Monday, 28 February 2011

Dragonborn

I read Dragonborn, the first in the Flaxfield Quartet, over the holidays. The novel is largely aimed at a teenage audience but also makes a gripping read for adults, particularly anyone who enjoys the magic and fantasy genres.
Toby Forward sets his book in an imaginary magical world where there is “Up Top” and “the Deep World”; one of the strengths of the book is that he invents a new set of mythical creatures, from roffles to memmots, instead of drawing on the standard fare of goblins and elves. The book is beautifully written and although it is in the third person we largely see events through the eyes of Sam, a young apprentice wizard. It begins arrestingly and movingly with the death of Flaxfield, the wizard to whom Sam is apprenticed. Sam’s reaction to the death is related in a matter of fact way,

“...Flaxfield was dead. Sam was annoyed because the old man hadn’t told him he was going to die, and Sam missed him.”

I found this moving because of its honesty and the way it underlines that Sam has to cope initially with the practical consequences of the death, it is only throughout the rest of the novel that he grapples with coming the nature of death and loneliness. Sam seeks shelter, protection, and ultimately tries to fathom his destiny, meeting a series of characters and learning about the nature of life and magic on the way.

The book is accessible for younger readers but also offers deeper layers of meaning. The battle between good and evil and the relationship of Sam to Starbuck ,his dragon, creates interest and meaning but the novel also explore some sophisticated concepts of time and place – Sam seems at one point to be in two places at one time. The stories of some characters, such as December, cheated, robbed of her identity and disfigured in a fire, are told in such a way that the reader has to make the links and reflect on the meaning of the experiences related.

My sixteen year old son, an avid reader, loved Dragonborn and described it as “spellbinding” – I think it was a pun! The author does sometimes read this blog, but, discounting the chance of bias, I can say that I enjoyed the book immensely and would recommend it as ideal for young teens upwards.

Christchurch

Horrific and moving scenes from Christchurch.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Pink for girls?

An interesting, amusing and challenging blog post  from the perspective of a butch trans woman. This looks at the pressures trans women may face to adopt  stereotypically feminine identity and behaviour.

Joining the Quakers

OK, I'm not really planning to join the Quakers (yet), although I did attend the United Reformed Church for a while and have been toying for - oh- about the last seven years- with the idea of jumping ships to another denomination. Articles like this one today are exactly what we expected but do make it increasingly difficult, though possibly increasingly important, to stay in the Church of England. The words below are taken from the Quaker website:

There is a great diversity within the Quakers on conceptions of God, and we use different kinds of language to describe religious experience. Some Quakers have a conception of God which is similar to that of orthodox Christians, and would use similar language. Others are happy to use God-centred language, but would conceive of God in very different terms to the traditional Christian trinity. Some describe themselves as agnostics, or humanists, or non-theists and describe their experiences in ways that avoid the use of the word God entirely. Quaker faith is built on experience and Quakers would generally hold that it is the spiritual experience which is central to Quaker worship, and not the use of a particular form of words (whether that be “God” or anything else)."

 My main problem is that I am not an agnostic, humanist or non-theist, but then again I have no problem with the beliefs and journeys of those who are and would be quite happy to be alongside them.  All faiths need a central core of beliefs and values, the problem in our post modern world is how rigidly those beliefs and values can be imposed and how much room there is to respect a diversity of belief and practice.

I would like to see a greater freedom and respect for the diversity of beliefs and experiences around the issue of sexuality in our church. I cannot see it coming in a hurry and it is a great shame because it speaks to me of a church whose leadership is out of touch with our society, fearful and cautious, dishonest, unimaginative, stultifying and unwilling to validate and be enriched by so many of its members.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Evangelicals today

The Evangelical Alliance has published this report into the beliefs and actions typical of Evangelicals in the UK today. Some might feel there would be a bit of an agenda behind  any research done by the EA, but this does make for interesting reading. I was surprised to see so much uncertainty about the existence of hell.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Between a man and a woman?

Almost a year ago I wrote a  post entitled "What is Marriage?",  inspired by the first indications that the government was intending to allow CPs to take place in places of worship - an issue which has now come to the fore and is causing quite a lot of debate on  a variety of blogs and media. I went back and read again what I had written last March, and  it holds true for how I still feel and so I am posting a version of it below.

I believe that the most important thing about a marriage is the personal, private and intimate relationship between the two individuals concerned. This is why I believe that two people who live together may be as “married”, sometimes more married, than those who have gone through a ceremony. I believe those in civil partnerships are "married" (I know not everyone agrees with me!)


I also believe that marriage is a sacrament, although in the Church of England baptism and communion are the two major sacraments. The act of marriage is an outward and visible sign of an inner, invisible grace. One of the problems when we decide who is really married is that we judge that inner grace when, as fallible humans, we do not have the wisdom or knowledge to do so.


I listened to a programme a while back on Radio 4 where a married couple were interviewed. One spouse was a male to female transsexual and had undergone gender reassignment surgery. The wife had stood by her spouse during her surgery and transitioning and accepted the fact that she was now married to a woman because, as she said, she would rather be with a spouse who was happy than one suffering the misery she had witnessed at first hand during their marriage. The male to female transsexual, for her part, had chosen to forgo the right to be legally recognised as a woman, because this would entail the couple divorcing. They could, of course, have divorced and registered as a same sex couple in a civil partnership, but they had always been married and that is how they wanted to stay.


I think this story encapsulates the way that human love defies easy categories. I think you would have to be very narrow and arrogant to term the marriage in the example above a "sham" or not truly a marriage even though the partners ended up being both a same sex couple and a mixed orientation marriage!  Many unions which some might refuse to dignify with the label "marriage" demonstate a level of commitment which would put some conventional marriages to shame, for  example a gay couple together for forty years where one nurses the other through a terminal illness. Compare that relationship to an opposite sex couple who marry but divorce shortly afterwards – which couple is or was ever truly “married”?


Human being like the security of rules, categories and tick boxes, but human beings are also the most amazing things and real relationships defy boundaries, categories and glib assumptions. Depending on your personality, your inability to really understand or police human relationships will either scare you or give you a sense of awe.

Since writing this post, which I still stand by, I have been thinking that this debate is muddied by the fact that "marriage" is actually a different thing to so many people, and also that, although we may agree that there are certain positives about marriage - procreation, child rearing,  being part of a social unit, sacrificial giving,  lifelong companionship, sexual fulfillment, personal commitment - we place different emphasis on the relative importance of these elements.  A conservative interpretation, for example, both from the  Roman Catholic to the evangelical  ends of the spectrum places more emphasis on the ability to procreate than on the quality of the  personal relationship between the participants.

I do think that a lot of the current debate comes from a very "heterosexist" perspective. I suppose this is understandable, because marriage has been  almost exclusively something which happens between people of the opposite sex for most of human history.  In the United States we have seen enormous battles over this issue. I do not think we will see the same level of opposition in the UK, but I could be proved wrong. There are undoubtedly some Christians who feel very strongly against the idea that marriage is being "redefined". Is it enough just to recognise  that marriage may mean different things  to different people (and different things to the Church and the State) or does it have to mean the same to all of us?

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Natural beauty

 We drove over to the Goyt Valley today and walked Bessie along the reservoir. It was such a lovely day and the colours and the light were amazing. I am sometimes tempted by the thought of living in  a city, because I would like to be closer to where things are happening, then we have a day like today and I am so glad to live so close to so many beautiful places where I can walk and look and feel close to God.

Food Waste!

Mr M loves to cook, he also loves to shop for food, and this can lead to problems. He tends to buy products such as tins and jars, especially those on special offer, as a back up (or for when I cook...) but because he likes to cook from scratch they don't always get used up. I decided to tackle the groaning cupboards yesterday and discovered a lot of products that were past their best before date, including a Dennis the Menace cake mix which went back to 2006. The roll of shame is actually worse than that pictured as I found more stuff out in the "storecupboards" in the garage.

It is a bit of a mystery how After Eight Mints or kit kats managed to go uneaten , I think it was because they were buried at the back of cupboards. Within a few minutes of putting the mints on the growing pile on the kitchen table they had been spotted and claimed by one of the boys. "Can I  have these? What all of them just for me - cool." Which just goes to show there is no excuse for anything to remain uneaten in our house.

The amount of food thrown away fom households, restaurants and supermarkets is criminal in my view and I am trying to do is to reduce our food waste to a minimum. This is actually quite hard to do, though it should be much easier with one of us full time at home. There are some great tips on the wonderful Love Food, Hate Waste site which advises writing meal plans, checking those use by and best before dates and being prepared to use what is available in a creative way, rather than just reaching for tried and tested. I love the clip below where Sue Perkins looks in her freezer and unearths some Jurassic remains. I haven't looked in ours yet; I don't think I dare!

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Male headship

 I have been thinking recently about the irony of the fact that so many evangelical men who believe in "male headship" are not terribly bright. In my experience, the sort of men who believe they have an innate God given right to be in authority over women seem to be very limited intellectually. It occurs to me that their belief in male headship may actually be a way of compensating for deficiencies in that area?  I hope I am not being sexist, not to mention anti- evangelical here,  perhaps I have just been unlucky - or has anyone else noticed the same?

Below you can see a little video which explains the basis of submission, there is some "exegesis", which is a word evangelicals use when they use the bible to support their ridiculous notions. Using the word "exegesis"  always reassures an evangelical that he is not dim, research has shown that just saying this word  significantly boosts a male evangelical's ego - but sadly not his IQ. You can tell that the man who wrote the script for  this  probably went to Oxford university.

Earthquake hits Christchurch, NZ.

I was concerned to hear on the news this morning and to read on the net of a serious earthquake and loss of life in Christchurch, New Zealand. I follow the blogs of a number of Anglican priests in New Zealand, and frequently link to Bosco Peter's blog (see below.)
Please pray for them.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Dull and dreary does it...

I do try to keep up with developments in Anglicanism, as you know, and so I feel kind of bound to link to this  document Questions and Answers about the Anglican Covenant. Before you feel obliged to read it, it tells us absolutely nothing about the Covenant that we didn't already know. For example the question, What will happen if the Covenant is broken? - which is the only thing  I've actually been agog to know since I first heard it mooted - isn't  answered, and could be paraphrased as we don't really know, let's wait and see... They also quote the ABC on the issue, and that's not auspicious when you're looking for sharp answers.

There are some other documents about the Covenant, and they all look equally dull. I do wonder if the dullness is actually  a strategy, the Covenant may well be passed on the back of indifference and total apathy. I am not joking when I say this; organisations such as Inclusive Church are opposed to it, those it was  largely designed to appease have pretty much walked away from it, but the majority in the middle just either don't know or they don't care.

As for me, I've been putting off reading those documents. I don't think you are going to read them either. I guess you've got better things to do, like the washing up, or making a cup of tea or cleaning out the hamster cage. As Vladimir said in Waiting for Godot,
"We wait. We are bored. (He throws up his hand.) No, don't protest, we are bored to death, there's no denying it."
So, it looks like we might just end up with  an Anglican Covenant.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Thou shalt switch off thy phone


I love this little offering from Bosco Peter's  wonderful Liturgy blog. I can't say I have been in a church where phones are a problem, but I am thinking a video like this might be helpful in class.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Sex Offenders and human rights

I must be turning into an outraged Daily Mail reader! On the way to work on Tuesday I was listening to the news item about sex offenders being able to apply to have their names taken off the Sex Offenders register if they could prove they were no longer a danger and I found myself thinking, "bloody human rights legislation"!

I am very much in favour of sex offenders' human rights being respected, but I confess to being more interested in the rights of children to be safeguarded and protected. If someone has sexually offended against a child, then there is always the possibility that they will do it again and that they might be a threat - how could anyone prove beyond all reasonable doubt that they were not? When the "rights" of a sex offender to be given greater freedom clash with the rights of a child to be protected from sexual abuse - then to me that is a no brainer!

Monday, 14 February 2011

Behold, I have carved you on the palms of My hands (Isaiah 49:16)

 
For anyone who knows that love is about more than red roses, sentimental cards and cuddly toys - Happy Valentine's!

Fear and freedom

I imagine quite a few of you will have heard the debate between Rod Thomas of Reform and Colin Coward of Changing Attitude this morning on the Radio 4 Today programme. I can't imagine two men with more different views and perspectives than Rod Thomas and Colin Coward, the former opposed to the inclusion of women, as well as gay people, and the latter campaigning for the full inclusion of LGBT christians within the Church of England, and I did try to see the issue from both perspectives - although I am certainly far from impartial.

 I very much support the proposed change to the law to allow civil partnerships to be conducted in places of worship, I know that the Quakers, for example, have been wanting to allow conduct such ceremonies for some time and this change in the law will allow this. I would also very much like to see the day when the Church of England officially allows the blessing of same sex relationships (this now happens unofficially in some churches) and also allows individual priests and parishes to choose to celebrate civil partnerships if they so wish. One thing we should be very clear about is that this is not what we seem to be looking at here. The Church of England has said it will not conduct civil partnerships, nor allow its buildings to be used for that purpose - I do not think the change to the law will alter the right for the Church to continue such an embargo.

I would like to see, and will campaign to help bring about, a change in attitude in the Church that allows those priests who are accepting of same sex relationships to bless and conduct civil partnerships. What I do not wish to see is any priest or parish compelled to carry these out against their will or to face litigation if they refuse to do so.  The fear of Rod Thomas and many others is that the law of the land will effectively force change and that there will be no allowances made for freedom of conscience. I do not know how realistic these fears are, the pace of change that we have seen in gay rights over the last decade has been astonishing, ten to fifteen years ago the way that the law has consistently upheld the principle of gay equality, such as in the recent B&B case in Cornwall, would have been unthinkable.

There are also suggestions of the possibility of allowing civil partnerships legally to be called "marriages" - many people I know refer to them that way- or allowing opposite sex partners to enter into civil partnership. That too will seem a wonderful freedom to some, but will stir up fears in others about a change to what we understand marriage to be - but that is the stuff of another blog post!

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Transgender kids and their families



A friend sent me this clip which is about the way in which, given a greater knowledge and understanding of  gender dysphoria, children are enabled to live in the gender they feel they are at earlier and earlier ages. I have one fairly close transgendered friend and have met and spoken to several other people who are transgendered through my involvement in  organisations such as Changing Attitude and Inclusive Church.

Another couple that I know foster children and has just been assigned a transgendered pre teen, whom they have been told to support and affirm as being of their non biological gender (I am not going to give too many details here as it is a real case and in this country.)

 I have to confess that my instinctive reaction is to be uneasy about the extent to which a young child has enough self knowledge to know their gender. Looking at my own childhood, I don't consciously remember even thinking about or being very aware of my gender at two or three or four  or even older - but then if my gender identity had not matched my biological gender, maybe I would have been aware?

I am very much of the view that the experts in such issues are those who are affected - and their families - more so  than even doctors and consultants. That is why, when I hear lived experience, like that in this video, I just listen, absorb and understand how limited my knowledge is.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Watering it down?

 The Church of England synod has voted to update the service of Baptism to make it less daunting and more  accessible. Undoubtedly some forms are a little daunting, even Rowan Williams said he found the service "wordy" ( it must be bad then, chaps...) The book of common prayer asks for the child to be "delivered from (God's) wrath" and that "all carnal desires may die in him"... so the ABC could have a point there.  However, baptism is in itself a ritual invested with complex symbolism and significance - in simplifying there is always a danger that that beauty and richness is lost.

I only heard this news item briefly on the way home, but I think the decision was in part motivated by a decline in the numbers of people getting their children baptised. I am all for updating if Rowan Williams is getting bored by the services, but I  would also ask whether the decline in baptismal uptake might actually be more to do with our increasingly secular society than in the service itself?

Do the average parents, when contemplating the prospect of getting the sprog wetted, really say to each other, "Well, let's have a gander at the words of the service. Hmmm...strikes me as a bit wordy and daunting, let's not bother..." Of course, they might well say, "That church down the road...looks a bit daunting to me...full of  stuffy old folks...not my sort of place, let's not bother..."

Which is not quite the same thing. Is it?

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Death and life

I heard on the news this evening that Redditch council which intends to heat a swimming pool by using the heat from a nearby Crematorium has been given the go- ahead.  Some people have complained that this is "eerie" and disrespectful to the dead. Well, I am all for respecting the dead but I cannot see anything particularly respectful in the heat from the crematorium being pumped out into the atmosphere and going to waste, nor anything disrespectful in using it to heat a facility for the living, save money and minimise damage to the environment.

I think the unease expressed is perhaps more to do with the way we try to hide death away in our society and that fact that we do not like to think about it too much. I am not sure we deal very well with death, possibly because we have lost the awareness of previous generations that in the midst of life, we are in death. I cannot see any reason why having a faith should make anyone more averse to a scheme to use energy in this way, I think fear of such a scheme is about superstition and fear about death as much as anything.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Finding God

I quite like T shirts with slogans such as, "I found Jesus, he was behind the sofa all the time". It could be seen as irreverent, but I think it is good to be irreverant sometimes and it can also make us think about what we mean when we say we  are looking for God or that someone is searching or that they have "found" God. The concept that  God also searches for us is also a powerful one, especially the biblical image of the shepherd who constantly seeks for his sheep.  The search of faith is often seen as a journey. I know that many people come to faith rather suddenly, they have a Damascene moment, a revelation or are "saved", but we have to keep on finding God or perhaps continue to let him find out us. Because God is ineffable we perhaps have to keep finding out new aspects of who and what he is.
 In Prince Caspian, Lucy meets Aslan again:

“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”

“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.
“Not because you are?”
“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

Most things grow smaller as we grow larger, but God grows with us and he becomes less comprehensible - by the intellect - as we are able to comprehend more and more.

I don't know where you find God most?
In prayer?  In Church?  In those you help?  In those who help you?  In moments of Joy?  At times of pain? Within yourself?  In work? In the bible?  In poetry or music?  In Nature?  In Church?   In good company?    In solitude? In your mistakes? In your failures?  In your doubts? In your fears?  In your death?

Of course if God is manifest in all his creation we should be able to find him within every part of life and we should also see death as a meeting place where we discover how big God is - more so than we could have imagined. But sometimes we find him in the secular as much as the religious, in the small as well as the large, in the practical, everyday and mundane. Perhaps he was even behind the sofa all the time!

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Not with a bang but a whimper

If I had the time and energy I might actually count up all the times over the last few years that I have read a missive or document or article claiming that the Church has split or that the Anglican Communion is dead. However today, with this statement  from ACI about the Primates meeting in Dublin it looks a little more likely that the Global South / GAFCON  are going to final make formal the split and finally going to stop threatening and walk out.

Watching the events in the Anglican Communion unfold has become more and more to me a spectator sport, one from which I feel rather distant and detached. So, I am afraid my reaction to the strong hints that they are leaving and setting up on their own are along the lines of "about time too" and "close the door after you, please." My second thoughts are, "Oh good, the Anglican Covenant looks less likely now", or if it is adopted  less likely to be used as a weapon to hold others to ransom - yes, I am most concerned about the impact of all of this on the Church of England.

Things don't really bode that well for the schismatics, the lawsuits in America have, I believe, come down largely in favour of TEC. Moreover, it is in the nature of those who throw a hissy fit over the inability of others to think and act exactly as they want them to to be a little on - shall we say- the uncompromising side. I think the members of a rival "Anglican Communion" would be in a fairly weak position and would in time face their own divisions and conflicts. There are also undoubtedly vested interests at play, and some do see within new structures a power base for their own ambitions.

There is also, among those who have already left, a mindset which is, to put it bluntly, delusional. You only have to look at some of the crazed suggestions and statements that "Bishop" David Anderson has already made to know that we are not dealing with someone who is capable of measured or rational thought or action. His latest pronouncement is that Rowan Williams was chosen by Tony Blair as part of a secret pro-gay agenda.
"Williams was chosen by Prime Minister Tony Blair to assist in Blair’s task of blending church and state agendas to the gay agenda."
David Anderson also described Williams as "the heart of dysfunction" a "manipulative prelate" and "the Emperor with no clothes"- I am just surprised he did not utter the word "Anti-Christ."

Compare with this the calm that reigned at the Primates meeting, the way that those present were at least prepared to listen and work together and not obsessed with you-know-what.

There is no doubt that the Anglican Communion has fractured and is suffering drift, but then things do need to change to grow. I hope and believe we will see growth, there will be and is pain and a fair few whimpers, but it certainly isn't the end of the world.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Peace broke out!

Well, the Primates meeting is over and done with and the remarkable news is that, in the absence of their unhappy brethren, the assembled primates lit a candle in respect and got on with business. Nobody shut the PB out of a room or voted her off the island, in fact, in spite of their differing opinions they behaved remarkably like grown ups.

 The  fact that the meeting was harmonious and productive has been seen as scandalous by several conservative commentators. The thought of a group of Christians able to get on without tearing each other to shreds over the issue of human sexuality has been described as "dull" and " a comfort zone", not to mention "the end of the communion."

Funny old world, isn't it? Perhaps those who are disatisfied with the harmony might benefit from the kind of service below? The argument featured is a little more edifiying than some of the ones we hear in the church.


Thursday, 3 February 2011

More on the Frank Field EDM

A  BBC report on the Frank Field EDM here. In spite of my reservations I have to admit that the prospect of a Church of England which does not and cannot  discriminate against women  at all is rather a lovely one! But then I think the Church should take the lead in fighting discrimination and injustice without being asked, let alone compelled - crazy idealistic fool that I am...

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

The long arm of the law

I have been intrigued, but not entirely taken by surprise, by the early day motion  proposed by Frank Fields asking that, if Synod does not approve women bishops, Parliament will revoke the Church of England's exemption from the Equality Bill . Last July I picked up on some rumblings about the possibility that there might be a best before date on the Church of England's privilege to discriminate. I listened in Synod to Robert Key's speech giving us some insight into the likely response of Parliament to the discrimination inherent in the legislation around women bishops and was amazed that so few people seemed alert to the potential ramifications (see post). I will not reiterate my points, but do want to gloat a little that we keep up with things around here! I also suspect that, if Key is right, Field's early day motion may stand a fighting chance of success.

Nevertheless, this  motion has caused consternation and anger from some quarters, even from many who are wholeheartedly in support of women bishops and my own feelings about it are mixed. If the exemption from the Equality Bill is withdrawn, this could have serious ramifications for the Church of England in its struggles over the ordination of gay bishops. Commentators are right to suggest it is a slippery slope, because once Parliament prevents the Church from discriminating against women how can the way in which the Church discriminates against those in openly gay relationships possibly be justified? Some have also asked whether it will then also be unlawful for the Roman Catholic Church to exclude women from the priesthood and whether the same laws will apply to Muslims as well?

I actually do think that the objection to allowing the Church of England to legally discriminate against women could be justified on the grounds that the Church, as the state church, has a particular duty to uphold the law of the land and, given that Synod overwhelmingly supports the consecration of women bishops, for this to be blocked by a minority is unconscionable - as indeed it is.

But... it I do suspect that it is a slippery slope. I do not know how anyone could claim otherwise. It may be that the law may force us to grant women - and then gay people - full rights within the church. The law may compel us to move forward on human rights in spite of our procrastinations and divisions. I would dearly love to see the Church treat all human beings as equals in the eyes of God, but I would rather it walked there in grace (although that may be a tall order) than was compelled in fear and anger.

I am currently trying to decide whether to respond to  a WATCH request to petition my MP to support Frank Field's motion and would welcome any views. Now you may be in favour of women and gay bishops or you may not, that is not really the question. The question is more whether compliance by law is desirable, and whether the fall out at this present moment would be more than we could handle?