Sunday, 30 September 2012

The race (?) for Canterbury!

This clip  is only marginally more exciting and productive than the deliberations of the Crown Commission. Gosh! Those snails look keen!

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Choosing Canterbury

This article on the BBC website is a handy at-a-glance-guide to some of the contenders for Canterbury. The only one who really appeals out of their hot favourites is Christopher Cocksworth on the basis that he hasn't said what he thinks about anything (we're used to that).  Then there's his name...(see final link.)  Meanwhile the Church of England has published a prayer for the Crown Nominations Commission. It has lots of auspicious sounding words in it such as steadfast, united, grace, truth and love, which means it's nothing like my version which goes
a. Please don't let them appoint some utter **** (insert expletive of choice) and
b. God help the poor **** (insert expletive of choice) whoever he is.

You can take your pick which to pray.
Meanwhile, the Guardian has published this brilliant interactive guide, I do hope the Crown Commissioners have access to it because it is just as effective as eny-meeny-miny-mo and a lot more fun.
(Speaking of fun, you have to see this!)

Monday, 17 September 2012

Those annoying spiritual folk

I enjoyed this post by Nancy at Seeker, but at the same time it made me smile. It made me smile because I think a lot of vicars feel irritated when people say that they are "spiritual but not religious" or , "you don't need to go to church to be a christian" or "you are closer to God in a garden than in a building. I think it annoys them in the way that teachers feel irritated  when we are told, "you learn more outside a classroom than you ever do inside one." This is a point at which I want to retort, "Yes, but you don't pass your exams that way!" Sometimes we hate hearing things that relate to what we do but which have more than a grain of truth...It also made me smile because it reminded me of this clip. I know I've posted it before, but just in case you haven't seen it... Enjoy!

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Guest post: What do we mean by "acceptance"?

The following is a guest post by a friend of mine who has not always found churches to be very accepting places. It is worth reading and mulling over what you understand by acceptance.

A few times over the course of recent months I’ve heard or read sermons or articles referring to the acceptance of homosexuals in church congregations. Church leaders are quick to state that there are all sorts of ways that homosexuals can be part of the church community, and that we are welcome amongst the body of Christ. I get the sense that the writer/preacher feels quite happy that they’ve managed to demonstrate to their audience that they’ve gone against the media-portrayed stereotype of “anti-gay Christian” by saying the words “gays are accepted in church”. Unfortunately this usually precedes a report from the Church of England about its stance on marriage equality... oh dear.

In addition to this brand of acceptance you’ll also find that “homosexuals” will often be quoted in a list alongside the words addict, prostitute, alcoholic, swindler (tax collector), thief, and murderer. The priest will eagerly say “all these people are accepted in church!” In an effort to portray a position of grace and acceptance the preacher has simply lumped me with the archetypal “outcasts” and made me feel like I should be examining my “alternative lifestyle”.
Please don’t misunderstand me; I’m not trying to rank my wrong doings in some sort of order in a list of sins. My issue is that the preacher has put my identity amongst a list of behaviours. I’m gay because I was born this way, not because of circumstance. I could take this further and argue why do we have these lists anyway? I don’t think addicts are addicts out of choice, or prostitutes are prostitutes out of choice. Life happens, and God knows, nobody would choose a path like that if they could avoid it. But, putting me in a list like that makes me feel like the preacher thinks being gay/being me is a behaviour that can be repented from or, given the right circumstances, be fixed in someway. How can I repent from an attraction? How can I be forgiven for being the very thing that I am?
Gays are accepted in church.
I almost feel like I should put an asterisk after the word “accepted” and have a footnote at the bottom of the page saying “subject to terms and conditions. Fair usage rules apply.” I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be accepted just as you are. As a Christian you hear a lot of cute, trite phrases. One I’ve heard (and quite like, actually) is “God loves you as you are, but He loves you too much to leave you that way.” I like it because I’ve found it to be true. Perhaps not in the way some conservative Christians would like, but God has changed me drastically over the course of the last two years and, as you’d expect, it’s all for the better. One phrase you hear a lot as a gay Christian is “Love the sinner, hate the sin”. Tony Campolo has been quoted as saying we should change the phrase to “Love the sinner, hate your own sin.” And I believe Jesus would have said something much more akin to the latter of those two than the former.

This leads me on to what I’ve been mulling over the past few months, and I think I’ve had a bit of a breakthrough. What does it mean to “love” somebody? What does that look like and how does it feel compared to some of the emotions I feel when I’m in Church. Also, what does it mean to be accepted? What does that look like to me, and what do other people think it looks like? People use these words quite a lot, but I’m not sure we’re reading the same definitions!
I’ve recently read a book that’s helped transform my thinking and nail down what’s going on with my emotions when I’m confronted with certain language used by church leadership. The book is called The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Dr Brené Brown. She speaks about her research and says that in the course of her many interviews she has observed that certain words are often talked about in pairs. Sometimes a pairing happens so frequently that you come to realise it’s no accident, but actually this intertwining of words is an intentional “knot”. “Love” and “belonging” is one such pairing.
Brené says: “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all women, men and children. We are biologically, cognitively physically, and spiritually made to love and be loved; and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick... the absence of love and belonging will always lead to suffering.”

She says, “Belonging doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.” This approach is no different when I want to feel like I belong in a church. The reason I hurt sometimes when I’m at church or listening to the words of a church leader on TV or radio is because the words I hear don’t make me feel like I belong to this entity called “church”. Their words make me feel shame because of the person I am, or because of the things I hope to have in my future; like a wife. Church leadership says it accepts me for who I am and says I can be part of church life, but it’s always followed by hidden (or not so hidden) conditions; live a life of celibacy, or be against equal marriage, or agree with me and say that you think it’s wrong, or at least say you’ve tried not to be gay. And in an effort to seek approval and “fit in” I think I’ve tried to adhere to all of the above at one time or another. Thankfully I’m now realising the detrimental effects of such a strategy and am moving towards being more authentic in life and in church.
But gays are accepted in church.
Brené’s definition of belonging is as follows: “Belonging: Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us; because this yearning is so primal we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it, because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world. Our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self acceptance.”
Wow. Just writing those words makes me want to cry. I’m not sure whether its sadness at the amount of time I spent “hustling” for acceptance and approval, or because of the joy at finding the words I’ve be searching for all this time. In a time when I’m more accepting of myself than I have ever been, I understand now why I’m struggling to belong in church; the one place where my level of acceptance is questionable. And it also makes sense why it hurts so much when I feel like I don’t belong.
Let’s see what Brene has to say about love: “Love: We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honour the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection. Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow; a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves. Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed and rare.”
To feel loved I must feel honoured when I reveal my true self. To feel loved I must feel respected; I must trust the other person. Can love be cultivated when I’m not sure the other person loves all of who I am? The fact that I’m gay will determine the outcome of some of my greatest life choices; the biggest being who I choose to spend the rest of my life with, marry and raise a family with. That sounds like a large part of who I am. Can a member of church still say they love me if they disagree with these parts of who I am?

At the moment I feel like I’m beginning to at least understand why I feel like the church’s version of “love” and “acceptance” isn’t stacking up against the definitions I believe to hold true. You see, actively seeking to prevent me from having the right to marry is not something you can do and then still expect me to feel loved afterwards. Using coded language like “lifestyle” or reducing me to a “homosexual” does not make me feel understood or accepted. Hearing church leadership say I’m “grotesque” or my partner and I are “encouraging one another in sin” is definitely not a loving thing to say. Comparing gay marriage to sexually immoral acts during a sermon does not make me feel like church is a spiritually safe place to be. It makes me feel like church is a spiritually damaging place to be. Just saying the words “gays are accepted in church” does not make it true.
I guess the biggest struggle as a gay Christian trying to fight it out in church is figuring out which “church” is more important to me. Do I think every member of church feels the same about same-sex issues as the church leaders hitting the headlines? No I don’t. I know for a fact that there are many Christians in leadership roles who think that gender does not determine whether God can bless you in your relationship. Do I think the whole of my congregation feels the same as my Pastor does about same-sex marriage? No I don’t. I can’t believe all of the young and vibrant congregation would hold steadfastly to such an opinion. But, crikey, it’s hard to remember all of that on a bad day. When it feels like you’ll never belong, when you see the number of my gay friends in churches diminishing by the month, when you hear of friends doing all they can to just fit in and live up to the requirements set by church leadership, when you hear the heartbreaking stories of the bruises and scars people acquired in church; it’s hard.

But I am so glad- so glad - that I will always belong to my Jesus. And He’ll always love me. No caveat. No small print. Just oceans of his unending love.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Make your own fudge!

Some readers will remember that in a previous blog I described one of the  earlier attempts to resolve the Women Bishops legislation in terms of a classic Church of England fudge. If I were to describe this new clause in those terms, it would roughly translate as "make your own fudge" and it would go like this:

Make your own  fudge kit (respect flavour)
Can be made by both sides

Your opponents' theological convictions.
Your own anger and bitterness.
As much respect  as you can muster
Season with love, grace, tact

1. Try to put your own anger and bitterness to one side.
2. Place your opponents' theological convictions, whether for or against women bishops, in the bowl
3. Add as much respect as you can muster.
4. Season with love, grace, tact and pray for more if you don't have enough.
5. By this stage you should be seeing your "opponent" as your brother and sister in Christ. If not, the fudge might have a bitter taste and cause indigestion.
6. Pray that your brother and sister in Christ responds in kind -  but remember you have to set the example.

Remember the fudge is yours and theirs, you share joint responsibility for whether it is bitter or sweet.

The notion of respect

I've just got home from work and have read the Archbishop's statement on the new draft legislation on women bishops. To summarise briefly, it proposes replacing the controversial Clause 5. 1(c) with the following wording, which was suggested by the Rev Janet Appleby:

"the selection of male bishops and male priests in a manner which respects the grounds on which parochial church councils issue Letters of Request under section 3"

It is worth reading the Archbishop's words in full; his focus is not upon what the legal understanding of the word "respect" might be (more on that later) but upon the idea of respect as a moral and spiritual concept and a quality which will be essential if the Church is to move forward on this issue:

"The bishops were deeply impressed by the moral and spiritual and relational content of this word ‘respect’, and they were eager to go for a form of words that had the advantage of simplicity and directness about it.  They believed it was also very important that this had come not from themselves, but from the process of consulting the wider Church."

Well, it is simple and direct, it also has the advantage of the moral high ground - no-one on either side can really argue against the notion of respect. It also has the advantage that it cannot really be said to be enshrining in law the notion that discrimination against women is permissible or acceptable.

It disadvantage, it seems to me, is that it is vague. It is hard to know what constitutes, "respect(ing) the grounds on which parochial church councils issue Letters of Request" in actual legal and practical terms. It is for this reason that the opponents of women bishops will argue against it. We may see bitter disputes over what is meant by "respect" - oh, the irony!

I sense a certain weariness though about the whole matter. We need to move on and to find ways forward. This wording is by no  means ideal, but there is no ideal solution and I have an inkling that this will pass.

And perhaps we should pray long and hard for the ability to truly exercise respect for each other - more so when we differ than when we agree.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Alive and doing

The Daily Meditation (by Richard Rohr) that arrived in my inbox yesterday was worth sharing as having some relevance to today's reading and to the reminders in James that good works should arise out of faith and that faith without works is a dead faith. Rohr writes:

 It seems to me that it is a minority that ever gets the true and full Gospel. We just keep worshiping Jesus and arguing over the exact right way to do it. The amazing thing is that Jesus never once says, “worship me!”, but he often says, “follow me” (e.g., Matthew 4:19).

Christianity is a lifestyle—a way of being in the world that is simple, non-violent, shared, inclusive, and loving. We made it, however, into a formal established religion, in order to avoid the demanding lifestyle itself. One could then be warlike, greedy, racist, selfish, and vain at the highest levels of the church, and still easily believe that Jesus is “my personal Lord and Savior.” The world has no time for such silliness anymore. The suffering on Earth is too great.

Adapted from the CAC Foundation Set: Gospel Call to Compassionate action

I do see so many churches involved in good within their communities, I think this is something which the church at the grassroots often excels in. I know that there is some amazing involvement in the community in the area I live in, and this work arises out of faith and love- the royal commandment- as today's reading put it. I was interested, however, in the idea that we actually create formal, established religion in order to avoid the genuine call of Christ. That challenging idea is worth pondering. It made me think of some of the Quaker ideas about avoiding hierarchy, systems and power as far as possible in faith structures, meanwhile emphasising the need for simplicity in our own lives and practical service to the world.
Dead faith is that religiosity that is wedded to power and prestige and all that the world values - hence the reminder not to favour the wealthy within church circles. Living faith looks at life through a different lens and wants to serve others, not to further its own power base.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Truths and half truths

The Archbishop of Canterbury has given an interview - or maybe several if the amount of coverage on the Internet is anything to go by. Headlines report various things, from a quote that he has "not cracked it" when it comes to unifying the Church during his office, to reports that the Archbishop of Canterbury's role will in future be divided among more than one person (this report has now been corrected as an inaccurate distortion of the ABC's words by the Anglican Communion office.)
One of the things Rowan Williams does seem to have said is that the Church got it wrong in the past on homosexuality. Presumably this means that the Church only got it wrong in the past but is bang spot on in the present? Hmmmm. Don't think so. Isn't it strange how it is much easier to be wrong in the past but never, ever wrong in the present? And we have to remember that when we were wrong in the past, we thought we were right - and no doubt said as much. You'd think someone of William's intellectual calibre would have reflected on that? Maybe he did - but just didn't mention it? Is that dishonest? Well, I dunno. I'll leave you to think about it.
On the subject of honesty and dishonesty, there's Jeffrey John's latest contribution in the Church Times - published in Thinking Anglicans with permission (Friday 8th Sept). He tells us about how a great many of the bishops  and the church hierarchy are actually gay and gay accepting but how they don't admit it in public.The article is called, "Time to tell the truth", which would be great, except that we've heard this before! We've heard it ad nauseum. We know it. Why are you telling us - again? Jeffrey John also says that he nearly resigned twice but stayed in spite of all the hypocrisy. Apparently those who persuaded him to stay said it was because they needed people who were honest. Well, maybe, but I can't help wondering if it  there is much point telling the truth in an institution which has stopped its ears while the outside world shrugs its shoulders in disbelief and gets on with life?
Perhaps I'm being harsh. I'm not really displaying much long-suffering, which, my friends, is one of the fruits of the spirit. I've had a hard week and I just think I might be fresh out of long suffering this morning.

I suppose it's good that Jeffrey John still has his, even if it is a little frayed round the edges, but I have to say that when it comes to all the worn out conflicts, lies, hypocrisy and well worn argument and counter argument you hear on this topic from the Church, he's welcome to it.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Nobody's fool

A fantastic mystery worshipper review from the Ship of Fools website. Anyone who has at some point in their lives been involved in, or coerced into, attending this type of church will find it strikes a chord. Stuart, whose blog I've shamelessly nicked it from, was particularly taken with: "What part of the service was like heaven?" Answer: The five minutes smoking outside.
My personal favourite was this:
"Toward the end of the sermon, Ian Andrews asked who in the congregation, when speaking in tongues, favoured the letter S or K. A few people raised their hands. He then asked one lady who had raised her hand to stand up and speak in tongues, but to favour the letter L. The poor lady look horrified but obliged."

This reminded me of someone who told me that his tongues strategy consisted of repeating the phrase, "Monica's got an anemone" very rapidly, just occasionally throwing in the name of the group "Chaka Khan" to add a little variation. (...I'm not sure he was joking...)

Read. Enjoy. I bet the congregation are lovely, lovely people - but just get down on your knees NOW and thank God now for all those with common sense, a dry sense of humour and a little cynicism!

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Journeys of transformation

Italian Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, who died on Friday, aged 85 years, apparently "lashed out" at the Roman Catholic Church prior to his death saying it is "200 years behind" the times. I had a read through the Cardinal's remarks and it seemed to me that, rather than being an excoriating attack, suggested by the rather salacious sounding headline "Cardinal lashes the Church", Carlo Maria Martini's words were spoken more in sadness than in anger.

He suggested that Roman Catholicism needed to be less ritualistic and pompous, and that the changes should begin with "the Pope and his bishops."
"Our culture has grown old, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up, our religious rites and the vestments we wear are pompous."

 He also asked that the Church adopt a more generous attitude to divorced persons and should not focus on excluding the divorced from communion but on helping in complex family situations. He also commented on the child sex scandals which have particularly rocked Catholicism but which are not entirely unknown in other churches - witness the current condemnation of the "dysfunctional" attitudes and practice in Chichester dioces. Cardinal Martini said:
                   "The child sex scandals oblige us to undertake a journey of transformation."
Sometimes people are given a message to speak to others (we used to call them prophets) and I can see nothing in the Cardinal's message that is not  wise,deeply Godly and Christian. This is why I was particularly saddened to read that the Pope is now, "faced with a difficult choice of whether or not to attend the Cardinal's funeral on Monday." Difficult choice??!!! I would suggest that if the Pope does not attend it would be a tangible proof of the truth and veracity of Cardinal Martini's remarks , whereas if he does we would see a  more Christ like humility and grace in evidence and perhaps the funeral procession could mark the beginning of a journey of transformation.