Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Blogging off for a bit

Whenever Mummy took a break from blogging there were these strange people in her kitchen...
Blogging may be light over the next week as I am planning to spend some time with my family. They have already been neglected for two weekends with Synod and retreats and now deserve will be getting some more of my attention.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Like cat and dog?

Sometimes love blossoms in the most surprising places! H/t to Freda at What's the story in Dalamory.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Vatican recalls envoy

The Vatican has recalled its Irish envoy Archbishop Giuseppe Leanzabeen from Dublin following strong criticisms of its role in covering up child abuse. Last week the Irish parliament passed a motion deploring the Vatican's role in "undermining child protection frameworks" following publication of a damning report on the diocese of Cloyne in county Cork. The Cloyne report said Irish clerics concealed from the authorities the sexual abuse of children by priests as recently as 2009 after reports from the Vatican seemed to disparage child protection guidelines. As explained in the Irish Times the Prime Minister Enda Kenny made a speech condemning the Holy See in which he said that the "rape and torture of children were downplayed or managed, to uphold instead the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and reputation."

 Enda Kenny undoubtedly did use strong words, but they are words which seem entirely justified given the increasing evidence, not only of abuse, but of systematic attempts to conceal it or dismiss its significance. The Papal Envoy has been recalled ostensibly  for "consultation", and the Vatican has made a statement saying that this is the case, but has also expressed displeasure at what they have termed the "excessive reactions" of the Irish Government.
In my view this reaction ill becomes the Vatican; it is hard to see in it anything approaching Christian compassion and remorse. The influence and authority of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland has already been severely damaged and many Roman Catholics feel bereft, betrayed and long for the expression of a mature, substantial  and commensurate remorse that might allow them to look more confidently to the Church again for moral guidance and support. It is hard to know how this action will achieve anything except to drive a stronger wedge between Church and State in Ireland and to fuel anger and distress amongst those who already feel let down.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Only your presence

The well known reading from Romans 8 today, that nothing can separate us from the love of God, is echoed in the writings of St Francis about discipleship:
 "Therefore, let nothing hinder us, nothing separate us, nothing come between us. Wherever we are, in every place, at every hour, at every time of the day, every day and continually, let all of us truly and humbly believe, hold in our heart and love, honor, adore, serve, praise and bless, glorify and exalt, magnify and give thanks to the Most High and Supreme Eternal God ."
This song seems to echo some of those ideas. It is rather beautiful and just right for the peace and calm of a lovely  Sunday evening.

A person with a belief

It is ironic that the perpetrator of the massacre in Norway tweeted a single quote from the philosopher John Stuart Mill prior to the killing spree, saying: "One person with a belief is equal to the force of 100,000 who have only interests" as the thoughts and actions of  Anders Behring Breivik would have been deeply abhorrent to John Stuart Mill. At the heart of Mill's humanitarian philosophy lay an acute awareness of and empathy for others, he believed in liberty only insofar as this did not cause harm to others. Mill's championed the cause of women's equality in his essay on "The subjection of women" and promoted the good of the greatest possible number of individuals in a society in his idea of utilitarianism. There is such a disparity between the mindset of a thinker such as Mills and one such as Anders Behring Breivik that one has to wonder whether he was actually tweeting Mills in an ironic sense?  Was he actually saying something along the lines that "Mill's empathy for the many is in direct opposition to my lack of empathy and narcissistic assertion of my own ideologies and emotions to the exclusion of the interests of others" - and would he indeed be capable of this sort of degree of self awareness?

Like Mills, Anders Behring Breivik certainly can be described as having "beliefs". Described as right wing politically, anti- Muslim and a fundamentalist Christian, linked to the Tea Party, and known to comment on several political and religious websites, he clearly had an acute interest in ideology. Nor did he lack emotion. I couldn't help noticing that the paper I got this morning described him as "cold and heartless" in one article, whilst explaining in another that "he would have been in the grip of a slow burning anger" against the world. Well, slow burning anger is certainly an emotion - and has to be compelling to find expression in such an extreme way. What Anders Behring Breivik lacked was not the ability to think or to feel, simpy the ability to feel on behalf of others, to experience empathy. It is very likely that he was at the centre of his universe and may not have recognised other human beings (certainly those who were Muslim or left wing) as anything other than "the other."

I do not want to comment at length on this tragic and horrible event, nor the person behind it. Many aspects leave me deeply uneasy, the way that several newspapers initially reported it as an Al Qaeda massacre seems rather ironic given Anders Behring Breivik's anti-Muslim views, and - so close to the demise of The News of the World - I can't help feeling that grubby recognition that this is a gift for the newspapers and media and that what is simply a colossal pointless waste and utterly needless, meaningless heartbreak for so many can be in danger of being turned into entertainment for all of us. There is a bit of a "wow factor" when someone acts in such an extreme and horrific way and there is a fascination in all of us about the mindset behind it - and isn't that reaction partly what Anders Behring Breivik sought?

I come back to the title of this post - a person with a belief. The events in Norway make me feel that it matters very little what our beliefs actually are;  just that Christ's commandment to love our neighbour as ourselves should override - or underpin - each and every one of them.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Twelth Night

I've been pretty busy recently! First of all there was  the end of term, then Synod, followed by the retreat, and then Mr M had his first real full day back at work today and I actually had to cook the evening meal!  But you will all be glad to hear that I am still finding time to enjoy the summer holiday ( I can actually sense the sympathy vote may not be that high...) and we made a good start by attending an open air performance of Twelth Night at Gawsworth Hall last night. It was a really enjoyable evening, the setting is really beautiful and the performance was excellent. We had a chance to catch up again  with the good  friends  that we went with and, to cap it all, they brought some wine and it didn't even rain!

We are planning to go and see the final episode of Harry Potter tomorrow, very exciting as The Deathly Hallows is my favourite and  I have loved all the books and films (don't expect any intellectual snobbery about them from me) - we will also be going on holiday soon.
In spite of all the rain we seem to be having I am still feeling pretty good! Hey ho!

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Christmas comes but twice a year!

I am now back from retreat, the theme was the Incarnation, hence this blog title. I must admit that I didn't think we would quite stretch to nine lessons and carols followed by Christmas dinner - but we did and it was all rather imaginative. I don't know quite what the neighbours thought when hearing the strains of O Come all ye Faithful, but it must have given them some food for thought; we were more preoccupied with turkey...

Each group took responsibility for part of the readings and carols. As our group had a German speaker, we sang the popular German carol "Es ist ein Ros entsprungen", apparently there is an English version, but I have never heard it.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Equality Commission calls for reasonable accommodation of religious beliefs

I am going on retreat tomorrow and need to pack, and I really have scant time to do justice to the recent announcement of the Equality Commission that the law may have taken too narrow an approach to the rights of employees whose religious beliefs bring them into conflict with their employers, or with equality law, in the workplace. There has also been a range of reactions to this apparent U turn, many secular organisations and groups supporting LGBT rights have reacted with indignation and dismay, including Stonewall, who have declared themselves "deeply disturbed" and The British Humanist Association and The National Secular Society.  I do share the concerns of some of the aforementioned groups, but I would advise anyone feeling likewise not to react too vehemently until they have read this clarification by the EHRC in which it explains that, rather than being a U turn, or an abandonment of the previous policy, it is rather that,
  "The purpose of our intervention is to explain that the law should consider how it may give better respect for religious rights within the workplace than has hitherto been the case, without diminishing the rights of others. We want to change the view that there needs to be an either/or situation. The spotlight and focus is placed too frequently on conflict in place of dialogue that could help identify other acceptable workable solutions.

The accommodation of rights is not a zero sum equation whereby one right cancels out or trumps another. We believe that if the law and practice were considered more widely, then in many situations there would be scope for diverse rights to be respected.
Our view is that careful, sensitive and balanced treatment and consideration is discouraged by the approach taken by the courts to date. In turn, this hinders the development and dissemination of better practice amongst those with duties. We believe that where possible ways should be found within the law of promoting the resolution of disputes at an early stage, without protracted, costly, complex legal proceedings that irretrievably damage relations between the parties."

We have seen a range of cases; some clearly examples of outright discrimination, but others which have seemed to me to verge upon the vexatious and frivolous, for example the case of the plumber sacked for having a palm cross in his van, a situation that should never have reached the courts but which should have been reasonably defused by the employer long before that point. I am glad to see that the Equality Commission wishes to encourage "jaw not war" in such situations. I have also previously argued that there is indeed a need for reasonableness and for a consideration of context, although, believe me, I do understand the fears some have that there will be lessened protection for LGBT people. It is worth noting that the EHRC states,
"There is not – and cannot be – any change in the Commission’s role as the NHRI and equality regulator with responsibility for preventing discrimination against people on grounds of sexual orientation, a responsibility that we aspire to fulfil to the best of our ability.

We would like to reassure our stakeholders that under no circumstances would the Commission condone or permit the refusal of public services to lesbian or gay people."

Above all, each  case needs to be considered on its individual merits, and the real facts rather than those reported by the tabloid newspapers or by the Christian legal centre  along the lines of  "Shock horror: Nurse sacked for offering to pray/ child told off for mentioning God." Usually, behind the headlines, a more complex picture emerges, but the EHRC clearly feels that sometimes there has been a failure of  sense and communication prior to a case being escalated to the level where legal intervention is required.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Responding well to victims of abuse

 A new document Responding Well  which gives guideline on how to deal pastorally with victims of abuse, both within and outside the Church has been issued by the House of Bishops today. It builds on the Time for Action resource published by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland in 2002, which encouraged church denominations to devise  policies and guidance on sexual abuse. The new document advises churches on how to respond as positively and constructively as possible to people who have suffered abuse.
 I have not yet read the guidelines yet, but I strongly feel that such a resource is much needed and I shall be giving it some close attention. Many churches do not deal well with abuse. I suspect this is part and parcel of the fact that many churches do not deal well with sexual matters generally (this is a personal view, please feel free to disagree!) One of the great stumbling blocks to the recovery of many abuse survivors is the emphasis of Christian teaching upon forgiveness. While this is all well and good, and undoubtedly an important part of the Christian message, it is vital for those ministering to the abused to recognise that a part of recovery is to be allowed to express anger and blame. Children who are abused often feel that the abuse is their fault, that they are in some way culpable. To come to terms with abuse, you often have to "blame" the abuser. This does not mean, of course, that the survivor may not develop a more nuanced response at  a later stage, they may, or they may not. In the meantime it is important that churches do not coerce an "appropriate" response, or dictate an agenda, because this too is often a further form of abuse. Churches should be aware that those who have been abused have suffered trauma, and have had their sense of self quite deeply damaged. Recovery from abuse is a journey, it takes time and you cannot set a timetable for "forgiveness".

The following are some unhelpful things which have actually been reported as being said to survivors of abuse. I hope you can spot what is wrong with them! (The word "her" could be substituted for "him" - women do abuse!)
- Did you encourage him in any way?
- You have to think about how you may have sinned in this situation.
-If you don't forgive him then you are worse than he is.
-If you don't forgive, you are rejecting God's forgiveness to you.
- You were brought up in a Christian household, why didn't you say no to such immoral behaviour?
- When he had sex with you, you inherited all the spiritual problems of his previous sexual partners.
-When he had sex with you it opened you up to demon possession.
- His main crime was theft because he stole the gift of your virginity from your future husband.

I am very biased, but I would advise anyone who has been abused to opt for a secular rather than a Christian counsellor. It is also best to go to a properly qualified and accredited counsellor or therapist, not someone set up as a self appointed expert in the name of religion. None of the above is invented - I have either heard them or been told by others that they were said to them, and I have met with the kind of thinking about abuse that lies behind them. I would also say that, even in churches governed by good sense where none of the above would ever be mooted, a vicar or pastor can lack the kind of knowlege, information or experience to be truly helpful as a sole counsellor or advisor.
I hope this guidance is good, it is very much needed - meanwhile I do apologise for another depressing blog post!

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Open Synod Group: Bishop Victoria Matthews

I attended a fascinating talk this afternoon by the Rt Revd Victoria Matthews, Bishop of Christchurch, NZ. The talk was hosted by the Open Synod group and of great interest to anyone involved in or supportive of the admission of women to the Episcopate. Bishop Victoria spoke of her experiences in Christchurch, with an initial focus upon the turmoil, physical, emotional and spiritual, caused by the five major earthquakes which have totally reconfigured their lives and the way that people turned to the Church for leadership and the privilege and responsibility that that brought.The remainder of her talk focused upon another event that can cause turmoil, namely the presence of a woman in a position of episcopal leadership! The picture Bishop Victoria painted of the way that it is possible to rise to this challenge - without a raft of legal safeguards - was inspiring.
New Zealand does not have legal safeguards in place for those who remain opposed to the leadership of women. It does not even have a code of practice. Bishop Victoria is an Anglo Catholic, elected to a largely evangelical diocese with a flavour of Sydney evangelism and yet she has worked successfully alongside  conservative evangelicals and Roman Catholic bishops. She spoke with affection of Barry Jones, with whom she worked closely "rebuilding the faith of Canterbury," (dont' ask -I've no idea...) and Peter Jensen. It was reassuring to be given a glimpse of hope that in all three dioceses she has worked in there have been problems and those who are conservative on the issue, yet in every instance she has been able to work with others with respect and mutual support.
Those within the Church of England who complain that the Code of Practice is not adequate and does not offer sufficient provision would have benefitted from attending this talk. I doubt that many of them, sadly, were present. It was a tribute to the belief that grace and not law will offer us a path to walk forward together in a common quest to spread the gospel, not only in only in our words, but in our actions to each other.

Blogging from Synod: Fringe meetings and events

I was warned in advance that Synod was likely to be "deadly dull" this year, and in the light of this information and a glance at the agenda (which did rather confirm this possibility) I gave Synod Chamber a bit of a miss and instead attended a few fringe meetings and chatted to people at the stalls. First stop was the Fresh Expressions stall, and a visit to a meeting at 6.30 called "trash the church" - the sort of suggestion which did have a certain appeal. Riazat Butt, on her live Synod blog, notes that,
"  For the next five days (Synod) will discuss, among other things, "the stark and urgent choice" facing the C of E in light of dwindling numbers"
and it was interesting to talk to Rachael Jones from Fresh Expressions about some of the innovative and radical action some churches have taken to draw their local communities to church. One of the examples I was given was of one church which "trashed" most of its building and converted it into a sort of playbarn that proved to be a magnet to young families looking to entertain small children relatively cheaply in hard pressed times.
I think Fresh Expressions is a fantastic initiative, but am always dubious about the cost in terms of time and commitment and whether setting up playbarns will draw people into church long term. Rachel Jones talked about some ways that the work can be made more effective by having church members assigned the task of simply chatting and building relationships, cementing relationships and loyalties by offering invitations to other events and so forth. It all sounded like an awful lot of work... And so I went off to "trash the church" at 6.30, a presentation in which we were presented with the goal of, " moving parishes out of their managing decline mode to being more outward looking and focused on opportunities for growth." It sounded pretty convincing and there were people in the audience who did say that the team had come in and revolutionised their churches and turned them into profit making organisations ( in order for the profit to be ploughed back into ministry and outreach.) Sounds great - average cost about £10,000 for three churches to be rapidly developed over six weeks - but it did promise to move you out of the thrift trap...
Trash the Church certainly did not smack of church fetes and the Christmas bazaar, more of an entrepreneurial and daring approach that finds a niche in the market and competes with all the other attractions on offer. Whatever the solution to its problems with number and finances, the Church of England has to find it and find it soon.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Blogging from Synod: Archbishop longs for a church in love.

Arrived Friday night at York and we arrived at Synod Chamber by 9.30 in time to hear Rowan William's Presidential address. He spoke well, starting off with a mention of Sudan and the jubilant celebrations there and also of his recent trip to the Congo and his contact with young people forced into the militia. He told us that those he had spoken to said that, in those difficult situations, the Church did not abandon them. Williams  developed this theme to be more applicable to the wider church, and to our christian lives, as people who should have the strength not to abandon each other, not to stigmatise and reject. He said that among his priorities for the next five years was a vision of a church in love.
There has already been a postive reaction to William's words, one tweet described him as an "Archbishop on fire". I found his talk moving, but, as always, what he said was very nuanced, he seems to offer grains of hope and solace, so that different groups could take from it what they wished, but there was little real substance other than the plea (he said at one time that he was "pleading") that we should all be nice to each other. It made me think of Morrissey's Death of a disco dancer - I am sorry to show my age so often in this blog - in which we are told that love, peace and harmony are very nice, but we might have to wait until the next world to achieve them.
On a more positive note, in the afternoon I took my place among Changing Attitude supporters handing out leaflets about civil partnerships in church and was so struck by the warmth of member after member of General Synod. So many people stopped to give words of encouragement, and my one conversation with someone opposed was still positive and respectful. The Church of England may not look like a church in love, and I cannot say that it is, but there is love and there is respect, just that these voices are drowned by the fear and suspicion that comes from certain sectors and, ironically enough, perhaps from the top down.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Lambeth sees AMIE less as friend than foe

Lambeth Palace has issued this statement about AMiE, which suggests the powers that be are distinctly pissed off. I am a little concerned that a teensy part of me is thinking "serves you right"; in spite of the glacial tone of the piece there is still an implicit pleading and pandering in the comments about how the good intentions to work within the existing structures are "welcome". The Church of England has gone down the path of appeasing those who have never had any intention of compromise. Lambeth does  not seem to have learnt the lesson that if you will tiptoe cautiously around pandering to the bullies, you shouldn't be surprised when they reward you by turning up in your back yard brandishing a crowbar.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Speaking out but loving our neighbour

It is important when speaking out against injustice that we do not lose sight of the humanity of others. I am increasingly hearing people denouncing Islam for its oppressive and discriminatory practices- ironically those speaking out are often the type of Christians who are not above discriminatory attitudes and behaviour themselves. Andrew Brown gets the balance just right in  Sharia and the scare stories  where he mainly focuses on the lack of balance and reason certain conservative Christian groups show towards Muslims, as evidenced in the comments of  Michael Nazir Ali, whilst also deploring certain aspects of Islam.
It can be hard  for all of us to balance strong views with a sense of perspective and an refusal to jump to conclusions, or make sweeping generalisations about others.  I know it is an area that I struggle with constantly.  However, when we lose sight of the human face of those who oppose us, then it degrades and lessens all of us.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Vanishing blog syndrome

I am sure that all of us, whether we blog or not, have all been affected at some point by the Vanishing Blog blues – a term which describes your sense of dismay and incredulity when a blog which you particularly cherish, read regularly and rely on as a source of sound information and thoughtful analysis, suddenly and inexplicably DISAPPEARS . This post is partly elegiac as the latest blog to succumb to VBS is The Church Mouse, a blog which to all intents and purposes seemed in robust and thriving health and far too young to die (sob!)
When you have established a happy relationship with a blog, discovering a “dear John” note posted on there , usually to the effect of “it’s not you, it’s me, I don’t have the time / energy/ commitment anymore” can come as a shock. It is also a bit of a wakeup call, you start to smell the coffee in the kitchen and remember all the times you had blogger’s block , or had to assuage your guilt at all the things (or people!) you were neglecting in order to blog. You remember that those of us who blog invest a whole lot of time and energy in it for what might be seen as very little return.
I guess there is a shelf life for the average blog, and as is claimed here, 95% of blogs fail– although I am not sure a blog has failed if it eventually closes, after all by that definition 100% of human lives fail, but I had a read around and there may be several reasons why people experience blog burnout.

1. Blogging is time consuming and takes discipline: I suppose this is so obvious that it hardly needs stating, but the main reason bloggers give up is the sheer amount of time needed to blog regularly. Perhaps less obvious is that it is not just composing blog posts that is demanding, but the requirement to think of suitable subjects, to read other blogs for inspiration, information and to be in the know about other opinions and perspectives. Bloggers are amateurs and, unless you know your subject well, it is easy to write a post that is misinformed, or one which rehashes ideas and offers nothing fresh.

2. Lacking a niche: The need to understand where your blog is coming from and what it is actually doing is also important. Weblogs work best if they have a clear voice and sense of where they are coming from. Occupying a niche, even if it is a deadly dull one (Anglican Covenant post anyone?) does ensure that those with similar interests are likely to come back to your blog. This is not to say there can’t be variety, always blogging on the same topic can also be a dead end.

3. Discouraged by lack of readership and comments: It takes time to build up blog traffic and a regular readership and some people want instant results and become discouraged by poor blog traffic, a lack of comments, or by negative comments. I really value my readers and their comments, but I never really expected anyone to read my blog and I hope (I think) I blog largely for myself. Having said that, comments are lovely and the experience of being linked to on another blog, especially one you read yourself, is a great motivator. I do believe bloggers should encourage each other more and am thinking of introducing some kind of weekly review of other blogs.

4. No passion for your topic: If you are not interested in your subjects, it is very unlikely anyone else will be! The Church of England is increasingly becoming a “spectator sport” for me, but that in itself is not necessarily incompatible with good blogging. I also hope that I will continue to be and feel passionate about spirituality and faith.

So, for all you bloggers out there, I hope and pray that you will keep your blogging fire and passion for as long as possible. For, as Ben Johnson so beautifully put it:

Time will not be ours forever,
He at length our good will sever.
Spend not then his gifts in vain;
Suns that set may rise again,
But if once we lose this light,
'Tis with us perpetual night.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Avoiding the subject

 An interesting article from the Changing Attitude blog about the announcement that the House of Bishops is to undertake a two year review of the 2005 pastoral statement on sexuality in response to the dilemma of what to do about priest in civil partnerships and whether they should be allowed to be appointed as bishops.
A statement released by the House informs us,

“Contrary to popular perception the House of Bishops has spent very little time over recent years discussing homosexuality."
Colin Coward looks at some of the reasons that might lie behind this reticence - such as the fact that many of those who would be discussing whether we should allow gay bishops are themselves gay? It seems to me that the purpose for this review is to gauge whether it will be possible for the Church of England to continue to exclude priests in Civil Partnerships ; I would love to be proved wrong, but I won't be holding my breath!