not a particular fan of Songs of Praise, I do listen sometimes if  I hear a favourite hymn being sung. This Sunday marked the 50th anniversary of Songs of Praise and I heard an  interview on Radio 4 with a hymn loving atheist, it wasn't Dawkins although I believe he does also love rousing hymns. The short clip I heard made me think about the effect of hymns on my own life and it occurred to me that a lot of my earliest thoughts and ideas about religion were shaped by hymns - not the modern day versions, rather those wonderful old hymns which are not so often sung nowadays because they are full of biblical references , usually sourced from the Old Testament, and religious doctrine clothed in obscure language.
When I was five, my dad began his theological training at St Michael's in Wales. My mum worked full time to support him at this point and my dad was responsible for getting me to school in the morning. The college held mass before breakfast and my dad used to take me to the service every morning, after which I would have breakfast - usually boiled eggs with fingers - and would be the centre of attention before being dropped off at school before lectures and tutorials began.
I guess that this arrangement was purely for convenience given my parents' busy working lives, it is true to say though that it did have an effect upon my awareness of both religious faith and language. I loved the cadences of  liturgical language long before I fully grasped their import. I remember pondering some of the words and phrases and feeling their emotional weight and wondering what they meant. I can't remember if we sang hymns at the morning prayer service, I do remember hearing hymns in church. One of my favourites was Alleluia, Sing to Jesus, a song which fascinated me with its references to us not being "orphans" and the wonderful images of God with earth as his "footstool" and heaven as his "throne" - language which brought a vivid picture to mind - as well as the songs which "swept across the crystal sea." Other concepts in this hymn completed baffled me, I had no idea what Zion was or why or how Jesus could be "both priest and victim", or what an "intercessor" was. Hymns like that do sow seeds though and I wonder if generations of churchgoers have grasped their theology from hymns as much as from sermons?
Modern hymns are sometimes criticised as being watery versions with less theology and more of a focus on emotion - the "Jesus is my boyfriend" line of thought. I am not sure this is fair, many traditional hymns are also love songs - take  "How Sweet the Name of Jesus sounds" which is a declaration of passion,
           "Jesus, my brother, Shepherd, Friend, My Prophet, Priest, and King;
           My Lord, my Life, myWay, my End."
Each generation has to find new ways and new language with which to worship, and I love all sorts of hymns, some of them modern and others ancient, as well as sometimes hearing reflections on faith in the lyrics of secular songs (see above.)
Someone who comments on this blog told me recently about his love for the hymn "Let all Mortal Flesh keep silence" - another hymn that I love both for the wonderful music and rich language. They really don't make them like that anymore.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Has failed to meet expectations

If you have ever attended a parents' evening - and I've sat on both sides of the table at different times, you'll be amused by this cartoon! However, it is more than just simple humour - many people must have felt this way!  Many were expecting the Messiah to be a great military leader, who would restore Israel to a position of power. What they had not expected was a lowly carpenter with  no weapons, no army, no status. Finally, being crucified is perhaps not what most people would see as the greatest measure of a successful life and career!

We should never forget that Jesus was a failure and that he didn't meet the standard. It is important because we can start to think more carefully about all the things we are told are worthwhile and rethink all our expectations.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Losing my religion

You may have heard that the band R.E.M have announced they are going to split. This was certainly news to me as I didn't know they were still together (!) but I immediately thought of some of their songs and in particular, "Losing my religion", a wonderful track full of  anguished lyrics such as, "That's me in the corner, that's me in the spotlight, losing my religion." Losing my religion is apparently an idiomatic phrase which means something like "at my wits end" and, according to the Internet, was inspired by attempts to grapple with a guitar chord rather than a Jacob-like wrestling match with the maker of the universe. However, there has to be more to it than that as a whole generation found a mystical focus in the song - yes, it said so on the Internet (who needs religion anyhow with such a source of infallible knowledge and wisdom at the click of a mouse...)
Well, I've done a little bit of questioning, doubting and journeying in terms of faith and religion over the years, so I decided to have a look at the lyrics. I couldn't quite make my mind up if they were  "profound" (the Internet told me so...) or " complete bollocks" (the humble opinion of a commenter on one thread I looked at), but they did seem to me to be about more than just breaking a nail on a guitar string. I felt there were two key strands in the song. The first is that our faith becomes poisoned when we cannot be ourselves with God, or when we think that we can hide from him,
"Every whisper, every waking hour, I'm choosing my confessions."
The idea that we can hide ourselves from God goes right back to Genesis when Adam first sins and is aware of his nakedness and tries to hide from God. Of course, it is futile to try to hide from God because he is all seeing, but I am not sure that is the point, the point is more that shame can cause us to hide from ourselves and to hide from God and it is only when we can be open and vulnerable with God  that we can understand ourselves to be loved completely and that we can have faith in ourselves and our potential for goodness as made in the divine image (I'm not saying REM was saying all that, you know, most of that is me being profound...)
The second idea that I noticed was very similar - the idea that to have faith we have to be able to trust that  God is good.  This is by no means as easy as it seems. The concluding lyrics of the song show a desire to believe in  a benevolent God, but a doubt and suspicion that overcome this:
" I thought that I heard you laughing, I thought that I heard you sing, I think I thought I heard you try... but that was just a dream... just a dream."
Does God laugh with us, or at us? Is his response to human suffering one of compassion - tears - or the laughter of a cruel or capricious deity? Given all the horrors of human existence, is the belief in a God of love a pipe dream that only the most misguided cling onto? It always affects me when I hear stories of people who have suffered great tragedy - the death of a child  is the most poignant example- who lose their faith. It affects me because I know that I cannot say, hand on heart, that I would not be the same, that I would not blame God and feel angry and disbelieving rather than cling to my faith.   I wonder how many of us could say the same?

Saturday, 17 September 2011

I'm sorry I am a Christian!

Does anyone else ever want to apologise - or at least explain?

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Strong views and " impartial advice"?

What struck me most was this statement,
" With such polarised views can either of these groups be truly said to be independent?"

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Nadine Dorries and abortion law

 I heard this evening that Nadine Dorries bill on abortion counselling had been defeated in the Commons and I thought this might be worth some comment. First of all, can I say that I am no supporter of Dorries, some of her proposals and attempts to change law on moral and social issues, such as her call for teenage girls (but not boys!) to be given lessons in abstinence, are on the lunatic fringe. However, I must confess that I am somewhat uneasy about the idea that abortion providers should be the sole source of counselling for women when those providers are set to profit financially from a decision in favour of a termination.

I have previously commented on an undercover report  that pro-life organisations are giving women factually misleading advice about abortion and using emotive tactics to pressurise them into making a decision not to terminate. If this is true, then it is clearly not acceptable. I do wonder how far it is even possible for a pro life organisation to offer truly impartial advice on this matter? Some might say that a "pro-choice" organisation, if it is truly concerned with allowing choice, might offer more impartiality - but this argument falls down when the pro-choice organisation is also the abortion provider and has a vested financial interest?

Surely women should be offered truly independent advice - it seems to me the only thing that is right in this situation? I am not sure I would wish to ban organisations such as Marie Stoppes offering counselling, nor to stop pro-life organisations offering counselling - but, in such cases, I would like it to be made clear to women exactly what the underlying ethos and involvement of each organisation is, and for them to be offered alternative, truly independent advice if they so wished.

I thought that Anne Milton, the Government's health provider's response was measured and judicious. Milton told MPs:
"The government is … supportive of the spirit of these amendments and we intend to bring forward proposals for regulations accordingly, but after consultation. Primary legislation is not only unnecessary but would deprive parliament of the opportunity to consider the detail of how this service would develop and evolve."
I hope the Government does bring in a requirement for women to be offered independent counselling. Yet I suspect that if the only solution were to offer such counselling at tax payer's expense they would fight shy of this move. At the very least, I hope that they bring in further regulations of abortion counselling. The decision to bring a child into the world is a very serious one with far reaching consequences, but this does not mean that the same is not also often true of a decision to terminate.

NB: Since writing this piece, I have realised that "independent advice" is not the same as "impartial advice." I realised this after doing some reading around in response to some comments on CareConfidential on this post. CareConfidential is "independent", but it is not impartial, it is pro-life (see video above.) When Dorries says she wants women to be offered independent advice, I think this is because she knows that most such independent charitable counselling  is pro-life. Marie Stopes alleges that many women have told them that such  organisations pressurised them to continue with a pregnancy and were not honest about their christian ethos. I have also read one article pointing out that Marie Stopes is not "profit making" in the way that Dorries seems to imply. Any profits must be ploughed back into the organisation, no individual benefits financially. Having said this, I am still dubious about an abortion provider offering counselling, even when the financial gain from a decision to terminate would be invested in the organistion. I'd like to see independent and impartial counselling available on the NHS. I don't think this will happen! Why? Well,  given the number of abortions carried out, the cost would be significant. Is reducing the number of abortions as much of an issue for our Government as reducing the number of underage pregnancies - well, you know the answers!

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

In blog we trust!

A short time ago, while still in a state of shock at the demise of the much missed and lamented Church Mouse blog, I wrote about vanishing blog syndrome - you know, that let down feeling you experience when one of your favourite bloggers decides to hang up their boots and get back to their family and the real world? Well, that has happened to me quite a bit recently and I've decided that I need to be more ruthless in pruning and updating my blog list, for example deleting people who have not written a post for six months or more, and actively seeking out and adding new blogs.
Part of the process of blogging is not only to write your own blog but also to read the blogs that others write and to comment on them. Reading other blogs helps to keep you up to date with discussions or developments in the area you blog about, but, as Freda points out here,  it is  also essential to build up a blogging community, keep in touch and communicate. I have recently added to my sidebar list a recently started blog  Lost in the North, which is  written by someone I know personally (yes, I do mean in the real world!)  and  Blue Eyed Ennis, a blog that I have been reading regularly for some time and should really have linked to ages ago. I hope you will read these blogs and perhaps comment on them. In return, I would love to hear about the blogs you read regularly and would recommend.
Does anyone think I should apologise for the blog title? It is a dreadful pun, isn't it? And I've used it in a previous blog post. You'd think I'd have a bit more self respect - especially as Lesley is producing some lovely colourful graphs charting  the ups and downs of the female blogger according to Wikio!

News at home and abroad

This first fortnight back at work is pretty non-stop for me, and I have been vaguely aware of not being able to comment on new developments concerning the Anglican Covenant or the diocesan voting on women bishops.
There has been  more news from NZ ; this weekend both Auckland and Waiapu (East Coast North island) diocesan synods passed similar motions declining to support Clause 4 of the Covenant  and declaring that they saw no impediment to the ordination of someone in a commited same-sex relationship.
The two motions were passed by two thirds majorities in Auckland, and by 90% plus in Waiapu. You can read some analyis of the developments in New Zealand on Lesley's blog here and also an  article from the conservative Andrew Goddard suggesting that a reform of the instruments of Communion is needed to enable Clause 4 to be effective. I assume here that he would like to see the instruments have greater power to discipline and exclude - although he doesn't say as much. It seemed to sit rather uneasily alongside the news from NZ that indicates that TEC is far from being alone and isolated in its views.

  I have no idea whether the Church of England will support the Covenant. I have a hunch that we may, largely because not to do so might be perceived as an act of disloyalty to Rowan Williams.  I could well be wrong though - I hope I am. On another key issue, that of women bishops, matters seem to be proceeding apace. Worcester has just become the 12th Diocesan Synod to vote in favour of the Article 8 Women Bishop's legislation. However, a majority of diocesan synods must vote in favour. There are 44 dioceses so 23 favourable votes are required, meaning 11 dioceses must still vote in favour. Furthermore, it seems likely that in some Diocesan Synods a "following motion" will be proposed asking for even more provision for women bishops. The Church of England Evangelical Council has formulated one such motion. If the House of Bishops amends the legislation it will have to go back around the dioceses for debate and voting again, before coming back to General Synod for final approval. The most likely result, based on past voting patters,  is that General Synod will reject the amended legislation - although we do now have a different synod from when the addtional provision for those who will not accept women bishops was so resoundingly rejected.
The Worcester vote was by massive majorities in all 3 houses. (ie one cleric against and one abstaining and 3 laity against.)

Friday, 2 September 2011

Internet perils

It has been a busy week. As a colleague said to me, returning after the holidays is a bit like stepping into a pool of ice cold water. I had two non- work resolutions this week, one was to manage a trip to the gym, the other was to compose a mid week blog post. The blogging resolution fell by the wayside, but I mustered up the energy for a (short) session on the treadmill - I think on Wednesday evening. We went out for a meal (during which I almost fell asleep) on Thursday. Was that only yesterday? My memories of the whole week are starting to get a bit hazy...
Although I did not blog myself, I did find time to take a cursory glance at other blogs I read regularly. My attention was caught by a post on the e-Church blog in which Stuart seemed to suggest self harm could be akin to the sacraments - " blood as liquid emotion". The link was to an article entitled Self injury and the Sacraments by Stacey. I was a little dubious about the idea of self harm as sacrament, partly because self harm does seem to be a growing trend, and can have an unfortunate glamour. Can I be quite clear here that I am not unsympathetic to those who self harm, it is a well documented response to pain and trauma, I just think there may be dangers if it is dignified/ mystified as "sacramental" in some way.
Anyhow, it then emerged that Stacey had  also written a  rather offensive post  and as a result was receiving death threats and having her details published on antagonistic websites. The post  was most unedifying and really did say more about Stacey tendency to over react to supposed homosexuals than anything else, but the comments did also shock me and  made me think about the way the Internet  often brings out the worst in all of us. I am an enthusiastic blogger and I love the Internet, but the instantaneous and potentially anonymous nature of communication it affords can free us to to say and do things that we might otherwise hesitate over.
        Most schools have a  non bullying policy, but more and more they face the problem of how to deal with situations where a member of the school community bullies another through email or social networking sites. I have heard some awful stories on the news about young people driven to contemplate or commit suicide because of cyber bullying, sometimes involving targeted "hate pages" set up about them. Blogging is a slightly different field to social networking. Bloggers put their opinions,  which are sometimes controversial or provocative, out there for comment and , to an extent, should be able to carry the can. There are limits though; on the Internet, as in real life, we should not match hatred for hatred.
All in all, I was quite glad I'd prioritised the gym...

Monday, 29 August 2011


I was rather amused by a post on The Cantos of Mutabilitie complaining about the use of the word "gutted" by a chief examiner concerning the way in which his board had somehow managed to put unanswerable questions on their papers this year. Some of the comments on the post dwelt on similar linguistic monstrosities, for example the advice given by an  Ryanair hostess that her passengers should "chillax" during the flight.
It is fairly unforgivable that an examiner should use slang such as "gutted" in the context of an official statement, especially as teachers regularly receive feedback which emphasises the need for students to avoid "an overly colloquial register." Sometimes the reports give real life examples of things which the board consider totally bang to rights - sorry - utterly insupportable , such as "Cleopatra is a high maintenance lady", or even,  "Hamlet was pissed off about his mum and his uncle shagging"(!)
Some colloquialisms are more fitted to a certain context or occasion than a more formal phrase. I dislike a written style that is bland, stilted or engineered to include a lot of latinate words simply in an attempt to impress.  The word "chillax" has to be an exception to this rule. I challenge anyone to think of a real life context in which the word "chillax"is anything other than a gross assault upon the person. As for, "God wants you to chillax", anyone using that phrase in a sermon should face severe and immediate disciplinary measures!

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Gone surfin'

Bessie gave up all extreme sports due to a paw injury involving a skateboarding incident last year. Regular readers will be glad to hear that, after seeing this video, she has demanded to be taken surfing, or at the least treated to a trip to a skateboarding park.

Friday, 26 August 2011

To talk the talk and walk the walk

I blogged a while back about Symon Hill, the journalist who embarked on a pilgrimage of repentance for his former homophobia. I have been vaguely keeping up with his blog and note that Symon's quest has been endorsed by Greenbelt, he is talking about his experience at the festival this weekend. I've been thinking about Symon's journey since I read that he would be at Greenbelt. I don't just mean his physical journey, I mean the spiritual, emotional and personal journey that his pilgrimage is meant to represent. For Symon it is also a personal journey as he now identifies as bisexual, so the homophobia he felt (and practised) was directed against himself as much as anything. The effect of homophobia upon LGBT people is immense. It does not simply cause feelings of rejection/ anger/ depression but also results in a life long struggle to discover and to be one's authentic self.
We all venture on personal journies throughout life and I am glad Symon has reached the place he has. I wonder whether he should really feel the need to "repent" for his former attitudes as I guess he was the main victim of them! I know his pilgrimage is also a call to others, churches and individuals to "repent" of homophobic attitudes. I have mixed feelings about this because, although I certainly think many churches and individuals do need to consider the consequences of their attitudes upon others, I also wonder whether a "call to repent" is not the sort of thing that often leaves people seriously ticked off! The term "homophobia" is nowadays used very generally. I am not sure it is a very helpful term, as it suggests a "phobic" reaction to gay people - thus very few people consider themselves to be homophobic.
 It is when people put a human face to an "issue" that their hostilities and assumptions often melt away and they think more widely and carefully and - if they are Christian - more lovingly. I think the most positive thing about Symon Hill's journey is not that he is accusing others, but that he is asking them to have the grace and imagination to  talk with him and to walk with him.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

The cost of alcohol

 One of the things I've done this year is to almost give up drinking alcohol. I say "almost" because I do have a drink if I go out socially or have a meal with friends. I am not teetotal but I don't generally drink and will often go for several weeks without having an alcoholic drink. Nor was giving up drinking a conscious decision, although ironically it did start around New Year and was partly a response to the huge pile of empties that we accumulated at New Year (we did have several friends around for a party!) I decided to limit myself to fruit juice for a few days and the habit just stuck.
It is clear, however, that Britain does in general have a fairly serious  drink problem, and I wonder whether my giving up of alcohol was in some way a response to or protest against the damage that excessive drinking can cause.  I work with young people so I often hear some fairly immature attitudes to drink. Some, not all, seem to talk about getting "off your face" on a Friday night as though this were a great achievement or talent, when clearly it isn't! I can just about live with this level of immaturity in teenagers, but I do sometimes hear the same kind of talk from adults. Why is it that people think the fact they drink a lot is something to be proud of, but having a drink problem is something they would be ashamed of?
I am not convinced that making alcohol more expensive is a solution, but ironically alcohol related problems are costing us all more and more as time goes on, and that's just the financial cost let alone the social and emotional cost that so many individuals and families are having to pay. To change we need a widespread revolution in attitudes - not to all renounce alcohol, but just to be a bit more grown up about the whole affair. Grown ups really shouldn't think its hilarious, admirable or even noteworthy that when they drink too much they lose control. 
Does anyone have a problem with that?