Sunday, January 29, 2012

pride & prejudice

The wonderfully exuberant Archbishop of York has a couple of pieces in today's Telegraph. I was alerted to them by his twitter feed:
Gave Telegraph a wide ranging interview & Hope people read full interview not just the headlines.

One of them is about the church's response to the government's proposals for gay marriage, & the other is about his current trip to the West Indies. In the second there is a comment which I feel reflects on the first, though they are not ostensibly linked.
Let's do this bit by bit. The first piece tells us that the Archbishop is against changing the law on marriage; it isn't the State's job to interfere here. Marriage is between a man and a woman. For a prime minister to think he can alter this is for that man to become like a moral dictator. Not that he's against change - he points out that the bishops in the House of Lords did not try to stop Labour introducing civil partnerships in 2004, giving homosexual couples improved legal rights, and adds that his stance on marriage doesn't mean he wishes to "diminish, condemn, criticise, patronise any same-sex relationships because that is not what the debate is about".
In the other article we read: 
The Archbishop said he never encountered racism from fellow clergy in his rise through the ranks of the Church of England. 
Here's my reflection.
I am quite astounded Dr Sentamu never experienced open racism from clergy in the C of E. I'm sure it exists. I'm sure of this not because I think clergy are evil, but because bad attitudes are carried by good people. We fail unexpectedly. Without realising what we just said. That he never suffered from such prejudice is amazing. Wonderful.
Unfortunately, I worry that his article & the views he expresses within it means that any gay clergy reading it couldn't offer the same life story "I've never experienced any homophobia from clergy in the C of E". Not because I think the Archbishop is evil or bad, but because bad attitudes are carried by good people. We fail unexpectedly. Without realising what we just said. 
You see: I have to differ with Dr Sentamu - it is absolutely the State's job to set the rules around what constitutes marriage. It always has been. For us in Britain, this has been confused by a remarkably strong Christian heritage and a remarkably strong National Established Church. But the State sets the rules. The current rules around marriage are set by Parliament, and have been for - well, pretty much for ever. Even the bits that reflect what we do in church, including the C of E are set by Parliament, though the exact liturgies are brought through denominational committees. Still, they have very strict rules surrounding them. C of E (and bizarrely Church in Wales, disestablished Anglican ministers!) are public registrars for the purposes of marriage, according to law as established not just by Synod but by Parliament. This has always led to tensions: for example, when the church doesn't know how to deal with divorced people, but the State says they may re-marry, what do we do? Answer - eventually go the State's way. In flat contradiction to the plain reading of the Bible & hundreds of years of history, to which the Archbishop appeals in the Telegraph.
Marriage may well be ordained by God. But it is governed by the State, and if he doesn't understand that, he needs to go back to college. This is a compromise situation, and always has been for the C of E. If you don't like it - tough.
Given that, I'm afraid the next step in the argument is frighteningly simple. Are gay people people? Are they as human as straight people? Or do we live in Nazi Germany and have second class humans wandering around after all? Because if everyone is actually human, then everyone gets the same deal whether we like it or not. The same rights, the same taxes, the same vote. And, actually, this is FUNDAMENTALLY CHRISTIAN. God loves people. Sinners as much as saints. Jews as much as Gentiles. Women as much as men. Slaves as much as free. Straight as much as gay. There are no second class human beings.
Christians should be at the front of any queue where there are human rights of equality being fought for. Even if we don't like what the results of that fight will bring. We do it because we love people, because Jesus died for all. Even for me. To do anything less is to fail in the great command - Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and your neighbour as yourself. 
To read "the bishops in the House of Lords did not try to stop Labour introducing civil partnerships in 2004, giving homosexual couples improved legal rights" as a positive should stick in any Christian's heart as total failure. If people have poor rights, we don't STOP THEM BEING IMPROVED. We fight for them until they have everything they could possibly want, until they are truly equal - even if we don't like the results of the fight. We do it because we are called to love. Presenting the sentence at the top of this paragraph as a positive is, I am afraid, being guilty of casual, unintentional, but definite homophobia. It is precisely to "diminish, condemn, criticise, patronise any same-sex relationships" and that is exactly what the current proposed change in legislation is looking at putting right - because the status quo fails to take seriously that here are people not being treated as equal people. As less-than. 
I don't care if the church has gay bishops. Couldn't be less bothered. But I do care that her leadership understand that all people are people, all are loved by God, and that whatever our doctrine and standards are, we have a God who loves all and who has charged us to do the same. Offhand remarks that build cast-iron policies which confirm the reduction of some people to a less-than status when placed next to their neighbours will not do. Will not do
I am sure the Archbishop will never read this, but here's what I would say to him: genuinely I am thrilled you were spared being subjected to racist prejudice as you worked through the C of E. Now, please understand there are others who suffer prejudice and are treated as second rate in our churches and in our land because of their sexuality, and for many other reasons, and please don't merely 'not stop them' having a better lot. Please, with your history, please be at the forefront of fighting for their equality, even if you don't always understand them, just because they are people. 
I can't help feeling that if we truly do this as a church, we will make so many friends that our doors will be beaten down by people wanting to know why we care so much.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


So I am in Wengen for a week, enjoying perfect snow and now wonderful blue, sunlit skies. My gold skis are shining brightly as they speed over the white expanse, and I am having a great time.

Today was especially wonderful.

I spent the day with Sheridan & a group from the DHO (Downhill Only Club) as we explored the Murren side of the resort. In all honesty, I have never really enjoyed skiing on this side of the mountain, but I'm prepared to accept that this prejudice comes from my early days on skis and bears no relation to rationality. Now, I simply don't know these parts, and so I avoid them.

However, a day with Sheridan guiding us around is always a pleasure, and although the first couple of runs made me go, "Oh yes, I remember - DHO speed. Fast;" I soon forgot that I'd had to find an extra gear and just enjoyed the flow.

Of course, the highlight of this side of the mountain is the Schilthorn, famous as Blofeld's lare in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. I've often been up on the cable car, enjoyed the view from the restaurant at the top - and caught the cable car down. I've never skiied it before. But today was the day. Dressed in black, with my trusty Volants on my feet, I was ready. Ready as I'd ever be.

Of course, I had no idea that the top of the run, the scary bit, was not simply very long and very steep - but also in the current conditions covered in moguls. Bumps. Requiring a particular skill some of you will have, but which is only occasionally something I possess... and then seldom beyond a certain degree slope. This was way beyond that degree. Mercifully I had amazing friends from the DHO to guide me down, and though I took a couple of tumbles (one rather spectacular) and would score zero points for style, I made it. There was a moment I felt I'd lost my head battle and could have cried when I looked down and felt that I'd travelled miles and there seemed to be the whole slope still ahead of me, but then I actually started to enjoy the experience. Earlier, I'd been working my hardest to appear to be a decent skier as I was travelling with everyone and thus not quite relaxing; now I really could not pretend, I failed again & again & began to just be and be myself and enjoy the whole darned show. It was - exhilarating. Totally beyond me, and totally wonderful. Stuck on a mountain with no option but to keep going, I guess I had to trust the skill I had (small measure) and the people I was with (wonderful, just wonderful) and I suddenly loved it. Amazing. All my natural reserve let go for a moment. The sun, the beauty, the wonder - the stillness of the Spirit holding me and keeping me safe. Awesome.

I should have been exhausted. I was. I am. But I kept going & we skiied for ages afterwards, and actually I felt like I could have carried on.

Perhaps it was the remnants of a dream I had last night still easing their way into my subconscious.

Is it a human condition to doubt that we are loved, or does no-one else struggle with this? In my former life as a vicar, people often told me how much I was loved. I never believed it. I felt I was loved for my role, for what I brought to the parochial table. For gifts (gladly) offered, and for time (gladly) spent. The confusion of the professional & personal "me" is always a difficulty for a pastor. It is easy to accept the good one does (and also the good one does not do) and to acknowledge it as service. It is hard to feel loved simply for being oneself, as it is so hard to divorce the actions of the role from the simple person inside. So (I am guessing like many people do) I chose to accept the kind wishes given as professional regard. And park it as such under "not quite personally relevant".

And yet last night, from nowhere, indeed if anything against my experiences of the previous day where I had received an email whilst on holiday which had stressed me and which had made me feel small and unloved at first, before trying to respond in a way which might be more helpful (though didn't deal with my own feelings) - from this place I had a dream where someone I do not know, a person called Paul, offered to do a small task and did it to show me I was loved. The task was inconsequential. My reaction in the dream to being told why it was happening was extraordinarily emotional.

Because - I felt loved. Genuinely. Not for what I do, or for a role I inhabit, or a task I fulfil, but I felt loved. Me. This was done for me. I awoke and wondered at the power of this thing. This simple act revealed a love I talk about all the time - how God loves us, me you, each and every one of us; and yet I have seldom felt the truth of that love as I felt it in that moment. A person I had never seen did a small act that made the power of God's love overwhelm me. I was loved.

And then I had a glorious day. A gift. An exhilarating time. Safety in extremis. Beauty and majesty all around me and kind people and glory.

So perhaps the remnant of the dream took away fear, and replaced it with something else -

Gratitude. Felt in my sleep, deeply, and on the mountainside, wonderfully.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

something true

I’ve been considering my New Year’s Resolutions. And, knowing myself to be as frail as the next man, and as liable to failure as to success, this is more of a prayer, but - 
Lord, you say “Don’t judge lest you be judged, and that by the same standard you foist on others”. Well then, make me more judgmental this year. 
Make me judge people kindly, that when they come to judge me I might receive a bit of undeserved generosity from time to time.
And when people sin against me, let me judge them with forgiveness. Just in case, when I make a mess, they might make the same call over me.
When people are wasting my time Lord, let me judge them worthy of grace. Worth a bit more time, just because. It’s a gift. And whenever I presume upon somebody else too much, may this gift come home to roost.
When I’ve had enough of someone Lord, may I grant them another chance. Chances are, I’ll need to feel the merits of this one pointed back my way more than once in the twelve months ahead.
And when I see someone whom I don’t like, may I judge them worthy of being loved. Goodness knows I don’t like myself sometimes, and I pray that others may find me lovable when I am being particularly - you know, me.
When the temptation arises to use people and love things, so that life is easier & I can get on and do well, may I judge people to be priceless and things inconsequential. May I judge my path to be no greater than anyone else’s. May I weigh truth and eternity in a moment and remember that you are always here so that I can rest easy and never worry - and in doing so remember always to love my neighbour. For then perhaps I will have been someone who has seen something true with your eyes, and just maybe I too may be judged a human being, for a moment reflecting what it is to be made in your image, loving you with my heart, soul & strength.   
Yes Lord. This year, make me more judgmental. And may I remember this prayer and dare to live it out.