Still boggling about Rome’s offer!

The first week after Rome made its generous offer to employ those who cannot accept the ministry of women was marked by amazement. Surely Rome isn’t doing this now? Wrong! Surely the Anglo-Catholics wouldn’t be tempted to jump ship? Wrong! Surely the Roman Catholics don’t want disloyal, disaffected Anglicans? As yet, unknown.

This week, while I’m still boggling at the sheer affrontery of Rome’s offer, I’m also struggling with why, why, why, in an age of post-Christian disaffection with the church, a group of Christians are more concerned with gender than telling people about Jesus.

I hope, I think, I pray, that this ridiculous power play will not bring down the Church of England. However, it does bring the universal church into disrepute, and the name of Christ too. I’d rather we put our energies into spreading the gospel – but part of being in the world seems to me to be the need for credibility of the church within our society. So allowing women through the purple cloth ceiling is important.

For the first time, I’m beginning to wonder if we should let them go and move on.

Emma

Someone reviewing Jane Austen’s Emma at the weekend asked why we need yet another adaptation of it? The answer, of course, is so that soppy people like me get the chance to have a cry and a romantic moment. No-one believes that there is anything ‘true’ about Emma – it is a magnificent fairy-tale.  But magnificent for all that.

Of course following Jesus is in no way like being part of a Jane Austen novel, except when we are stymied by a sense of disconnection. We believe that God has in mind a happy ending, but in the present that seems a long way off. So in justification for my soppy moment, I would say that the scriptures are full of moments when the people of God declare how wonderful God is, even when everything around them is going horribly wrong.

The psalms are especially good at it. And why? Because, like Jane Austen, the authors recognised that there is a profound human need to make something true with our words that we believe in our hearts. As when the guy in the black dress declares that a couple are married (at that moment, by the will of the couple, and the assembly, rather than a month before or week after), so in the psalms we declare what we know is true, even when a part of us is struggling to believe that, say, God is good. By declaring it, so we tell our souls, it IS true.

Trinity dance with two left feet

You know how much I like dancing. I always wanted to be a ballet dancer (but never had lessons, so it was always going to be unlikely). At school I did some modern dance, on one notable occasion to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon on Morecambe pier for a dance exhibition (more surreal than modern I guess). And there have been dalliances with Christian dance over the years, though never in Laura Ashley frills.

My amazing daughter is on the dance team at school, so now I get to vicariously enjoy dance through her. But I miss dancing myself – so much that I was tempted to go to the freshers bop this weekend. Then I remembered dancing in a blue jump-suit with a zip running all down the front the first time I was a student, and being chatted up by a bloke it took me the rest of term to get rid of, and hurriedly reconsidered…

But I am reading the most amazing book about the dance of God the trinity, Participating in God by Paul Fiddes. It has reminded me of the reciprocal, indwelling dance of God that we are invited to join as Christians, where our being, thinking and doing are all subsumed into the relational dance of the creator, redeemer and sustainer.

I’m so out of step with life in my new identity that I’m no longer sure of who I am, but in the great dance it doesn’t matter how many left feet seem to dance out of step for a time – we all get the hang of the dance at times in our lives, and then have the best time. Laugh out loud, and join in…

In Transition

I’m feeling a bit lost this week. I’m not a lay person any more; in other words, I am no longer simply a baptised Christian, but something else too. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be able to feed the people of God with Jesus own supper. As a little girl I gave my toys communion, and the desire to be a priest just hasn’t diminished over the years.

It has been a very long journey, and there have been a lot of set backs. Now I’m an ordinand, training to be a priest, and suddenly the very thing I’ve been trying to get away from for years has become a significant loss.

If I had been accepted for ordination ten years ago, I would not have had the privilege of serving on Synod, nor of being on the Liturgical Commission. If I had had my prayer answered ten years ago, I would have missed out on all that fun! The old adage says ‘If you want to make God laugh, tell God your plans’. How true. Thank God that God’s plans are so much more sophisticated than ours.

So think of me, as I mourn something I never thought I’d miss. Perhaps there is something you are struggling with, that you might actually miss if you lost. Life is strange – following God even stranger.

Synod – speak

I’m just wondering if it takes a particular personality type to thrive on General Synod (I’m sure it does), and if so, what? Does Synod teach me to think in a particular way, or do I think that way naturally, and have been honed by ten years of meetings?

I know there are quite a lot of things I do really badly. And another load of things I do with very limited skill. But I can look at problems from lots of different directions, and sometimes come up with a whole new way of approaching a solution.

Wouldn’t it be exciting if the skills that Synod teaches were more widely recognised and appreciated; if there were a whole queue of people just desperate to get on Synod next autumn, and use their skills to change the church. So if you were wondering if church politics was for you – don’t be put off by the word ‘politics’. Change is what we are about, by asking better questions, and looking for better answers…

Dry Stone Wall

White van man has knocked down the wall into our field again.  And he wasn’t even driving his own white van. This is a pain because we have to find a dry stone wall-er to put it up again.

The wall will be rebuilt in due course, and will look the same as before, only subtlely different. The stones will be the same, but in a different order, so the lichen has the chance of new rock faces to grow on.

The church does the same. Every time someone suggests that a church without walls is a Christian fundamental, and others drive a white van into the church walls, a wall-er is hired to build the walls back up anew, subtlely different, but just as difficult to get into, out of, and around.

I wish the walls would come down – they have to really, if the church is going to survive the next decade or two.  But if we keep on rebuilding at significant cost, how can that ever happen?  Good for lichen and horses, less good for explorers.

Run the race, but don’t worry about being last

Although the sun is shining, the season of school sports days is upon us. There was a strong sense of competition at the ones I attended, with lots of over heating children running about; the little ones ran from one race to another race faster than they competed! My children are excellent sailors, dancers, and walkers. However, they are not very good at traditional sports day sports.

The wonder of traditional sports days, though, is that there are no concessions to those who can’t run. And quite right too. Whether a child can do sports or not, whether a child can do exams or not, they must compete in order to learn how to be adults. A good school will teach a child how to revise, how to run a race, how to time their papers, and how to cope with failure. This is the stuff of life. We all fail at things, and need to learn to move on. It’s so much better to learn this as a child.

And of course, as we choose our path in life, we learn to avoid the things we are bad at, and to put our energy into things in which we might excel. If we have really learnt how to be grown up, we might even choose to do things that we know we are hopeless at but we simply enjoy doing. That is when the lesson of failure has truly been learnt 🙂 I’m still working at it.  Bear with me.

Hymn the great hymns

I have been thinking with great affection lately of the hymns that I sang as a child. My youngest is just beginning to learn the great hymnody which school impresses on the primary age mind and heart, and as he bellows out “All things bright and beautiful” it leads me to wonder whether I chose hymns that reflect my spirituality, or whether my spirituality was formed under their influence?  Would I have been a different sort of Christian if I had sung different hymns?

We went swimming weekly in junior school, and as I was often ill, I would stay behind alone or with 2 or 3 others. To entertain us, the teacher would teach us hymns, and help us understand their meanings. I remember well the revelation that in “Lord of all hopefulness” balm did not mean the same as barmy! I loved the universalism of “In Christ there is no east nor west”, and the romantic valiance of the knight who won his spurs in stories of old. For many childhood years, I was that knight, gallant and brave, noble and true (though perhaps less strong on the gentle part!).

Of all the hymns that I loved as a child, it was “He who would valiant be” and “O Jesus I have promised” that really stirred me and made my eyes shine. To be honest they still do.  If you know me, then you’ll know that these hymns epitomise my ideals of faith – hard work, honesty, truth, loyalty and courage. Did these hymns choose me, already a conscientious child, or did I choose them and model my life around them?  

We need to be careful about the diet of hymnody we offer children. Whether they choose me or I chose them, those childhood hymns are an integral part of my adult faith. We must not dumb our faith down in our sung worship, and leave future adults bereft of hymnody which feeds the soul, inspires the heart, and challenges the mind.

“Do not be afraid” said the angel

Have you ever wondered why angels keep on appearing in the bible, and scaring people half to death. You would have thought that God could have come up with some way to communicate without causing palpitations to everyone enjoying a divine visitation. It has struck me this week that a lot of my life is lived in fear, and that’s even without angelic intervention. I am a great worrier, and if I don’t have something to worry about, I even worry about that.

I have been wondering why that glorious passage in Ecclesiastes 3 (‘to everything turn, turn, turn. there is a season, turn, turn, turn’ etc) doesn’t include in the list of war, famine, pestilence and death, a clause about worrying.  And then I wondered if that is because the whole passage is about things that make me worry.  If there is a season for everything, then perhaps the things I worry about are not actually in my control, and therefore it is bonkers to expend energy fretting about them…

Good friends of ours have just been appealing a decision by the Education Department not to offer their son a school place at any school in the area (really, honestly, but they did win the appeal).  I’m awaiting moderation (don’t ask) and my youngest doing an audition next Saturday. These are good reasons to worry – yet the act of worrying has not, nor will, change the result one iota.  

If angels suggest that fear is unproductive, perhaps the author of Ecclesiastes was right – it is God’s gift that all should eat and rink and take pleasure in all their toil. Bottle the fear, pass the bottle, and smile please 🙂

Why don’t we like children?

The news tells us today that life in the UK is not good for children. Having just returned from mainland Europe I can only agree. This isn’t a problem that can be solved by raising families out of poverty (though that will help); it isn’t going to be solved by improved schooling (though of course education is vital to every child); this is a problem of attitude.

In Spain last week a number of complete strangers, usually men, ruffled the top of my youngest son’s head. Each time it happens I expect him to go ballistic – he hates people touching him! But somehow they seem to get away with it. Why? Because they did it unthinkingly, with confident love of a child, any child, and without any need for reaction. And youngest tolerates it quite happily.

Not many men in England would confidently touch a child they didn’t know – we have robbed them of a natural relationship with children, by suspicion and ridiculous, (almost always) unfounded fear. And we behave as though children were a problem, not a joy. The two elderly ladies who muscled in front of a family with two young children getting off the flight had tutted about the noise from the children through the journey. Then they didn’t even have the common sense to let them off a crowded plane. How daft was that?

Jesus was the exemplar of behaviour with children.  The child brought into the midst of the crowd by Jesus was not humiliated, not made to answer adult questions, just placed near to a safe man, and looked at in love. It was clearly a good place to be, or the kid would have kicked up a fuss.  

Have you been to church lately – too many children kicking up a fuss, because church is often not a good place to be! I’m sure your church is wonderful with children – I wish more people in some places  acted as though they valued children. It could change our churches.  It could even change society’s attitude to children. Showing children that we like them could make all the difference.