Good news

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Speak Its Name was a finalist in the 2016 North Street Book Prize for self-published books (scroll down to the bottom of the page – then scroll back up and read about the actual winners). I’m very pleased about this indeed.

News from the Church of England is also good, though I find myself less excited than I might perhaps have been a couple of years ago. This time around, I got so frustrated by the bi erasure from both sides that I never managed to get into the debate. And I can’t help feeling that things have come to a pretty pass when Synod opt not to note a report that was so dreadful that the Bishops felt that they had to apologise for it and we feel obliged to be grateful for this.

I’m thinking a lot about the Syro-Phoenician woman, thinking about the tables that I sit at and the ones whose legs I prowl around hopefully. Some time over the last few years, it seems, I started wanting more than crumbs.

Art, time and change

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Tomorrow evening my church choir will be singing Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem. It’s an oddly appropriate choice for Remembrance Sunday, and it feels even more so given recent events: it was commissioned by the Vichy government in 1941, but Duruflé only finished it in 1947, after the war was over and the world was picking up the pieces.

Part of that, I suspect, is because Duruflé had a tendency to drag his feet on things he didn’t want to do. Only one of his works, the Notre Père, is not based on Gregorian chant, and that is because he only finished it after his wife had started writing it for him, having been requested repeatedly to set the Lord’s Prayer in the vernacular.

But part of it is the simple fact that art takes time. To create, to perform, to consume art, absorbs our attention for long enough to give us a new perspective. The six years that it took Duruflé to write the Requiem, the forty minutes that it takes to sing or to listen to it – that time makes space for things to change, for us to change.

For a couple of years I had a habit of picking up The Count of Monte Cristo in about October, when the days were getting shorter and my mood was getting lower. It’s about 1100 pages long; by the time I got to the end, something would have shifted.

One of the greatest gifts of art is the way that it takes us out of what we think is our own timeline; shows us – sometimes quite literally – the bigger picture; allows us to step back from the overwhelming emotion. Sometimes that feels like a betrayal: how can we possibly feel any less angry, any less hurt, any less scared, than we do at the moment? Surely this devastating news deserves nothing less than everything we have?

The last news story that made me cry was the murder of Jo Cox MP, just before the referendum in which the UK voted to leave the European Union. After that, nothing has really surprised me. Disappointed me, yes, but not surprised me.

The one before that was the General Synod decision in 2012, the one that voted against the appointment of women bishops. That was a November vote, too.

From where I am now, I am thinking, gosh, was that all I had to cry about in 2012? But it only seems trivial now because I know what happened next. When I’d cried about it, I wrote a blog post. Having written the blog post, I found that I was still hurt and angry, still feeling rejected because of a fundamental part of my own identity, and the only thing I could think of to do with that was write fiction.

Lydia choked, rolled onto her side, and sat up. ‘I never realised,’ she said wonderingly, ‘how much it was going to hurt. It goes right into the heart. They don’t want me. They were OK with the person they thought I was, so long as she stayed in her place, and was happy to teach the approved version of events and not rock the boat, but they don’t want the person I really am. I always knew, in theory, that I was only there on sufferance, that as soon as anyone worked out who I really was I’d be out on my ear, but it didn’t hit me until today how terrible it was, when you understand the reality that nobody wants you.’

That was where I began with the final draft. It went on from there: a year of writing; a year of editing; a year of becoming brave enough to put it out under my own name. I burned up the anger that had first fuelled it; I put it all into the text.

By the time I published Speak Its Name on 2 February 2016, six women had been consecrated as bishops in the Church of England. While I was writing, things had changed.

I’m not saying that things will magically become better if we can only wait it out. For some people it is, indeed, already too late. I am not saying that art can fix everything. There are some things that are just wrong. Nevertheless, it is the best tool that I have to make something good, something useful, perhaps even something beautiful, out of emotions that, left unchecked or harnessed for ill, will destroy the world.

Issues with Issues: bisexuality and the Church of England

[content note: discussion of a biphobic document, including a specifically biphobic quotation]

Issues in Human Sexuality has become a very Anglican idolatry: a discussion document published in 1988, elevated without consultation to quasi-doctrinal status and making the lives of LGBT members of the Church of England a misery ever since. It’s the document that ordinands are asked to submit to, the document whose logical conclusion is that same-sex marriages can’t be performed or even blessed in church.

Paragraph 5.8, which attempts to deal specifically with bisexuality, has been floating around Twitter lately, and since I have more to say on the matter than will fit into 140 characters, I’ve taken it to the blog.

5.8 The first is that of bisexuality. We recognise that there are those whose sexual orientation is ambiguous, and who can find themselves attracted to partners of either sex. Nevertheless it is clear that bisexual activity must always be wrong for this reason, if for no other, that it inevitably involves being unfaithful. The Church’s guidance to bisexual Christians is that if they are capable of heterophile relationships and of satisfaction within them, they should follow the way of holiness in either celibacy or abstinence or heterosexual marriage. In the situation of the bisexual it can also be that counselling will help the person concerned to discover the truth of their personality and to achieve a degree of inner healing.

The depressing thing about this – no, there are many depressing things about this, but one of the first that springs to mind is that it relies on a definition of bisexuality that no bisexuals use, a myth that is in wide circulation beyond the Church, namely, that ‘bisexual activity… inevitably involves being unfaithful.’ The majority of my secular straight acquaintance agrees that the Church’s attitude to homosexuality is bafflingly uncharitable, but I’ve had to explain a tedious number of times that no, I’m still only sleeping with the person I’m married to.

I began identifying as bisexual in 2007, having first heard the word in 2006. At that point I was in a relationship with the man I was to marry in 2009. Our seventh wedding anniversary was last Monday. Now, you can make all the ‘seven year itch’ jokes you like, but I have never been unfaithful – unless you subscribe to a particularly literalist interpretation of Matthew 5:28, in which case I suggest you check your own eye for logs. I have from time to time developed crushes on other people, told my husband about them, laughed, and moved on. I will be very surprised if that’s not true for the majority of straight people and gay people.

The paragraph also relies on another common misapprehension about bisexuality: that it ceases to exist when somebody begins a monogamous relationship. My own experience gives the lie to that. I was already in a monogamous relationship when I took a long, hard look at the list of everyone I’d ever been attracted to and realised they weren’t all the same gender. Nor did I not stop being bisexual on 20 June 2009. In fact, it was some of the hard thinking that I had to do as part of marriage preparation that gave me the impetus to come out to my husband. (Whose response, by the way, when I showed him this paragraph the other night, was ‘What the fuck?’)

I am ‘capable’ of celibacy, abstinence and heterosexual marriage, though not all at the same time. I’ve done all three in my time, I’ve seriously considered all three, plus a relationship with someone of the same gender, as possible futures, and all the time I’ve been bisexual. What is ‘bisexual activity’, anyway? At present I, a bisexual, am typing a blog post in my lunch break, drinking tea and listening to the Sullivan cello concerto. No infidelity involved. That’s as far as my bisexual activity goes.

I have had counselling in the past. It helped, but not in the way that Issues seems to think it might. It was the beginning of an attempt to achieve what this calls ‘a degree of inner healing’. What eventually came to the surface was the inevitable conclusion that my attempt to ‘follow the way of holiness in… heterosexual marriage’, ignoring all the bits of my personality that didn’t fit that story, hadn’t worked at all; it had led to me leaving half of myself outside the church door. That stint of counselling, and all the thinking I did after that, didn’t ‘heal’ me of being bisexual, because bisexuality is not something that needs to be healed. ‘Dealing with’ bisexuality by ignoring it is, pastorally speaking, a terrible move.

And guess what? The truth of my personality is that I’m bisexual, no amount of counselling is going to take that away, and accepting it, celebrating it, has brought me a degree of inner healing that pretending to be a straight wife never did.

The wisdom of rowing coaches

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I’ve mentioned before that I live very close to the Cam. What this means is that it’s very rare for me to cycle to the station, go out for a box of teabags, or just have a wander, without seeing a rowing boat or three on the river.

And where there are rowing boats, there are coaches. The rowing coaches cycle up and down the towpath with buoyancy aids slung over their handlebars and with their eyes on the river, yelling at the boats. Sometimes, when the boat has slowed and the blades of the oars are trailing in the water, when the coach has brought their bike to a standstill, I overhear what they tell their charges. I like to listen, because their instructions are often useful clues.

Some seem pretty specific to the sport:

Here’s a trick that might be useful to you: imagine that you’re controlling the oar of the person in front.

Some seem to have more general application.

You should only be spending about 30% of the time on the stroke. The rest is recovery.

And then, yesterday,

You can’t fix the current stroke. You can only fix the next stroke.

You can’t fix the current stroke. You can only fix the next stroke.

Open letter to my bishop

Dear Bishop,

I write to express my profound discomfort with various aspects of the Church of England’s conduct over the past few days, as the news story regarding the ‘Just Pray’ advertisement has unfolded.

Firstly, I note that the DCM agency was entirely within its rights to run or not to run any advertisement it chose. I think that its blanket policy to avoid religious or political material is sensible, and, one assumes, designed to avoid exactly this kind of mess. It is no great effort to imagine the reaction in the tabloid press had another faith group or a secular body attempted to run a similar advertisement. I consider that the Church’s attempt to present this decision as a ‘ban’ and an ‘attack on free speech’ is dishonest and I am ashamed to be associated with this disingenuous act.

Since the agency’s policy is to avoid religious or political content, the question of whether the advert is, in fact, offensive, is not particularly relevant, and I have been equally disappointed by the Church’s emphasis on this aspect. However, I would take this opportunity to make it clear, from my perspective as a practising Anglican, that I would have been extremely uncomfortable had I been in a cinema where this advert had been played. I find the idea of involving non-consenting strangers in my religious practice distasteful in the extreme.

I find the attempt to attack the agency’s decision by using the Equality Act 2010 hypocritical, to say the least, given that the Church has obtained several exemptions from it (much to the distress of myself and numerous other Anglicans). I am equally disappointed that the Bishop of Chelmsford has mooted the possibility of taking advantage of his position in the House of Lords to place political weight on the question – an abuse of privilege, so far as I am concerned, which contradicts any assertion of ‘persecution’.

Lastly, I have been deeply concerned today by the sight of some emails between DCM agency and Rev Arun Arora which give the impression that the Church of England was aware of the likelihood that the advertisement would not run as early as 3 August this year. If these are genuine, this gives the lie to its claim to have been ‘bewildered’ on 22 November, and the hypocrisy and cynicism is revolting.

I would urge the Church to make the true position clear as swiftly as possible.

Yours sincerely

Kathleen Jowitt

All-Purpose Build Your Own Socially Liberal Christian Rant

I had this in another place, and today seems as good a day as any to wheel it out again, with a couple of updates and additions. If anyone was in any doubt as to my feelings on the subject, I think that:

a. a cinema is not an appropriate outlet for an advertisement exhorting people to pray, because:

b. I would feel deeply uncomfortable involving non-consenting strangers in my own religious practice, which would in effect be the result of showing the ‘Just Pray’ advertisement;

b. the Church of England has not been discriminated against in any way, shape or form (see Miss S. B.’s excellent post for more on this).

 

There is a limited pool of news stories on Christian issues, and the talking heads are tiresomely predictable. Now my outraged response can be tiresomely predictable, too!

Link to offending article (unless it belongs to a known click-baiter, in which case, summarise). Select response(s) as appropriate from the below list:

George Carey says something – OH GEORGE CAREY NO

George Carey says something else – no really you are not Archbishop any more NO ONE CARES and also YOU ARE WRONG

Michael Nazir-Ali says something – see above

Andrea Minichiello Williams of Christian Concern says something – well I am a Christian and damn straight I’m concerned about this woman SPEWING HATE AND BIGOTRY

Christians are persecuted in this country! – no, Christians are treated the same as most and better than many. Try Egypt.

David Cameron claims to endorse Christian values – see Isaiah 58:3-7

Pope does something – aha I approve of this Pope

Pope says something about poverty – at least SOMEONE remembers the point of the Church (see Isaiah 58:3-7)

Pope says something about sex or gender – yes, well, that’s why I’m an Anglican… oh, wait.

House of Bishops says something about poverty – at least SOMEONE remembers the point of the Church (see Isaiah 58:3-7)

House of Bishops says something anything else – FFS hurry up and disestablish so I can get out of this with a clear conscience

Daily Mail is concerned about erosion of traditional Christian values – someone must be doing something right

Archbishop of Canterbury goes too far – Archbishop of Canterbury does not go too far enough!

Women bishops – and about time

LGBT clergy – can we stop treating them as second-class citizens?

Fundamentally changing the nature of marriage – like Marriage With Deceased Wife’s Sister; see also shellfish, mixed fibre clothing, what Jesus said about marriage ahem ahem

Destroying the institution of marriage – possibly this would be a good thing?

Mention of Anglican Mainstream – No, it’s not mainstream

Mention of Church of England Newspaper – No, it’s not representative of the Church of England. Try the Church Times.

Find someone who is talking sense. Alan Wilson is usually a good bet; so is Vicky Beeching.

Consider, rhetorically, whether they are clinging to their crosses where the Breton boat-fleet tosses.

Include appropriate Dave Walker cartoon.

Post.

Ascension Day, 2015

Dog-eared in my handbag, polling card
and service sheet lie face to face.
God is gone up. And what a mess
He’s left behind Him. Did He take
all of the world’s compassion, all its love
to shine with ineffectual gleam up there
and leave these few, these twelve-take-one, alone
tiny before this tide of hate and fear
surging around them? Come love, come Lord.
Show us your kingdom come
on earth, as you are
in heaven. Come, Holy Spirit. Come.