Thursday, 30 July 2009

Groundhog Days

35 years ago, the American Episcopal Church took unilateral action which threatened to divide the Anglican Communion: then it was ordaining women, now it's gay bishops and blessings. But 35 years on, on the divisive issue they stand somewhat vindicated and the world still turns and Armageddon hasn't happened. Will the same still be true in another 35 years? Probably.

For the record, I thought the world had ended back in 1994 when the SEC got round to ordaining women. I was wrong. The Church has certainly changed but they are in many ways changes for the better. I was there at the Provincial Conference when two friends took to the floor for the Gay Gordon's. Both being male this caused much comment and many said they were being brave. That was within the last 10 years. We have moved on and Laus Deo!

I enjoyed a a rather nice Indian meal last night, munching something from the menu the owners said was made just the way their mother had when they were growing up in tropical Corstorphine. Lovely spinach and lamb and a fair nippy dose of ground green chillies. And yes, before our West Coast correspondents say it, it probably wisnae a patch on the delicacies found in Curry Alley. But good it was and this place doesn't actually sell alcohol so I felt totally comfortable.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Inside out

It's odd to be consulted about what do we do about the swine flu thingy in church. I opined that it was rather a fuss over very little, but suggested "In one kind for the duration". Well, it's a parish with an Anglo-Catholic tradition, so less bother than two person dunkies at the altar rail.

I've been musing that I seem to know or hear of a lot of clergy who end up in the sort of situation I am currently in. Stress, dysfunction, emotional crisis and being overwhelmed. Not all male or single, some married some not - all sorts and conditions as the Prayer Book put it. Why? Books and books have been written about it but from where I stand much of it is to do with unrealistic expectations of self and from congregations, the stress of managing a declining institution and above all being at the same time the ultimate insider and the absolute outsider. Insider because you are the focus of so much activity in the pastoral sphere, the public persona of the charge (hence the old title Parson,)the one who gets it in the neck if Mrs McGlumphie disnae get a visit when she's got the passing bug. (Never mind that you only find oot she was sick when you meet her en route to the bingo after she's recovered). But also the outsider because you are not permanent. You move on in stipendiary ministry. Not matter how much you want to be part of the family, you know you will move out and it must be especially bad after 20+ years in the same place when you retire and rip up a whole network of friendships and familiarity. I think what I am looking for at this stage of my life is a sense of actually really belonging somewhere and with someone. For years I tried to tell me this wasn't the case and now I find it is. Hmm.

Looking around the Church and at its wounded clergy, I wonder if we need our own FoCA in Scotland - Fellowship of Crocked Anglicans? I'd think about joining that.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

A new rite, new ritual.

I checked out the recently published Niagara Rite for the Blessing of a Civil (i.e. Same Sex) Relationship and was mildly underwhelmed. Some good bits, some bland bits and some very odd bloopers. Since when was Thomas a Kempis a secular writer? Ain't they heard of the Imitation of Christ in Southern Canada? And JRR Tolkien - know they not that some wag will duly christen this the Hobbit Liturgy for Julian and Sandy? (There, I've done it!!)

Today we had the arrival in the SEC of the Archbishop's (York and Cauntuar) ideas on what to do about Communion in the time of Swine flu. Being off duty and not responsible for the implementation was a mercy, so I have to say I found the use of the Indian palms together and bow gesture at the peace a rather effective replacement for the hugathon we call the peace. Not entirely sure about the dishing out of intincted wafers by the clergy: very slow I thought. And I dislike getting a soggy wafer planked into my mitt, so I did the old Anglo-Papalist tongue out trick. Later it was pointed out that this actually made it more likely to spread infection as the administrator might touch my tongue or lips. Personally, I think that if you think there is a real, serious risk of infection, communion in one kind for the duration seems to be the answer. No mess, no fluid, no problem.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Strife in the Heather!

I am gently amused by some of the stuff in the Hootsmon today about the Great Homecoming Hooley at Holyrood, particularly the rant article by the Vice President of the Clan MacKenzie Society. According to Mr Mackenzie, the clans of the North were all geared to do a 2009 thingummy about the Gaeltach when a sneaky crew of LOWLAND clans jumped in, negotiated with Visit Scotland and sprang this Homecoming lark on everyone with minimal consultation. It also has a nifty price tag attached to getting in to Holyrood park for the Highland Games (I think £15 to watch big hairy men in kilts tossing their cabers et al is a bit steep meself). I think it's the Highland/Lowland schism that makes me grin most. It seems Fraser's, Mackenzie's and other are boycotting this do. It's like "Culloden: the Replay". History tells us that there were more Lowland Scots than Englishmen shooting at the Jacobite's on Drumossie Moor. We just can't get along can we? And the English think we don't like them?

Thursday, 23 July 2009

No puritans allowed!

Having watched a wee bit of "Question Time" tonight, I had a sudden revelation as to why George Galloway called his party "Respect": you might respect his political integrity, but you couldn't really like him much. There was just too much of the sanctimonious righteousness about his contributions for my taste. The principled purist or Puritan does little for me in religion or politics. I prefer a little human flexibility, the odd acknowledged flaw to temper the histrionics of the righteous.

Which made me think: using those criteria, what (or rather who) would be my ideal dinner party from religion and politics for a fascinating evening? 4 from each field. Here goes:
God botherers: Harry Williams CR, Lionel Blue, John Henry Newman, Teresa of Avila.
Hacks: Tony Benn, Bill Clinton, Peter Mandelson, Betty Boothroyd.

A mildly eclectic mix but here's why for me: Williams and Blue's autobiographies have moved and touched me for years. Laughed and cried at both of them. Newman was a quite rigid and inflexible mind to look at but he moved from evangelicalism, to Tractarian to RC and learned and grew as he went. Teresa: a late flowering saint with a sense of humour! Tony Benn has zeal but a redeeming with and integrity, Clinton is flawed but pragmatic and brilliant. Mandelson - it would be fascinating to see this able, brilliant and very famously flawed political genius batting off the rest of this crew. And Madame Speaker? Her overviews and observations would be very enlightening.

Anyone else any thoughts or comments?

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

St Mary Magdalene's Day

I've had a soft spot for Mary Magdalene ever since I did a placement in Sunderland and ended up carrying her statue rounds the back streets of Millfield at the Matronal Festival of the spikiest church in the town. Fallen woman, original holy hooker, possible psychiatric patient, alleged ginger bird, Mrs Jesus of Nazareth: all titles applied to MM (and I am not referring to Marilyn Monroe here) over the millenia. But the title I love for her best and the one one that makes most sense to me is "Apostle to the apostles".

Rather like the only Papal title I think worth preserving - "Servant of the Servants of God", it doesn't deal in fevered speculation and theory about role and function or historic dignity and power (and the abuse thereof), but in the biblical and actual reality of the ministry she was given. "Go and tell those thick scared blokes I told to build the Church to get off their jacksies and up into Galilee where I'll link up with them again and point them along the next bit of their and my way". Which rather meets me where I am presently. Not too bright at listening to where God's been pointing or to do what I know in my head I need to do. Scared silly and good at using that as an excuse to hide in an upper room with friends. Mary Mag prods me rather to action this year.

I also came across this reflection on the John 20 account of her meeting the Risen Christ in Gethsemane on Easter Day.

"This premier Resurrection appearance has a special quality. It is of the rarest beauty and in its simplicity ever fresh.... She had been looking for a missing body in the form she had previously known that could be touched and seen and clung to humanly. His presence, when it was revealed to her, was in a different way; it was a dawning of absolute light out of absolute darkness, a presence that could be taken into her deepest self to become irremovably a part of her own being.

Every celebration of Easter sends us an open invitation to experience anew the light of the Risen Christ. That light is the same light that confirmed the faith of the first disciples and sent them out active into the world. It is the dismissive light, from which all shadows in ourselves will flee; it is the refining light, in which our spiritual perceptions will grow; it is the inextinguishable light, the light that we, as present day disciples, are called to carry into a 1001 dark tombs that disfigure God's world, even if we often recoil from the suffering and sadness we find in such disfigurement.

Where does the darkness of the tomb exist? Where have we buried Jesus? Wherever the blindness to the will of God has led us: to a tolerance of poverty, to the waste of God's gifts, to greed, to violence, to the misuse of power, to cruelty, to mindless bigotry, to the heart's perversion in ways without number; those and many another are the tombs that will forever be dark till light is brought. It is there, in all the conditions that deaden human life, that we must be witness to the light of the Jesus who is risen, is alive and is the overcomer of every darkness."

(from "The Stations of the Resurrection" by Ronald Gibbins)

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Well, well, well: the American Episcopal Church has quietly moved to set aside the Anglican Communion's moratorium on consecrating Gay/lesbian Bishops. Hand on heart I cannot say that came as a huge surprise. They value their freedom and autonomy. The home of the Boston Tea party was never likely to take direction from a Hanoverian appointment easily. What effect will it have? I'm not sure. Separation I doubt: after all, America pays for the Anglican Consultative Council. Kick 'em out and the whole show collapses. Remember the Lambeth Conference finances anyone? And ++Rowan with the begging bowl. Sorry, money talks. 2nd class status? Always a possibility, but if I were American I'd respond to that with a reduction of the donation. Effectively the US Church has defined the direction the Anglican Communion will be going in for the foreseeable future. Scotland's question is where do we point ourselves?

I have very mixed feelings on this: my heart is with America, my head says we stick close in our relationship with the CofE. Again my response is pragmatic: most incomers to the SEC come from the CofE. Split from them and we will suffer. But America has given us a powerful lead in the direction of what it means to be a mission shaped church in a broadly secular world. No barrier of human construction ought be be allowed to continue to obstruct the pathway to God. Part of me thinks the Communion needs an Obama figure - which Rowan isn't. The other day he effectively told Africa: "Your future is in your hands. You have the power and capability to have good government and practice - use it. We'll help you, but stop blaming the Colonial history for everything that's wrong." A message to the Global South might be :"Develop your own theology and stop saying Europeans brought homosexuality to Africa". Do your own grown up theology, rather than repeating what the missionaries taught in just exactly the same way they taught it.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

A breaking storm..or "That's news?"

No doubt there will be a fluttering in the online hen coops of Piskydom (and beyond) after this mornings' interview in Scotland on Sunday with Kelvin Holdsworth, the Provost of St Mary's Cathedral Glasgow. Senior cleric backs gay marriage etc and the Press promptly say we're gonna split. No, not really, boys and girls of the 4th Estate. Kelvin is not the 1st to say this in the SEC and it has been being discussed in a quiet, respectful way within the Church for as long as I can recall. People disagree but throughout the discussion in the Edinburgh Diocese there has being a bilateral commitment to continuing to walk together rather than apart. Like the man says, we act a bit more grown up on this north of the Tweed.

This really has been a discussion that has framed my own adult journey of faith and ministry over the last 20 odd years. Back in the late 80's, I was Senior Vice Convener of the Scottish Young Liberal Democrats. The Convener (Willie Rennie, now MP for Dunfermline West) decided we would produce 3 policy documents: he took racism and Green issues, I was asked to head up the team on Sexuality and the Law. My group argued for 3 changes: equality in the age of consent, an anti-discrimination act and legal recognition of same sex relationships. Remember that in 1990 the age of consent for gay men was 21 years of age (and had only been that since 1980, when Scotland came into line with England and Wales) with the possibility of 2 years in the nick for making love, a hater crime meant only racism and the term "civil partnership" was unknown. But I remember putting a very specific rider into the section of legally recognised relationships. I insisted that a change in the law would not require religious bodies to conduct wedding ceremonies, unless they decided to offer such ceremonies themselves. And it was me, not the other members of the group who insisted on that (they humoured the Divinity student). I felt strongly, as a heir of the Tractarians, who argued that the Church was a divinely inspired body, we ought not to be compelled by civil (secular) law to provide certain religious services to certain groups, but should retain our absolute autonomy. We could say yes, but we had to be the ones who said yes through Synod, not forced into it by a parliament of Presbyterians, Moslem's, atheists and Jedi Knights!

And now? Well, the legal changes that have been brought through since 1997 have met with my complete approval. But I'd go as far as Gay marriage now. Mainly because the State says we can't! If the Church decides to offer its blessing, who is the State to stop it? See us Tractarians!! That said, I am not these days convinced that clergy ought to be able to act as Registrars even in the limited way in which they do in Scotland. I think the French actually got it right after the Revolution. Of course you can have a religious ceremony if you so wish, but all the legal stuff is contracted separately at the Maire. The current set up is the remnant of a medieval pseudo-theocracy which the Reformers tinkered (more or less unsuccessfully) with in the 16th century.

My Tractarian soul has seriously evolved in a quite republican direction over 20 years. Theocracies have never been a good idea for minorities, be they religious, ethnic, political or social. The dominant religious group always claims to be building the Kingdom of God on earth in which all are made welcome but it is difficult to think of a theocratic state in history or today which does not persecute its own minorities. In Scotland, Piskies beat up on Covenanters and the Presbyterian theocracy with Melville and his heirs envisaged was both anti Episcopalian and anti-Catholic. Iran? No thanks! Calvin's Geneva- just ask Sadoleto! And in Holy Spain, the Holy Inquisition had a parade and a sermon before handing Jews, heretics et al over to the secular arm with a pious request not to spill blood (burning doesn't). Holy Russia of the Orthodox? Home of the Pogrom. No, I personally think it is time to make the State firmly secular and allow the religious communities internal autonomy on their approach to matters of who and what they bless, from two men or two women to nuclear submarines.
Oh dear, I sound very American Episcopalian! Such is life!

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

A wee bit of theology.

Well, conversation delayed the baking, so the brownies are a cooling and awaiting the application of the chocolate butter icing and I've some time to spare and write a wee bit.

I've been watching the latest instalment of the stately gavotte of realignment within the Anglican Communion with an almost detached interest. The American Episcopalians are gathering very near Disneyland (guys, didn't you ever learn about location, location, location?) to debate the possibility of moving away from the Moratorium of the ordination of LGBT folks and of generally authorising the blessing of same sex relationships. Meanwhile the GAFCONites in England shire have had a launch event with much noise from the retiring (though not shy and retiring) Bishop of Rochester and a rather OTT declaration from by old Bishop (Fulham) that Satan is alive and well and living in Church House Westminster. A decade ago I might have agreed with him: now it just seems such a silly thing to say. This argy bargy is not about the devil having entered into the Church, although that is the way it is looked at in parts of Africa and Asia: it is about a profound theological disagreement over the way we look at the mission of God's people in the world today. Sounds to me rather as if Bishop Broadhurst is certainly doing the Office of Readings daily and steeping himself in the mindset of the Church Fathers, but is failing to read the fulminations of Athanasius and Co with any sense of historical criticism or contextualisation and is simply impersonating a Bishop of the 4th century CE.

No, this is not God's light vs Satan's darkness, but the painful clash when two goods collide and seem to be in opposition. The Call to Faithfulness and the Faith once delivered to the Saints as it has been understood meets an emerging understanding of that faith being generous and welcoming to all. The vital point of the great Christological arguments was about understanding the Incarnation as an opening of the gates of grace and glory to all of God's people. If Christ was not both fully and truly human and fully and truly divine, then the Gospel and the Kingdom was not for all: that is why the Orthodox strove against the Arians et al - to keep the gates open. Surely they made huge errors in applying and realising that vision over the centuries: the treatment of women and of Jews to name but 2 examples. But their fundamental understanding of the Universal nature of the Salvation promised by God in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of Mary was correct and essential.

remind me of the rather conservative Christians of North Africa with whom Cyprian of Carthage struggled. Their concern was to hold fast to the faith and not to give those who had apostatised an easy ticket back in. Their problem was that they came perilously close to saying there was no way back for apostates at all for Apostasy was that Sin against the Holy Spirit which Jesus called unforgivable. Cyprian certainly didn't offer an easy road back (serious penance lasting years was his solution)but he recognised that grace had to be held out to the Apostate at all costs. Hence the great split in Cyprians time. History tells us that the Conservatives were swept away by the rise of Islam in the 7th century and Cyprian's vision as preserved in the teaching of the Church as a whole came to triumph. In the long run I rather think that is what will happen to Archbishop Akinola and his pals: the tide of history will somehow sweep them aside and the generous Gospel will prevail eventually.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Not always traumatised

Not every session of therapy is a trauma. It is possible to have a good one and come out feeling some movement has been achieved. Trying to grow up in your 40's is no less likely to be angsty and traumatic than doing it in your teens. Perhaps the note of inspiration I got this week-end was a piece of graffiti from a friend in the US of A: "If you pray for a Porsche and God sends you a tricycle - ride it!" The result may not be what you wanted or imagined, but it is still a mode of transport to take you forward if only you will use it.

Actually, I have recently discovered some unexpected life skills: I rather enjoy baking. So tonight's little bit of therapy is baking a birthday cake. The results will hopefully be edible! If chocolatey!!

Friday, 3 July 2009

Just to prove that it isn't all darkness.

Yes, there are good bits in the days and weeks too. Visits from friends who brought an unexpected nun to town - I'd have been happy with Lucozade and a bunch of grapes, really - who had a far better eye for the talent wandering down the Royal Mile than the other 4 of us combined!! Really, that nunnery's changed since Mother Theresa stood down. Joining the Pisky group on the Pride march and steering them away from the Scottish Conservative group with the banner. Dammit, being mistaken for a Tory would mean I could never show my face in Cowdenbeath again! So we went and stood next to the men in frocks - no, not the clergy, the drag merchants! A very uproarious lunch with a friend who's been feeling rocky - although the very idea of sitting in a pub eating Eggs Brady (Eggs Benedict, but the bacon is replaced with smoked salmon MMM!) and drinking Earl Grey at lunchtime would have seemed utterly preposterous not so very long ago. Nobody drinks tea in the pub where I come from!! And tonight a gourmet kebab.

Yup, you read that right. It's not the loopiness within linking the unlikely words "gourmet" and "kebab" - I've found a gourmet kebab shop. None of yer doner mince in this joint. Beef, haggis and Stilton on a stick. Duck and plum, venison, king prawns. I plumped for the Halloumi cheese and Portobello mushroom kebab. Served with shredded salad stuff on a big bit of what was rather like Nan bread. Delish! And the dessert kebabs are rather good too. I never knew you could kebab strawberries!! Could have done with more Nutella though. :-) Mind you, I hae ma doots aboot Nutella as a gourmet option?!

So there is light and some laughter and hope. As long as you have a pulse there's always that.

"I thought therapy is meant to make you feel better?"

And as we all know, the answer to that one is: "Yes it does - eventually." But in the midst of it all, "eventually" looks to be a very long way away. As the layers of self deception are peeled back and you look at the mess beneath, it looks horribly like nothing is visible, save your own long concealed dysfunction. That doesn't feel terribly great. Actually it feels beastly, horrible and very crappy indeed. And part of you wonders: "Is it worth all this? Wasn't it more bearable with all the unhealthy props and anaesthetics you used until recently?" And I suppose it was. BUT that numbed, zonked out life wasn't real and this is. That's cold comfort when you feel sick and low. Two little things helped: one is passing a taxi with an advert from the Depression Alliance and seeing the slogan "Looking Good, Feeling Crap" and remembering that there are a lot of others who know that experience only too well. You are not alone. And the second? The guy sitting head down in the door way with a can of Carlsberg Special. Know how you feel, pal and I could be you. But I'm not going there. No way. I am more precious even to me than that. So we'll keep walking on, through the wind and the rain (and it was lashing down). And we'll never walk alone. Amazing how potent cheap music really is!

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Into the breach.

I finally screwed up my courage to the sticking point and dragged myself along to the drop in centre for those who have or might have Asperger's Syndrome. It's very scary when you are faced with the possibility of discovering something about yourself that could potentially define the rest of your life (for good as well as bad): you procrastinate terrifyingly. It's as if the possible freedom and liberation of knowing it's not you being weird or mad but it's genuinely just the way you neurobiologically are is overshadowed by the possible stigma that comes with a diagnosis. If I do have this condition will people look at me differently or relate to me differently? What will my friends/family think? We're back in the realms of coming out to yourself territory then to others. And do I have the emotional energy to go through all this sort of stuff again? At least at this mature stage of my life I know I can go through this process and emerge at the other end alive, if changed. Doesn't make it one whit easier.

I really was up to high d'oh beforehand: I nearly bought some baccy (undo a week off the weed)but realised it wasn't a nicotine fix that I needed (had that) but something to do with my hands to relieve stress. I wouldn't say I exactly prayed the Rosary I borrowed en route, but jiggling the beads seemed to help. The worker was very helpful and said "Needs looking into: talk to your GP". So must get in contact and start the ball rolling And I've said this for the last 2 months! The difference is he pointed out that if I have AS, it might affect the way my psychoanalysis is done, so now I have a practical incentive to make the move and that always helps. Strangely I am less paralysed by my emotional turmoil now that I think there might be a factual explanation for it. It always was the sense that because I felt the way others didn't in a given situation I was odd and freaky that paralysed my actions. I worry that I'm in danger of using a condition that I might (or might not) have as a crutch or prop or excuse to avoid doing anything and taking control of (and responsibility for) my life, so I think I have to take action and fairly quickly. Why is my life so blooming tricky?