Nobody Expects… The Bishop!

It’s natural to one of my generation that anything absurd or strange immediately recalls Python, and this one also serves as a timely tribute to Terry Jones (video unavailable but watch this instead, it’s really funny.) Those of you not of a religious bent (no pun intended, I don’t do that sort of thing) may have scrolled through the recent announcement by the Council of Bishops without it touching the sides, but it took many of us by surprise and I have taken the time to respond to this helpful blog post which explains some of what’s going on.

Basically I’m thankful not to be an Anglican any more because I no longer have to wrestle with dogma and creed. Quakers have always taken an approach to change which is both thoughtful and fluid; we are therefore able to respond to social change without feeling hidebound by doctrine and I’m happy to say that Friends embraced the rights of gays and lesbians as early as the 1970’s. There are a number of sections in Quaker Faith and Practice which deal with this. But if you’re an Anglican (this goes double for Catholics) you have to wrestle with a creed and doctrines that most of us now find outdated and irrelevant, and square the impossible circle of holding on to tradition whilst engaging with society at the same time. It simply can’t be done. So what’s a bishop to do?

I have no idea, but the Bishops’ statement does not seem helpful – but to be fair it does seem to have been more cock-up than conspiracy, at least according to this Church Times article.

What do you think? Perhaps it could not matter less to you but there are gays and lesbians (incredibly) still in the church who will be deeply affected by this debate.

Kirk out

Sex, Sex, Sex – But Not For You

Well, I just don’t know where the Church of England is at right now. It seems to have got its cassocks in a twist about sex (again) in the context of civil partnerships and come up with the spectacularly retrograde advice that sex is only between a man and a woman, and even then they have to be married. So just in case you’re unsure, sex before marriage is out, sex outside marriage is out, and sex if you’re in a gay or lesbian marriage is out. Sex is also out if you’re in a civil partnership but not married. Clear? Basically if you’re not sure, don’t do it. It all sounds a bit like this to me.

What’s not at all clear is where the hell this is coming from. It seems to have come out of the blue and to run counter to the cautious, slow-moving liberalism of recent decades. I wouldn’t say I’ve been following the C of E’s deliberations closely but I do keep an ear to the ground and I’ve heard no rumour of this at all, nor can I find any articles or interviews yet which enlighten me.

You’re probably thinking this couldn’t matter less in your life, and you’re probably right – but it matters to a lot of people. About eighteen months ago I went to the best church service I’d ever attended, a Pride celebration in the parish church of Loughborough. It was fantastic, and in stark contrast to this, probably one of the worst services I’ve ever attended. People felt included and accepted; there was a real sense of communion and love. Instead of people crying outside the church there were people being celebrated within it. This church statement basically tears all that up, because if gays and lesbians can be married but can’t have sex they can’t be fully married.

At the moment I can only speculate on where this is coming from. Is it an attempt to appease Catholics or hard-liners within the church? Or has some faction or other has got hold of the decision-making process? I don’t know. We shall see how these things unfold. But these problems always arise when you have creeds and dogmas. I’m happy to say that Quakers have accepted gays and lesbians as full members with the same rights as straight people ever since the 1970’s. We don’t have a top-down approach to change but a thoughtful, consensual, across-the-board process in which everyone can take part.

Not that I’m wanting to be smug or anything…

Kirk out

How Clean is Your Husting?

Last night OH and I attended a local hustings. The word ‘hustings’ comes from the old Norse house thing where a thing means a parliament or discussion, as it still does in Iceland.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Husting

Locally these things – I mean these affairs – are usually pretty well run; civilised and with a minimum of shouting, unlike some I’ve seen clips of (though to be fair the clips aren’t likely to give a balanced view). Questions were submitted in advance to all five candidates (Labour, Lib Dem, Green, Tory and another which I’ll come to in a minute) and the hustings was chaired by —– and hosted by Churches Together in Loughborough. This proved in the end to be a significant factor.

When I first read Queenie Tea’s political pitch my reaction was, ‘what a waste of time.’ I couldn’t understand why a couple of artists would choose to faff around standing a non-candidate in an election where momentous issues were to be decided. But Queenie Tea proved to be a welcome bit of light relief and far from seeming to detract from the other candidates, offered some comforting insights as well as tea and biscuits.

Questions ran on the usual lines: Brexit, the NHS (huge support for Labour on this and derision for Jane Hunt’s assertion that under a Tory government the NHS would not be for sale) and the climate emergency. I found the Green candidate disappointing; he was the only BAME member of the panel but I thought failed to show the necessary passion and conviction needed for Green issues in these times (it has long been a regret of mine that I can’t vote Labour and Green at the same time.)

Then the questions diverged a little. As could have been predicted, there was a fairly hostile question on antisemitism in the Labour Party accusing Corbyn of being anti-semitic (lots of no’s.) Stuart dealt with this competently and confidently, saying that there were problems in all parties, that Corbyn was not an antisemite (applause) but that Labour should have done more, and more quickly, to deal with a small group of people who had probably joined in 2015 and who were bringing the party into disrepute. Then came the most bizarre moment of the evening, a long speech (practically a rant) on ‘Christian values’, asking candidates how they would uphold these in the face of the ‘descent into depravity’ of the last 30 years and citing examples of Christians not being able to wear crosses or pray with people in hospital or refuse to bake cakes. There was clearly a lot of unease at the tone of this but here Queenie Tea’s response was the most sensible, blaming rampant consumerism for the decay in values while the others waffled a little and failed to pick up on the homophobia and lack of cultural diversity implicit in the question.

At this point I was waving my hand around furiously as there was a comment I really wanted to make – but sadly we were out of time so I’ll have to tell you instead. Churches Together in England have rejected a Quaker nominee for president because she is a lesbian married to another woman, which has caused great hurt and upset in the Quaker community as well as among GSM people. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog I have come across many examples of homophobia in the church and a few years ago walked out of a sermon to find a young man weeping outside. How can this be Christian? On the plus side last year I went to a Pride service in Loughborough which was the best service I’d ever been to. Now I ask you, which speaks more of Christ – condemnation or inclusion? There’s a very apt saying going around Facebook: ‘if you want to put the Christ back in Christmas feed the hungry, house the homeless, heal the sick, help the poor.’ Those are Christian values.

Kirk out

The Minutiae of Life

You know how you can look at everyday objects for years without wondering why they are as they are? Nicholson Baker wrote an entire book (Mezzanine) on the subject of Things You Look At Without Realising; such as how the hand belt on the tube escalator goes a bit more slowly than the steps so you have to adjust your hold every twenty seconds; or how many times the bag containing your lunch is folded over, or the degrees of difficulty in getting a straw to puncture a thin round section of a carton – all these things the mind notices but doesn’t dwell on – because there’ll be another one along in a minute.

I used to be a bit like that in church services; there’d be something I’d want to think about, like the turn of phrase in a reading (why does it say ‘believe on’ instead of believe in? or the vellum-like texture of the hymn book covers or the font of the prayer sheet) but there wouldn’t be time to reflect on that because something else would happen to drive it out of your mind. Sure, you could sit there for an hour pondering the unique shine of a brass lectern with the light coming through stained glass – but it’s not the Done Thing and besides, it seems a little pointless to spend the time doing that when you’ve gone for the service (come for the service, stay for the hymn-book covers…) Which is why I like Quakers – a while ago I was staring at a mural of seagulls without a single thought in my head, and suddenly it occurred to me that each bird was at a slightly different angle from the others, yet they were all flying together as a group. This gave rise to some thoughts about individuals within the Meeting, in that each of us has our own ‘angle’ but we fly together as a group – and I stood up and gave this as ministry.

I’ve forgotten now what this post was going to be about. Oh yes, I just realised as I was gazing at the things I have plugged into USB’s on my laptop, that they have the same symbol on them. I’m sure you know it; it’s like an unravelled wand of Caduceus and denotes wires plugging in to something. It seems utterly right; yet I don’t know why. Why should that particular design be chosen to indicate plugging in? Yet somehow as you look at it, the thing seems right.

Anyway wish me luck darlings. NaNo starts on Friday and I’m not remotely ready.

https://i1.wp.com/www.vectorico.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/usb-symbol.png

Kirk out

Last Night I Dreamed I Went to Gilead Again…

OH and I have been catching up with The Handmaid’s Tale (series 3), that dystopian Biblical Black Mirror where patriarchy reasserts itself viciously and mercilessly, forcing women to assume one of three roles: wife, servant (‘Martha’) or handmaid. The crisis which spawns this is a critical fall in fertility rates and the grotesque solution is to bring a ‘handmaid’ – a fertile woman – into each family to breed for them. The Handmaid’s Tale is the story of one such woman, June (known as Offred and then Ofjoseph as they take the names of their owners) forced to reproduce for Commander Waterford and his family. This is brutal slavery with a Biblical varnish and unsurprisingly the thoughts of many, if not most, women turn to escape. Canada is just across the border.

No matter how plausible, The Handmaid’s Tale is of course fiction. Or so I thought… but it turns out Gilead is alive and thriving in a tiny corner of the US. I kind of wish I hadn’t come across The Transformed Wife’s blog but I did, and its vision of ‘Biblical Womanhood’ is basically Gilead minus the rape and violence. St Paul looms large in this scenario (whenever I go to a church which emphasises St Paul I run for cover) and is little more than unreconstructed dogma. This woman is not only against abortion – which is to be expected – but also against contraception. God is in charge of your womb apparently; no matter that the planet can’t afford more people, nor that there aren’t the resources to go around, you must keep having as many children as you can conceive. But don’t worry about the planet – I expect God has all that in hand too.*

The concept that God equals the patriarchal vision set out in the Bible is one feminists (and Quakers) have spent generations countering but here it is again. It reminds me of bindweed; no matter how many times you root it out, back it comes again. Ah well.

I will say one thing for the Transformed Wife though – unlike many people on the internet, she knows how to debate respectfully.

Kirk out

*as it happens I agree; I just think the plan might involve the extinction of our race (if we don’t reform). People’s notions of God are much to anthropocentric in my view.

What It Ain’t

This week I have been focussing on the practice of patience and I thought it would be useful to focus on what it ain’t. What isn’t patience – or rather, what isn’t a salutary practice to develop?

First, it isn’t resignation. Hopelessness, apathy, despair, none of these have any part in patience. Just as santosh doesn’t mean accepting that things will never chance, so patience doesn’t imply a belief that your goal will never come. Often impatience is driven by fear – if I don’t get this now it may never arrive. Patience is born of the knowledge that all things have a time and in that time they come.

Take gardening. Of late I’ve been going out in the garden and wishing my plants would get a move-on. Why? Because I’m afraid they may never flourish; that if I don’t rush around fertilising and weeding and watering and what-have-you, they’ll just give up and die. Patience implies a faith in the future; that things will come. You just have to wait.

Of course, there’s always the hope deferred thing, which means you should always take advantage of opportunities when they arise; that as well as being patient we should ask ourselves ‘is there anything I should be doing here that I’m not doing? Can I actually get this thing I want right now instead of waiting?’ Marcus Aurelius said ‘Everything I want in life I can have right now if I don’t deny it to myself.’ that’s a statement I’ve been wrestling with ever since I first read it. Stoicism is not a grim-faced resignation, a sort of Hilda-Ogden heaving yourself into the kitchen after a death like Victoria Wood said (I can’t find the routine but it’s quoted here) but a refusal to give up, even in the face of despair. And there’s a lot to despair about right now – but as OH and I keep saying, even if the worst happens and the Tories are stupid enough to saddle us with BoJo, he may not last long. Perhaps he will blow himself out like a storm at sea. In any case there doesn’t seem to be much we can do right now to prevent it.

Stoicism is a useful philosophy and a forerunner of Christianity. It’s useful because it helps you to accept what is and to think of everything as contributing to your highest good. Let us consult the oracle on stoicism:

Me: how would you define stoicism in twenty words or less?

OH: We can’t control the world but we can control our emotional reactions to it.

Brilliant. So there we have it. I may not be able to influence the result of the leadership elections but I can ask myself ‘what would Marcus Aurelius do?’ As an Emperor who considered his duty to be the happiness and welfare of the people, he would deplore BoJo’s self-serving and duplicitous nature but he would say these things are sent to teach us something. And I suggest one thing to be learnt from this process is how better to campaign and organise to defeat what I can only call the forces of evil. I don’t think Boris is evil per se but I do think the consequences of having such a person as our leader would be.

Kirk out

Prosper and Live Long?

I’ve been catching up with a series on death and dying presented by Miriam Margolyes (that’s Mar-go-lees, not something that rhymes with gargoyles).  She’s a very entertaining presenter, seemingly unconcerned with image and reacting genuinely and spontaneously as she tours care homes and other facilities to discover different attitudes to death.  She visits a brilliant place where song and laughter are used to facilitate good mental health and hops across the pond to encounter a group of whacky folk who believe it’s possible to live forever if you just find the right formula.  I’m highly sceptical about this: all things are subject to age and decay (though OH annoyingly had to point out some exceptions to this; creatures with long telemeres apparently) but there are other objections.  First, this ‘therapy’ is available only to the rich, and in conversation some practitioners expressed views dangerously close to eugenics, suggesting that the poor and criminal classes would die out leaving only the worthy surviving.  Right after this Margolyes visits a poor area where the homeless hang out and most people die young; the contrast could not be greater.  Frankly I found the picture of the youthful elderly utterly repellent; most of them looked more grotesque than Mick Jagger and altogether they were such an unnatural bunch that I’d rather die tomorrow than resemble them.  But there are other, deeper objections to this philosophy.

First, what matters is not the amount of time you have but what you do with it.  We all know the problem of procrastination when a deadline is far away; but give most of us an imminent cut-off date and we’ll crack on.  It’s salutary in many ways to act as if death is just around the corner (though not like this).  History is full of examples of people who died young but achieved lots: Mozart only lived 35 years but he composed so many works that they are referred to by a Kochel number (after the guy who classified them.)  In fact he wrote 68 symphonies, 27 concertos for piano alone and so many other compositions that I can’t begin to list them; more than six hundred in all and most composed over a 24-year period.  Keats also died young but managed a significant body of work; Hendrix didn’t see 30 but changed the face of guitar music; and though it’s tempting to wonder what they might have achieved had they lived, maybe they wouldn’t have achieved much more.  I’d rather have a short, fulfilled life than sit twenty years in a reclining chair (though I think that ship may already have sailed.*)

I think the acceptance of death is a necessary check to the ego; the knowledge that there will come a point where ‘I’ am no more is a salutary one.  In any case the way to prolong life is not to postpone death, it is to live every moment.  In every moment there is the possibility of interacting with eternity, and when we do that we are in every real sense outside time.

*the short life ship, not the twenty years in a chair ship

Kirk out