Monday, 30 January 2012

Church Mouse squeaks again!

 I was thrilled beyond words this evening to discover that Church Mouse has emerged from his mouse hole and delivered quite a lengthy squeak on the important subject of the Archbishops' new  proposals on Women Bishops about to be suggested to Synod. As usual, Mouse squeaks a great deal of sense and when he predicts (and I quote) a cock up, the Church should  bloody well sit up and listen! The wisdom from the skirting boards continues,
It has been the clearly expressed will of General Synod and Diocesan Synods that women be admitted to the episcopate on the same terms as men, with graceful provision for those who cannot accept this. Those who are being offered graceful provision should accept it gracefully.

For the good of the gospel in this country, Synod members must vote against the proposal to reintroduce the Archbishops' amendment for "co-ordinate jurisdiction".

Oh, Mousey, we love you , we love you! We adore you from the ends of your whiskers to the tip of your mousey tail. Let's forget changing the Church (which is doomed anyway) and just see if  we can tempt this cute little beastie out more often. Anyone got some cheese?

Falling Upward

It has been an eventful two weeks during which we have seen a steady stream of news items about the various issues and conflicts that beset the Church of England. First came the news that Jeffrey John had written a letter threatening legal action against the Church, with all the opening of old wounds that entailed and with all the questions about exactly who leaked this - since Jeffrey John clearly did not intend to go public. Then there was the defeat of the Government in the Lords, promptly followed by Lord Carey's criticism of his fellow bishops and also by his further involvement in legal disputes on behalf of Christian Concern. Meanwhile John Sentamu advised the Government that they should not change the definition of marriage, something which (although I disagree with him) I think he is perfectly entitled to do, but which threw  into relief  just how little real power and influence the Church now has in the workings of the State.  Then we heard that General Synod next month looks to bring further debate and conflict over the legislation on women bishops, with the Archbishops looking set to try to introduce what seems to be wider concessions to those who wish to discriminate against women in the Church. Finally, the news that Wallace Benn had somehow-by-mistake ended up endorsing a book, Britain in Sin, which advocates legalising maritial rape , along with a host of other nasties, just put the final touch to the whole sorry spectacle.
I suppose I shouldn't really let this kind of news affect me, in fact I hardly do anymore. Sometimes it  is so predictable and wearies me so much that I can't even be bothered with it, but weariness, although preferable to bitterness, is not an emotion which enhances the soul or makes our spirit dance. I've been glad, therefore, that I've also spent this last fortnight reading Richard Rohr's Falling Upward, a book described as "A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life." I can find Christian books -  the type you used to  find prominently displayed on the bookshelves of Wesley Owen - utterly unreadable, but after reading Rohr's Advent Meditations this year, I immediately ordered some more, realising I'd found something which struck a chord.
        In Falling Upward, Rohr describes the way that our approach to life and faith almost inevitably shifts and changes as we grow older, or at least it does if we are people who tend to think and to seek and not to be satisfied with easy answers or with over simplification. Rohr says that, as we learn a different approach, our thinking shifts from being "first half of life thinking" which is "dualistic" (black/white, either/or, good/ bad) to "second half of life thinking" which is non-dualistic and deals more comfortably with paradox, uncertainity and holding opposed ideas in creative tension. I am not saying that I agreed with every word I read, but there was a lot of food for thought, after reading certain paragraphs I stopped and read slowly again - always an auspicious sign!
Rohr has a lot to say in this book, but Chapter 12 deals with the problem of institution, and, Rohr claims, institution belongs almost of necessity to first half of life, to dualistic structures and thinking. I can't cover all his points here, but this paragraph did stand out:
 When I say that almost all groups and institutions are first-half-of- life structures, I say that not to discourage you but in fact just the opposite.I say it first of all because it is true, but also to keep you from being depressed or losing all hope by having false expectations. Do not expect or demand from groups what they cannot give. Doing so will make you needlessly angry and reactionary. They must and will be concerned with identity, boundaries, self-maintenance, self-perpetuation and self- congratulation. This is their nature and pupose. The most you can hope for is a few enlightened leaders and policies now and then from among those "two or three gathered in my name."
I have a feeling that I shall be reading more Richard Rohr.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Chivalry or sexism?

My son has run into some problems with his boxing; his trainer says that when he puts him in the ring to spar with girls, he just lets himself be pummelled and won't fight back. He does his best to dodge the blows and fends them off but he never really punches back other than a few ineffectual and half hearted jabs when the trainer bellows, "HIT HER."  After being questioned he has said it is because it, "doesn't feel right to hit girls and that he was taught not to." (We got something right then...)
I am not sure whether to be proud of said son for this attitude or whether it is a sort of inverse sexism. My personal view is that we shouldn't hit boys or girls, but IF you are going to do boxing or any competitive sport then it is a mark of respect to your opponent to engage fully and give them a fair game or match. My son says it doesn't work this way; the sexes do not compete in actual boxing matches and the sparring is just practice (I don't know much about boxing) and on that basis, he would rather get pummelled! He says it is not sexism because some of the girls are fantastic boxers and much better than him. It just doesn't feel right to him personally.
Overall, I am not really worried that my son is going to turn into some sort of complementarian and I don't think his  quaint/ old fashioned/ chivalrous/ sexist/ stupid (delete according to your lights) attitudes will hold him back in his pursuit of competitive success, but I have to say that he did look rather the worse for wear when I picked him up from boxing last night.
"Been sparring have you?", I enquired casually.
"Yup", he said.
"Who with?", I asked.
He mentioned the name of one of the girls who is apparently a pretty tough cookie.
I didn't say a word.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Holocaust Memorial Day

On a related note, Rowan Williams address on Holocaust Memorial Day - which was yesterday. This year's slogan urges us to Speak Up, Speak Out.

Christian voices

 The debate over the capping of welfare benefits, both the Government's defeat in The Lords by the bishops opposed to a £26,000 cap on payments and Lord Carey's criticism of their actions has thrown into relief the issue of how far, as Christians, we should speak out. Those on both sides may try to claim the moral high ground or may see their view as the most truly "Christian" one. The Bishop of Lewes, Wallace Ben, has this week withdrawn his support for a book which, among other things, advocates legalising marital rape. The book was produced by a right wing think- tank called "Christian Voice" - how ironic that a group espousing views which so many find deeply offensive should see itself as a voice piece for Christian values! Indeed, when we hear Christians with diametrically opposed views speaking out on moral and social issues, we may well ask if there is any such thing as a definitive "Christian voice" on complex or controversial moral issues.
I believe that Christians should engage with political and social issues and should speak out against injustice. And yet when we do so it is inevitable that we will sometimes hold different positions depending on our politics, our understanding, our interpretation of scripture and the world around us. Even when it comes to  downright atrocity, we may not be united. Many Christians, while deploring the loss of life in war, may believe some wars are morally justified to prevent greater evil. Religious fervour is often one of the most effective weapons of jingoism and propaganda, while sadly there are some "Christian" groups and websites that spew hatred and incite violence against their fellow human beings.
Perhaps this why the bible warns us to be careful how we use our speech, not always to remain silent, but to think carefully about what we commit to words and about the consequences of our words. Perhaps one of the best known verses is the one in James 3 which warns that we should bridle our tongues,
 "Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!"
It seems to me that similar advice is given in the whole bible, Jesus warns us that, "by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned."(Matthew 12) while the Psalms ask God to put a guard over our tongues and in Colossians we are told that our speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt so that we know how to answer all men. It seems that when it comes to our speech, we are constantly told to exercise caution, and to think about our motives for speaking out, that when we speak out we do so from good and honourable motives and that we consider others' points of view and  so are able to "make answer to all men".
I do believe that, although the issue of when to speak up can be a difficult judgement call, that we should speak up when we perceive injustice and have decided it is right to challenge it. At the same time, it can sometimes be appropriate to curb our tongue, especially when to speak might do little good, or be for our own personal ulterior motives or  might cause unnecessary hurt or pain. As we are told in Ecclesiastes, there is a time to speak and a time to remain silent. The line between wisdom and folly lies not just in what we say  but in knowing how we should say it - and whether we should say it at all.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Good news getting a good press

On Wednesday, John Sentamu made a visit to Macclesfield to see and hear more about the work of the Cre8 Youth group. I didn't attend, although I did read about the visit and the work of Cre8 both in the local press and through comments and pictures on Face book from those who had been involved! What did surprise me was to be asked about the visit by a number of  friends and colleagues, most of whom don't live in the immediate area,  are not in any way Christians, and have sometimes challenged me with their views about of some aspects of Christianity and religious belief in general ( views which are entirely valid and which in many ways I share.)

 I told them what I knew about the work of Cre8 and of churches in the area and the reaction was one of interest and approval. One friend commented on how valuable she thought it was when people of faith got involved in this kind of work and mission. It is nice to know that news travels, not just bad news but good news as well. As someone who believes that Christianity has a message of good news  it brought to mind Matthew 5:16 - that Christians should let their deeds shine before men. It was heartening to see such a positive response .

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Polite notice

From time to time I receive comments that I do not think are suitable to be published on this blog. I am quite happy to publish strong opinions as long as they are not expressed in such a way as might offend most reasonable people. I have recently received a few comments about named individuals which I have hesitated to publish and some which I have decided not to, either because they are clearly malicious or indecent or because they make allegations which, whether or not they can be substantiated, seem to arise from some personal grievance which I do not wish to see aired in this space.
I would like to make it clear that I  no longer intend to publish  any comments mentioning named individuals unless that individual has been mentioned in the blog post or it is strictly relevant to the matter being discussed. This includes comments which might be deemed to be of a "lighthearted" nature, but could be regarded as malicious by the person named or by their associates.
Thank you all for your understanding in this matter.

Don't take care, take risks

 A book that is definitely on my reading list is The Vicar of Baghdad by Canon Andrew White. So I was pleased to read that this truly remarkable man won the US First Freedom Award last week, becoming only the third Englishman to do so after Winston Churchill and Tony Blair. Canon White, despite suffering from multiple sclerosis, works tirelessly for Iraq's beleagured Christian community. He is also director of the Foundation for Reconciliation and Relief which  works to build bridges and heal religious division and hatred - perhaps one of the most difficult taks when faced with bitter political interests and divisions.
 This article reports on some recent comments made by Canon White; I was saddened to read his predictions that the future of Iraq's Christians does not look positive, but at the same time I felt  admiration that, in the face of that bleak future, he still advised courage and the taking of risks above caution. It is sometimes said that it is easier to preach a sermon than to live one, and the lives of some people are living lessons from which we should learn.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Will Jeffrey John sue?

There are some reports in the news recently that Jeffrey John is considering legal action against the Church of England on the grounds that he was blocked from the position of Bishop of Southwark on the basis of of his sexuality. In any other work environment, the way Jeffrey John has been treated would be illegal. The Church of England is exempt from the Equality Act, but these exemptions are very narrow. The House of Bishops sought advice last year on the legality of debarring people from positions on the basis of their sexuality  and was apparently advised that they cannot exclude on the basis of orientation alone, only on the basis of sexual behaviour. They may also be able to exclude on the grounds that a candidate's views might be a cause for division - that they could not act as a "focus of unity."
It seems that the Church of England would be acting illegally if the reason for blocking Jeffrey John from the shortlist was his sexuality alone, given that his civil partnership is celibate. To argue that he was blocked because his views are divisive might be tenuous as there are other existing bishops with similar views, they might equally be seen as a focus of disunity?  There has been a suggestion in some quarters that the Church of England might argue that Jeffrey John was blocked on the basis that he is "unrepentant about his previous sexual behaviour." I think to do so would be a mistake! Firstly and the greatest consideration, is that this would be a cruel, ungenerous and unchristian way to behave. Given that Jeffrey John is in a committed lifelong relationship, to require him to "repent" effectively of any intimacy with someone he so clearly loves would be downright shabby and present the Church in a very poor light. Secondly, the question of discrimination would still arise - are the sexual histories of all heterosexual bishops also to be investigated and public repentance for any sex outside of marriage required? Thirdly, according to compelling reports, there are other gay bishops, including some who are in relationships, although they are not open about this fact, leading to accusations of hypocrisy and that the Church rewards dishonesty (which it certainly does!) on this issue.

My first thought on reading the report was that it was a rumour. Taking legal action is not  really seen as  Jeffrey John's style. Reading between the lines, this has been an ongoing dialogue and one wonders if it is what led to the House of Bishops seeking advice last year? The Daily Mail reports:

It is understood there has been a lengthy correspondence between Ms Downie (John's solicitor) and Church lawyers in an attempt to resolve the dispute. No legal action has been launched but it is thought Dr John has not ruled out the possibility, although one source said Dr John suggested he would drop his legal threat if he felt he would not be ruled out for future posts.

It is important to note, therefore, that this is actually a very mild response from Jeffrey John, he is not yet taking the Church to court, merely trying to make them consider the unjust and possibly unlawful nature of their actions. I hope they do seriously reflect and decide that, as he certainly does not fall into some special category of sinner, that he should be allowed to apply for positions on the same basis as all the other applicants.
One of the saddest aspects of the whole matter (and there are many sad aspects) is that the fact that this story will do little to dispel public perceptions of the Church as bigoted, prejudiced, cruel, hypocritical and obsessed with judging other people.  It is possible, of course, that this matter will be milked by the media for all it is worth. It is also possible that the British at large may have so lost interest in the Church and what it does and says that it will only be seen as a minor story, just more of the same from an institution that is seen by many as irrelevant and having little to offer. If that is the case, it may be even more of a cause for grief and reflection.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Most children are happy (shock report!)

 The news that half a million children describe themselves as unhappy was one of the headlines this morning. People are rarely at their most rational on the subject of children; our fear, anxiety, guilt and cherished ideas about innocence often stand in for reality. I was interested and pleased, therefore,to hear this balanced and proportionate interview with John Sentamu in which he stresses that the same report found that ten out of eleven children actually do describe themselves as happy. He also said that, although he sees marriage as the bedrock of society,  that other situations, such as single parent, or same sex families should not be demonised and he seemed to acknowledge that they offer excellent outcomes, when the quality of the  relationships are good - just as traditional marriages offer excellent outcomes, when the quality of the relationships are good.
That is is the quality of our human relationships that count, not the social wrapper they come in, is so blindingly obvious that I wonder whether the fact that I am  rejoicing to hear the Archbishop's views might not be  the most revealing factor of all.!Yet thinking back to  the sort of remarks made by Rick Santorum recently about same sex parents being worse than criminals , I am glad to hear the sense and decency of someone like Sentamu shine through and can't help feeling a sort of gratitude for the fact that  over here we do not generally hear even religious figures, let alone politicians, spout that kind of unjust and nasty stuff. I am not sure if the greater moderation of our Christian spokespeople (usually spokesmen...) in Britain is because they are more moderate, or because they have been brought to adopt a moderate position by a secular society which has relatively little Christian extremism and generally values tolerance - but I will give them the benefit of the doubt...

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Of Bishops and Baboons

An insightful little video about bishops and their behaviour which I found on Anglican Mainstream this evening...
Seriously -enjoy!

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Do dogs have souls? ( Part Seventeen)

I was in two minds whether or not to post the above video which shows dogs saying grace before meals! I am not sure it is evidence that dogs have souls, more evidence of how easy it is to train dogs and possibly quite a few members of the human species to adopt all the signs of  religiosity with very little but their own ulterior motives under that pious exterior...
 I am sure that all the admittedly gorgeous dogs in this clip are very close to God, I think their owners, who are clearly either deranged or have strange ideas of what it is appropriate to train their animals to do, may be in need of our prayers.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

House of Bishop report on sexuality (yawn...)

I've read quite a few blogs and comments suggesting that the current C of E advisory group/s (there are two of them apparently)  which have been set up to advise on  human sexuality are weighted in favour of a more conservative bias. The latest group, which will advise the House of Bishops and is made up entirely of - er- bishops, includes Keith Sinclair (Bishop of Birkenhead in Chester Diocese ) who is one of the patrons of the True Freedom Trust. Some people have also noted that the advisory group to the House of Bishops is a bit one sided as it consists entirely of men - well, they are all bishops you see, and...well, you get the picture. At the moment bishops cannot, by definition, be either women or openly gay. This does beg the question of how effectively a group can comment on sexuality when it does not include the perspective of a single woman or a single gay person.
I think we could already predict the conclusions of this rather skewed group and I really can't muster up the slightest interest in what they have to say.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Assisted dying

I have very mixed views on the topic of assisted suicide and the video above, of Jeremy Paxman interviewing Terry Pratchett, gives food for thought on both sides of the debate. I found it moving when Paxman asked about the sanctity of life and Pratchett answered with his thoughts about  the dignity of life. I do believe that life is precious, that it is sacred - I also believe that quality of life is sometimes more important than the quantity of life; that life "at any cost" may in itself be demeaning. I am not sure we ever have the "right" to take a life or to take our own lives - at the same time I worry that it is a form of barbarism to compel people to live when their lives may have become unbearable.  I prefer the idea of offering support and good palliative care to the terminally ill -  and yet I strongly suspect that even the best palliative care cannot offer adequate relief from suffering and distress in some cases. In short, I am a mass of contradictions on this matter, it is one of those moral issues which presents itself to me in shades of grey rather than in black and white.

I do believe that those who support assisted dying are generally compassionate and believe that to offer people this option enhances human dignity. I would not be able to call such people "murderers", even if I disagreed with their reasoning. Indeed, I know people who support the right to die - often as a result of witnessing the suffering of loved ones- and they are not "murderous" people. Fortunately, I have never had personal experience of the kind of degenerative diseases that lead people to advocate the right to die. I am reluctant to speak out strongly on issues such as this one when I am in many ways ignorant and have not been personally affected. I can also safely say that I sincerely hope I remain untouched by an issue so fraught with pain and anguish for all my days and I hesitate to judge those who have not been so fortunate.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

The role of anger

Two events covered in the news this week have I guess caused a range of emotions in us all. The murder of Anuj Bidve on Boxing Day and the news of the successful conviction of two of those involved in the murder of Stephen Lawrence are linked by nature of the futile loss of a promising life, mindless and unprovoked violence and, in the Lawrence case an established, and in the Bidve a possible, racist motive. The other aspect which has linked both cases is the lack of remorse and seeming inability of the perpetrators to comprehend the evil nature of the acts they committed.
My first reaction when hearing that Kieran Stapleton had given his name as "Psycho" when at the Magistrate's Court was one of intense anger. My reaction when seeing the footage of the Lawrence suspects talking exultantly about murdering and torturing black men, while acting out the same, was equally one of rage and revulsion. To be honest it made me angry that the actions of those who bring nothing to the party should so lightly take away the lives of those who are good and decent and have things to offer. I felt anger at the suffering and anguish they had caused. I wanted them to understand what they had done, and, quite frankly, I really wanted them to suffer.
There is room for anger and outrage in a right reaction to wrongdoing. We cannot always sit calmly by and be understanding when we hear of, or see, or suffer great atrocity. It is important, of course, that we balance our anger, that we try to some exent to step back, that we bring into the mix of our emotion other feelings and responses - that we question, that we grieve, that we despair for and of everything and everyone involved. The response of "psycho Stapleton" , may cause us to react with anger, it might also lead us wonder about what may have happened in someone's life to lead them to think that such a label gave any kind of status. Then our anger is tempered by  a kind of horror at what a human being can become.
Is this a man? wrote Primo Levi, survivor of the Nazi concentration camps. And if this is a man, what chance of redemption or restoration? I do not know how far anger, and despair are Christian emotions - both are considered sinful , yet anger has its  vital place in the moral response to human evil and an ability to feel a sort of despair is necessary (inevitable) if we are to acknowledge human evil and to be humble enough to admit our own potential for evil.
The Christian response to evil is, I suppose, to hold our anger and despair in tension with our belief in the goodness of God and the hope of grace and redemption. Then our souls can be "still" and at peace in that faith and hope, as suggested in the words of the hymn below.

Sunday, 1 January 2012


Christ has no body on earth now but yours;
no hands but yours;
no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes
through which the compassion of Christ
must look out on the world.
Yours are the feet
with which he is to go about doing good.
Yours are the hands
with which he is to bless his people.
(St. Teresa of Avila)