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.

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.

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.

December Days 23: #ChristmasMeans

Help us spread the real meaning of Christmas to as many people as possible by tweeting what Christmas means using images, video and text

SHAN’T.

I am stretching the definition of ‘prompt’ a little bit here, since, while the Church of England has certainly prompted people to write about what #ChristmasMeans, I think I’m meant to do this on Twitter, and, you know, take it seriously.

I started on Twitter, but it ended up spread across several increasingly irritated and unintelligible tweets about why I dislike being told to do things on Twitter.

So I thought I’d write about that on here, instead.

I have never been able to take the Church of England’s hashtags seriously since their #EverythingChanges campaign a few Easters ago; anyone who’d watched five minutes of Torchwood must have been sniggering. (Not that Torchwood was without its clunky paschal imagery, I must admit. But still. The twenty-first century is when #everythingchanges, and you gotta be ready.)

Twitter encourages triteness. The tweets currently gathering on the hashtag are no doubt very sincere, but they are mostly making me want to vomit. I am a terrible Christian (but a very British one). There is not much room for deep theological debate in 140 characters – 115, once you include the hashtag – and simplistic religious messages, however pithy, set my teeth on edge. I am the sort of Christian who smiles at, and, yea, retweets, things like ‘Actually, axial tilt is the reason for the season’. (And this is the reason that I will never be invited to tweet from @OurCofE.)

And then I think I am just hopelessly contrary. Even things that I like doing, that I would go out of my way to do, can be soured for me by a Twitter instruction to do them. Go to this! Do this! Why not…? I growl, ‘I already do this, you patronising tosser’ or, ‘Sod off’. I very rarely retweet things that tell me to retweet if I agree, even if I wholeheartedly do agree – because I don’t want to place that same burden upon my followers. This is, I think, just my stuff about being told what to do, and I don’t know where I picked it up from, but it’s a thing.

On top of that, there’s that instruction to proselytise, in the superficial ‘ask a friend to church’ way, that I have never, ever, felt comfortable doing, that has never felt authentic. I will write some other time about my profound discomfort with the idea of ‘mission’, about getting free of that, about the liberating revelation that I don’t have to try to convert everybody. #ChristmasMeans is a ghost that haunts my past self, that tells me that I am an insufficient Christian, even though the harder I try the more diminished my faith feels. I didn’t actually have this in mind yesterday, when I added “I do not pressure or guilt other people into doing things they don’t want to, dammit” to my dammit list, but in fact it’s one of the oldest hurts I have, and no better for being partly self-inflicted.

#ChristmasMeans is also setting my teeth on edge, particularly coupled as it is with that old guiltbag ‘the real meaning of Christmas’, because I can’t help feeling that the subtext is ‘and you, whatever you are doing, are failing to understand what Christmas really means. You are celebrating the wrong thing, you are too selfish, too impatient, too taken up with worldly matters.’

And there are enough expectations placed upon people at this time of year as it is. I say this as a comfortably-off middle class person with no children who isn’t going to have to do any cooking until the 29th. I feel bowed down with the expectations that people – good, faithful, Christian people, in many cases – are putting on me, and it is exhausting to hand those expectations back to them graciously.

Insisting that we focus on the Real Meaning of Christmas just adds another expectation, unless we are also given permission to not take part in the Unreal Meaning. It has been a real struggle for me this year to write Christmas cards. I don’t know why; I know they ought to be simple for an administrative genius like me, and God knows I feel like a pathetic excuse for a human being for not even being able to write a simple Christmas card, but there it is.

I know that I can choose not to write Christmas cards. I know that some of the consequences of this will be: that some people will not hear of my new address; that I will go on some people’s Stinge Lists; that some people will not even notice; that some people will notice and wonder if we are still friends; that some people will notice and wonder if I’m all right. And so, because the thought of all that is daunting, I have written the damn things, and sent them.
I would like to know that #ChristmasMeans that I am not, actually, a pathetic excuse for a human being even if I do fail to write a single Christmas card. Somewhere, deep down, I do know that. But it doesn’t fit into 140 characters.

Do not get me wrong. For me, the Incarnation is the most important thing in the history of this planet. (Yes, for me, even more so than the Resurrection.) And yet #ChristmasMeans feels at once like an invitation to troll and like a burden that I cannot bear.

#ChristmasMeans turkey and mince pies

#ChristmasMeans new Doctor Who

#ChristmasMeans the most beautiful music ever written

#ChristmasMeans the most awful music ever written

#ChristmasMeans hard work

#ChristmasMeans I am, as ever, a social failure

#ChristmasMeans feeling horrible for rolling my eyes at the hashtag

#ChristmasMeans I am, yet again, failing to be a good Christian

#ChristmasMeans pretending I’m coping

I will tweet one single, serious response. It will not convey everything I am trying to convey. But it is the best I can do, and it will say this:

#ChristmasMeans you are OK exactly as you are.

Faith, belief, doubt, and pedantry

I think, for me, there are two main elements to this: the way faith works for me in the context of my history of depression, and my religious background.

First, thought, it’s worth mentioning that I draw a distinction between faith and belief, and that I am acutely aware of the difference between knowledge and knowledge (why doesn’t English translate savoir and connaître properly?) – knowing intellectually, in the head, if you like, and knowing in the heart – the difference between knowing facts and knowing people.

Faith, for me, is not the same as belief. (This, I know, is not something that all Christians would agree on, but I am only talking, here and throughout, about one Christian.) I can remember a real lightbulb moment a few years ago, at one of my parish’s Lent Courses Where One Is Not Told The Answer, where somebody linked faith to trust rather than to belief, and I suddenly stopped feeling guilty about not believing hard enough. These days I think I would describe it as ‘relationship with the Divine’ and leave it at that.

I’m very Anglican. I am both catholic and protestant, and neither Catholic nor Protestant. My non-conformist streak is Quaker, and Quakers don’t conform with anything, particularly non-conformists. And I say all this because the thing about the very Protestant Churches that I was most glad to leave behind was their insistence on belief, the idea that one has to believe the right thing to be saved. It always felt all wrong to me.

I am finding increasingly as I get older (she says, from the ripe old age of 28) that what I believe is becoming less and less important. I don’t worry at all about whether other people are believing the right thing, whatever that is. My own belief has become less certain, and less defensive. I don’t know what I believe about all sorts of things, and that no longer seems to be a problem, except to other people. At the same time, my faith has become much surer. I can’t really describe it, except by saying that it’s a sense of being loved, in a very calm, sustaining kind of way.

Which is all very well, when my brain is working. Quite often it isn’t. I’ve had depression on and off for the past twelve years, I would guess. There are two things about this that are particularly relevant to this post. Firstly: when I am depressed I cannot remember how it feels to not be depressed. (Conversely, when I’m not depressed, I find it difficult to remember how awful being depressed is, but, because my brain is working better all round, I can – if I choose, which I usually don’t – describe it via imagination.) Secondly: when I am depressed I cannot feel love, either giving it or receiving it. I can have my best friend hugging me and feel about as much emotional response as a dustpan.

This is where savoir and connaître come into it. In my head I know that my family love me, that my husband loves me, that my friends love me. Sometimes they tell me this using actual words. They mean those words. And in my head I know all that, and it means absolutely nothing. It doesn’t get any further. When my brain is working, on the other hand, it’s fine. It all gets through and I feel it deeply. I can quite often be in love with the entire universe for whole seconds at a time. (An interesting side-effect of this is that I now cry at pretty much anything. Tinny call-centre Vivaldi, for example. Also discovering that I have more and better friends than I thought I had, which has happened quite a lot over the past few months because of my brain not being so broken as usual.)

What I am driving at here is probably obvious: that a faith that manifests itself predominantly in a sense of love cannot make itself felt all the time, particularly when I can’t feel love all the time anyway. And I suppose the spaces between might well be called doubt. The thing is, though, that I know that the ones who love me don’t stop loving me just because I don’t have the capacity to experience it, any more than the sun stops burning when it’s behind a cloud. The same feels true of the Divine. Apart from anything else, that’s always the first thing to come back.

So: that’s me, and faith, and doubt. I hope… I don’t know what I hope. But there it is. Be gentle.

“Ignore him and he’ll just go away…”

I feel that I need hardly repeat to my followers and friends list that no, Lord Carey does not speak for me and that in a country where I am free both to practise my religious faith and to make flippant remarks about it on Twitter (with obscure TV references for good measure) I do not feel marginalised.

I really cannot be bothered to go through all this again, but Bishop Alan has done a pretty good job of summing up what are, I suspect, the feelings of a lot of us. Vicky Beeching is also good.