Monday, 30 January 2012

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.


  1. This sounds good. Do you read Maggie Ross's wonderful blog 'Voice in the Wilderness'? You'd like it, I suspect.

  2. Amen to this. I have found Falling Upward a great book.

  3. Hi Bo and Philomena,
    Yes, I read Maggie Dawn, great blog, should put it on my blog list. should also order one of her books sometime!

  4. They are wonderful: Pillars of Fire is especially good.