Books of 2017

dessaix

1. Arabesques by Robert Dessaix. At the beginning of the year I took a holiday to Marrakech and was asking around for recommendations of books set in Marrakech. It’s so much more fun to read books set in the actual places one is visiting! My college said that I must take his copy of Arabesques with me to enjoy. Part travel memoir, part biography, part philosophical musings, this book traces Dessaix’s fascination with the author Andre Gide, a mid-century French novelist whose work was famously banned by the Vatican for its (homo)sexual content. I had never heard of Gide before — nor Dessaix — and not only was this book a rich romp through parts of North Africa I had never visited, but also a deeply thought-provoking read. Sexual ethics were one topic, to be sure, but also the nature of Protestantism, encountering strangers, how to communicate directly (and if that’s even possible) and existentialism. Had many good debates about it whilst sitting on rooftops in the Marrakech medina. Also a bonus: saw the photograph which features on the cover in the Photography Museum. Meta-win?

2. Leo the African by Amin Maalouf. Found this one near the Jardin de la Majorelle in Marrakech — happy accident! ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS go to weird, out of the way bookshops with tiny English-language sections when in foreign countries. ALWAYS. This book was a traveller’s joy, full of intrigue and cliffhangers and chutzpah. Leo was a historical figure, a refugee, businessman, traveller, diplomat and writer, originally named Hasan ibn Muhammad al-Wazzan al-Fasi, who lived in 15th/16th century. He’s most famous for his book, ‘A Description of Africa’ and apparently had one of those lives worth writing a book about. Maalouf’s novel really made this time and setting come alive for me, and employed just enough dramatic prose to keep me on my toes the whole time. I heartily recommend this book.

3. The Gap of Time by Jeannette Winterson. This ‘cover version’ of Shakespeare’s ‘A Winter’s Tale’ was thoughtful, funny, and at times incredibly beautiful. I appreciated how Winterson framed the story with her own story, with her own comments on Shakespeare and what he was doing in his final plays: encountering and discussing the possibility of forgiveness in all its joys and imperfections. It is clever and I was sad when it ended.

4. Beauty’s Field by Laurence Freeman. A collection of short newspaper columns by Freeman, a Benedictine monk and current leader of the World Community for Christian Meditation. This book helped me see both my religion (Christianity) and my faith (my spiritual practices, including meditation) in a much wider, more challenging, more generous, light. Little grace-filled stories. Highly recommended.

5. Living Stones: The story of Malling Abbey by the sisters of St Mary’s Abbey, West Malling. Picked this one up when on retreat at the eponymous religious house. Juicy details! Also puts lots of fears about ‘the decline of English monasticism’ WAY into perspective. (That is, we haven’t got Henry VIII going around dissolving them these days, at least…) Whilst reading this I got at least three ideas for novels I want to write.

6. A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. Complicated space diplomacy, punching holes through subspace (not THAT kind) for cross-galaxy travel, interspecies faux pas and discussions about the nature of family…this book did not disappoint. Chambers’ debt to Firefly is clear — she focuses on the drama of a small crew of the slightly-ramshackle ship Wayfarer, and also her mechanic Kizzy is a dead ringer for Wheedon’s Kimmy. I only wish that this book had been longer; some of the Wayfarer‘s crew were drawn more compellingly than others, and the ending seemed a little rushed. But I am told there’s a sorta-sequel? Hurrah!

7. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. One review I read of this book suggested that it resembled a literary Rubik’s cube, ever shifting from angle to angle, revealing more story and mystery. I think that about sums it up. I’m not sure I know enough about astrology to get how cleverly designed this book really is; but I could appreciate the massively intricate plot, brilliantly researched setting (the word ‘most piratical town on the South Island of New Zealand’ came to mind more than once, pace Dickens), complex (and myriad!) characters and an underlying sense of urgency that propelled me through the book’s 800+ pages. It is to most novels what a television series is to a film — that much more material, characterisation, plot-twisty-ness, and adventure.

8. The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry.  Thoroughly loved this one. Metric tonnes of atmosphere. Strong-willed widow and would-be palaeontologist Cora Seagrave goes to Aldwinter in the marshes of Essex to investigate rumours of the titular Serpent, befriending William Ransome, the local Rector, leading to a science-versus-religion clash that winds up being about neither science nor religion, but rather friendship in the face of the fearfully unknown. Cora’s son’s autism is depicted with generosity: the strangenesses of her child are drawn not as deficiencies but differences; I got a sense of the particular mix of love and pain that comes with parenting an autistic child. Perry also delights gothically over the ‘blue delirium’ that overcomes a consumptive character whose otherworldly (and lengthy!) demise lends much to the dread that underpins the story. Other highlights include a socialist revolutionary ladies’ maid who drags various characters around the awful slums of…Bethnal Green! I envisioned all these scenes taking place in some version of Voss Street, E2.

9. The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley.  This little bit of SF was charmingly steampunk and I enjoyed it, despite its flaws. Clairvoyance is explained by a woman scientist trying to prove the existence of ‘luminiferous ether’ — I’m not sure I’ve heard of anything more steampunk to be honest. Oh wait, I have: the watchmaker’s pet, a mechanical octopus named Katsu, who likes stealing socks. Katsu serves as a kind of shadow or foil for the watchmaker himself, Keita Mori, who I found difficult to picture and engage with.  This book, I think, would make a good film, and the film might be able to address some of the book’s pacing problems. Thaniel, one of the main characters, is synaesthetic — a clever decision on the author’s part which makes the leap from everyday Victorian London into depictions of clairvoyance less than it otherwise might be.

10. Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. Similar to what A.S. Byatt did in her myth-retelling Ragnarok, Gaiman sets out here to acquaint the contemporary reader — who may or may not gain most of her mythological knowledge from grade school and from Marvel Comics — with some of the juiciest, most epic bits of nordic lore. In fact, thinking about the differences in tone and theme between Byatt and Gaiman was the best part about this book, for me. Of course Gaiman’s writing is good, but I think I like him better when I’m hearing about his own mythical characters.

11. Hame by Annalena McAfee. I wanted to like this one more than I did. The author does a great job with her world-building, but I found I couldn’t care as much about the protagonist as I wanted to. I liked the style, and the bit of ‘literary mystery’ about it which didn’t take itself as seriously as, say, an A. S. Byatt novel but was enjoyable nonetheless.

12. John the Pupil by David Flusfeder. MONKS ON A ROAD TRIP. Scientific discoveries by Bacon being delivered to the pope? I liked this book, but I thought the ideas weren’t executed as fully as they could have been. Then again, I was reading an uncorrected proof, so perhaps the final product was different? My favourite thing about this book was how the dates were given according to church feasts and festivals, saints’ days and so forth.

13. The Golden Compass / Northern Lights by Philip Pullman. I was ill, and read this and The Subtle Knife on a sick day. It was good escapism, and fascinating to read again 15 years after my first time reading them, with all the intervening years and hype! I am not really planning to read the ‘Book of Dust’ trilogy that Pullman is beginning to publish now, but getting back into Lyra’s head was good. Had many discussions with Max about the Jungian dimensions of the ‘daemons’ and the ‘aletheiometer’ because he was also reading this for a course.

14. The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman. The thing is, I don’t think this book is all that good. It is fascinating in how it ties together the other-world that Lyra inhabits and ‘our world’ where Will lives, playing in a narrative way with multiple-universe theory. But essentially Will is just not a very engaging character.  The complexity of his relationship with his mentally ill (or does she have good reason for paranoia?) mother is depicted heartbreakingly, but beyond that, Will is flat. It’s as if Pullman has written himself into a corner by painting Lyra’s world of daemons so vividly reflective of the characters’ inner lives, that when we are given a daemon-less, normal-world character, he’s just…meh.

What’s more, the disparate narrative is driven by events too far away from the central characters to command much emotional weight. Lord Asriel is ‘somewhere in another realm preparing to make war on the powers of heaven’, and a Latvian witch called Ruta Skadi goes to see him, with the help of some angels. This otherwise fascinating bit of plot is sketched over with overhasty exposition. The Subtle Knife suffers the typical ‘middle of a trilogy’ problem, and I just couldn’t get into it — not when I was grade school, not now.

15. Slow River by Nicola Griffith. Nicola Griffith has written about 10 (?) novels and each one is a treasure in its own way. I haven’t read them all yet, preferring to wait a while in between them so I can savour them properly. Slow River wasn’t next on my list of Griffiths — I thought I might tackle her detective trilogy next — but when I found it in a bookshop one day, I couldn’t leave it behind! The story focuses on Lore, an heiress who is kidnapped for a ransom her family refuses to pay. Three different story-levels exist in the novel: Lore as a child/adolescent; post-kidnap Lore and her life with her partner/abuser/boss, Spanner; and Lore trying to build a new life after having left Spanner. This structure allows Griffith to play with our perception of ‘what happened’ at key points in Lore’s life, and, as with all memories, as ourselves if what we think happened is really the whole story. This is cyberpunk at its best: an anonymous north European city rendered with all of Blade Runner’s ominous sic-fi-ness but not the same bleak outlook.

16. Mancunia by Michael Symons Roberts. I loved hearing him read from this collection at Greenbelt, and after enjoying his Drysalter and Corpus I knew I’d buy this as well. Was not disappointed.

17. Parable Island by Pauline Stainer. Thrift shop find. Scottish islands, light and mellow and stick-with-you language.

18. An End to Running, by Lynne Reid Banks. I have long loved Lynne Reid Banks’ brilliant The L-Shaped Room and so bought An End to Running as I prepared for my summer holidays. When it arrived I was surprised at the cover of the book (!) which was much more ’70s bodice ripper’ than the average book cover found on my shelves. The story does start off with a rather messy affair between two characters, but then radically shifts to a Kibbutz in Israel/Palestine, and deals with the fallout of the couple’s choice to explore what their life would look like in a communitarian, Jewish environment. It was gutsy and sad and I found it weirdly compelling.

19. Midwinter of the Spirit by Phil Rickman. A televised version of this was aired last winter (I think?) and I knew I was going to have to start reading these books eventually. Rickman writes about Merrily Watkins, parish priest in the village of ‘Ledwardine’ in the Welsh borders / Hereford Diocese, single mom, and…exorcist! Or, ‘Diocesan Deliverance Consultant’ if you want the church lingo. Rickman has written at least 14 books in this series so far and they are rather compulsively readable for someone like me — which should come as no surprise. Merrily’s encounters with the supernatural are everything from mundane (her own prayer life is ‘like a lamplit path leading towards blue and gold’ which description I LOVE) to the fantastic (curses, angry spirits, hauntings, etc). And yet, Rickman cleverly walks the line between ‘is this something supernatural/occult?’ and ‘is this a mental/social-psychological phenomenon’ with skill, and keeps the reader guessing at every turn.

This series is a series of mystery/crime novels, of course, and so has some of the same problems as the ‘Grantchester’ series: crime-solving priest appears to do lots of solving but do they do any parish work at all? Of course the humdrum of the day-to-day parish is not quite the scintilla of mystery/supernatural novels, but a few more nods to that life and its demands would, I think, increase these novels’ credibility. (She writes about a series featuring an exorcist. I know, I know!)

20. The Crown of Lights by Phil Rickman. Yep. I read about 4 of these in a row, very quickly, on holiday. They’re that good.

21. The Cure of Souls by Phil Rickman. Really. You should read them.

22. The Lamp of the Wicked by Phil Rickman. Right now. You’ll thank me.

23. Realms of Glory by Catherine Fox. The end of the Lindchester Chronicles! What’s a long-time fan of Catherine Fox to do, now? Perhaps it was hormones, perhaps it was the way that Fox depicts grace so freely and fiercely in this book — I was never far from tears or from laughter while reading. Don’t get me started on the slow demise of Barbara Blatherwick — as someone with many older people in her congregation(s), I found it touching and all too realistic. Fox know exactly how to poke through the armour of all the ‘parties’ in the Church of England, and I think only en ego bruised by this teasing could give a negative review to her wise, timely, satirical work in Lindchester. Yes, the form of blogged-weekly novel with its Dickensian & Trollopian structures and features has its limitations; but so do most forms of writing. I look forward to see what she’ll do next.

24. The Historian …OK, this one was a re-read for me. Every few years I get the desire to go read about academics tracking down Dracula whilst they around Iron-Curtain-era Bulgaria, Romania, Istanbul, and about a dozen other wonderful European locations. An impressive novel for a debut (!), it’s not perfect, but is very well worth the travel and the atmosphere.

25. The Mime Order. More Samantha Shannon steampunk-ish SF set in London.

26. Mythos by Stephen Fry. Blatant, airport-purchased holiday read for the last week of the year spent in the Cyclades & Athens. Good choice! Myths retold with a dash of Fry-wit.

What’s to come in 2018?

 

 

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Summer in the city

I was informed last night in a speech at the East London Mosque by the Mayor of Tower Hamlets, John Biggs, that ‘this summer, the summer of 2017, has been the hottest summer the UK has seen since the summer of 1976, when [he] graduated secondary school.’ Whether or not this is absolutely true is the business of meteorologists and record-keepers; I can only attest to a pleasant, hot proper summer that has visited the southern UK over the last few weeks.

The week before my ordination to the priesthood in mid-June, I went to one of my favorite places THREE TIMES: the Hampstead Heath ladies’ pond.

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Although going to the seaside is lovely and I’ve been lucky enough to make it to Margate on a sunny day, I must confess that I really prefer wild swimming in fresh water. Having grown up in a place where opportunities for river- and lake- swimming were plentiful, I have never quite been happy with salt-water swimming. Hence my deep and abiding love for the ponds up at Hampstead, which are (a) within 90 minutes journey from my house by public transport, (b) include a trip to the Heath, (c) deliciously cool and unsalty. The ladies’ pond has the added advantage of being a strictly women-only space, and the relaxed attitude to clothing makes my inner nudist happy.

This summer is also my first full summer back in Bethnal Green, with windows perpetually open to the noise of east London: a school across the road, too-sensitive car alarms going off at all hours, foxes shagging in the churchyard, junkies arguing on my front step, the distant sound of stringed instruments from the Duke of Uke and the muffled chatter from people drinking outside the pub at the end of the road. I remember writing a poem whilst living in Cambridge about the annoyance of the road crossing beep noise on Jesus Lane going off at all hours…how spoiled I was in that quiet little corner of the fens!

I was up in the fens last week — in Ely — for a mini-residential for Stepney area clergy. I had meant to go to the cathedral for a pray and a look-round and to visit Toppings for some books (always more books!) but the retreat house where we were staying was working its magic and making me feel very sleepy indeed. I find that whenever I spend more than a day in a retreat house I start going into retreat mode — the first couple days of which are always dominated by catching up on sleep.

In summer it’s hard to make myself go to sleep early, because I still glory in living in a place with no (or few?) mosquitos where I can sit outside, put on some candles or fairy lights, and enjoy the warmth still radiating from the paving slabs in the garden ( / glorified parking space). I know that six months from now I’ll want to roll into bed at about 8.30 because of the dark evenings — but of course in autumn and winter the evenings are busier. City people seem to accomplish a kind of anti-hibernation, hustling and persevering in the cold months, only to disappear during the warm, to holiday destinations, if they can.

I’ve had my big holidays for the year already; January in Marrakech and April in Lisbon. The year has felt slightly front-loaded with travel because of it. It has been wonderfully indulgent to travel so much and to be a two-income couple, but the period of spending and settling in feels like it is ending. Max & I have married, we’re settled in to east London, I’m feeling more confident in my work in the parish and Max is taking the next steps in his own life and career. Sometimes I have to pinch myself and be reminded: this is real life — my real life — and that although there are always changes to be weathered, getting through training, ordination, and deployment is done. For the next two years (-ish) my job is just to be the best I can be as a curate in Bethnal Green, to keep figuring out what it means to be a good partner in marriage, to give myself space to enjoy this city, to learn, to be with friends, to be a neighbor.

I’ve always felt a little bit grumpy when Christians nick the passage in the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah about ‘seeking the welfare of the city’ in order to justify their community-developing efforts — not because I think Christians shouldn’t pour their time into developing their communities, to being neighbors, but because that passage is about a displaced people who have been carted off into exile by their enemies and are being held in captivity. The prophet’s instruction to ‘seek the city’s welfare’ is a hard saying indeed, to a people who are living in ‘the city’ as spoils of a conquest. Contemporary urban-dwelling Christians simply are not in the same place as the ancient Hebrews, no matter how much some may like to spiritualise the concept of exile/captivity in the present day.

However, the welfare — the well-being, we might say — of the city of London does desperately need seeking, by Christians, by atheists, by all people of faith and conscience. Just how I can best use my time and energy in this project is a project of exploration for me in the years to come.

This summer, and especially the recently-ended fasting period of Ramadan, has seen quite a lot of unrest: violent attacks by (those who claim to be) Muslims, and on Muslims, as well as the Grenfell tower fire. In some ways these disasters and tragedies have only served to bring together people who want to seek London’s well-being. London is tough and Londoners are tough in crises. But what the Blitz spirit / the stiff upper lip is giving way to, I hope, is something more multicultural and nuanced, and something which reaches beyond London.

Londoners, after all, voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU during last year’s referendum. The diversity of London, the sense of it being a European city, a global city, is strong at many (but not all) levels. I can’t help feeling that many who call London home would feel more in common culturally with Paris, Amsterdam, Chicago or Milan than they would with parts of rural Norfolk, leafy Berkshire, and so forth. Is this just what is meant by globalisation?

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Speaking of Paris, I was watching a little bit of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset yesterday: the second in his excellent series of Before… films featuring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. I was happily surprised to realise that several of the streets that featured in this film, set in Paris in summer, were little back streets in Le Marais which I had walked down with Max as we started out our honeymoon this year, en route to Lisbon. ‘Look! I remember that gate, and that fountain, and that bookshop!’ ‘It looked even posher in April, though, didn’t it?’ The film came out in 2004 which seems a long time ago, but isn’t really.

London is a city which in my head is as much a city of cranes and perpetual construction as a city of fog and rain, pie and mash, an assortment of villages and mindsets. Thus I can make few comments about my city’s ‘timelessness’, or indeed the timelessness of Paris, whose back streets — at least a few — remained unchanged from 2004 to 2017. But I think there is something timeless, or at least enduring, about the experience of a hot summer in a city, especially a city that also knows freezing cold (New York and Berlin, I’m looking at you, too!) It’s the reason that so many songs are written about ‘summer in [whichever] city’, a small selection of which I leave you with, to ponder & enjoy.

Ah, the Lovin’ Spoonful. See also great covers of this by Joe Cocker, Quincy Jones and B. B. King.

Regina Spektor’s glorious, graphic anti-folk-jazz tune.

https://open.spotify.com/embed/track/0tnAYrhqcpmUhf2czi4LzD

Robbie Stuart’s very 21st century pop with strings, autotune and sampled monologue.

 

 

 

 

 

#Reaffirm5?

For those of you inside or near the Church of England bubble, you’ll have been aware of some media furore over the last week about the incoming bishop of Sheffield, +Philip North.

In brief: Colin Podmore of the Society of St Wilfrid and Hilda (a conservative doesn’t-approve-of-women-priests society) has lamented (in laypeople’s terms), “How do we know who’s an acceptable priest now that WOMEN BISHOPS are a thing? These priests might have been ordained by a woman, or have been ordained by a bishops who has ordained women — therefore the are not ‘real priests’ and we ‘cannot accept’ their ministry. Perhaps we should have some kind of identification system so we know who’s OK and who’s not.”

In response to this, Martyn Percy, a priest and currently the Dean of Christ Church in Oxford, has called for +Philip North, who helps to lead the Society of S Wilfrid and Hilda (hereafter, SSWSH) to either radically distance himself from this group, or to not take up his post as Bishop of Sheffield.

Much opinionating has followed. As always.

The Church of England currently recognises 5 ‘Guiding Principles’ regarding this ongoing conflict between traditionalists and progressives, which point to a goal of ‘mutual flourishing’ for all. At their heart these principles are about inclusion and tolerance — not values, notably, that all in the CofE prioritise highly (especially not those opposed to women priests). In the course of this debate, a Twitter hashtag has sprung up in support of +Philip’s appointment to Sheffield: #reaffirm5. The argument there is that there church will never not be diverse and will always require the laying aside of differences for the sake of the kingdom; that Philip’s work especially promoting the causes of the least privileged make him a great bishop and a focus of unity, even though he doesn’t believe that 1/3 of the clergy in the Diocese of Sheffield are ‘really’ priests, because of their sex.

I have stayed fairly quiet during this debate, partially because hey, there’s a passel of fascists running the USA and so I’ve been preoccupied with that more than church politics. But also because, deep inside, I’ve never been certain that the 5 guiding principles can mean anything of value to anyone outside the church: the very people whom the church (should be) seeking to serve, love, and point Christward.

‘Mutual flourishing’, as Percy points out, cannot really be ‘mutual’ if one side is still denied full humanity before God. I do not doubt that +Philip has much compassion for those experiencing poverty, for the north of the the UK, and that he is a wise person who, many tell me, is a good, pastoral overseer. However, he is also a key player in the SSWSH which does two harmful things. Firstly, it believes that women cannot exercise priestly or episcopal (or in some extreme cases, diaconal) ministry, therefore denying the ultimate equality of women and men before God. Secondly, it promotes a system of ‘alternative episcopal oversight’ whereby those who do not agree with their local bishop can seek a bishop they do agree with, usually over the issue of women’s ordination. This, which a few of my colleagues refer to as ‘Tesco bishop-ing’ (in that you go to the bishops and just pick one off the shelf you like the best), undermines the collegial and ecclesiological fabric of English Anglicanism, furthering sectarianism of many kinds. So this ‘mutual flourishing’ at its heart is actually about preserving a corner of the church where it’s OK to reject women’s ministry, on either traditional or biblical grounds.

The leaders of the SSWSH have condemned a theology of ‘taint’ whereby their members refuse to be ordained by a female bishop, a male bishop that has ordained women, or where members might refuse to concelebrate with male priests who’ve worked with women or concelebrated with women, trained female curates, ever dressed in drag, etc. The reality is, however, that such a theology is alive and well amongst traditionalists on the catholic and evangelical ends of the Anglican spectrum, whether it is acknowledged or not. (If I may be permitted the innuendo: a taint by any other name would smell as sour.)

Of course the great beauty of Anglicanism is its breadth and, in theory at least, its lack of a ‘thought police’ (though it sometimes seems to be moving in this policed direction). People and priests are free to have their private beliefs so long as they show up, worship God the Holy Trinity, engage with the historic creeds and the 39 articles, and worship using the approved forms of the Church of England.

Naturally, this freedom means that sometimes people are going to pick up a bible or a bit of the historical church doctrine and see ‘Women are subhuman, women should be silent, I do not permit a woman to teach,’ etc., and decide to take these things uncritically. The bible is a beautiful, inspired book, but it was penned (mostly) by men in a thoroughly patriarchal society which didn’t have a lot of time for women. It’s a patriarchally-infused, often outright sexist, book. As are many of the writings of the church fathers, from which the earliest notions of priesthood in the western and eastern churches were drawn and developed in later centuries.

I write ‘decide to take these things uncritically’ because that is what a rejection of women’s full humanity, women’s ordination to all holy orders, is: a decision. It is not a moment of submission to a text (though it might be couched as such); nor is it a moment of seeing through to the ‘true textual meaning’. It is a decision to privilege the patriarchal content of the text as the full content of the text, rather than engaging with the text as a living document reflecting both the culture in which it was produced, and the cultures (still quite patriarchal) in which it is today read.

Naturally, as a woman in holy orders my approach to the text and the tradition are different.

And yet, I do thoroughly value a church where people are allowed to differ in opinion, allowed to doubt and challenge and change. In my life I have been a person who wasn’t OK with women’s leadership in church, much less women’s ordination; I have been someone who used the bible to excuse my own homophobia; I have been someone who could not see the grace of God for the legalism in which I bound myself. And yet, I found churches that let me exist there, let me encounter a God of grace and love who broke me — slowly, painfully — out of these places, and many others.

So, do I think there’s a place in the church for people who refuse to accept the sacramental ministry and leadership of women? Yes. Because I was once one of them.

However, do I think the Church of England should be ringfencing un-collegial, ecclesiologically unsound, sexist and donatist arrangements with the 5 guiding principles? I admit, I do not. I currently affirm them because my church — the one who trained, ordained, and supports me — requires me to affirm them, to respect my brothers and sisters who differ from me in their views. But I think this is an insufficient solution, one that is promoted by the SSWSH whose agendas and practices I find quite shocking. The SSWSH uses the language of ‘ministry we can receive with confidence.’ They reject the notion of will, of choosing to receive women’s ministry, instead suggesting that ‘there they stand, they can do no other.’ (An interesting sentiment from an often highly Reformation-skeptic group.)  I myself am highly suspicious of this passive language, as it removes the agency from the members and seeks to put it elsewhere — the church? Christ? The Godhead? Who knows. It is a triumph of the passive in English language and culture. But, as those who study grammar know, the passive does not connote inaction, or lack of will on the part of a subject. It simply is a linguistic convention designed to speak around something, for the comfort of the speaker, the listeners, the whole society. The language of ‘cannot receive’ is just an encoded language of ‘will not receive’; such resistance to the teaching of one’s church used to be called heresy, apostasy, or at the very least, canonical disobedience. These days it is given special protection.

If +Philip North cannot distance himself from this group which promotes this unjust canonical disobedience and seeks special protection for it, I have trouble seeing how any flourishing for women and men he can (or will) promote would be truly ‘mutual’. And what’s more important, I don’t know how the church of England, if it promotes sexism (even in God’s name), can speak with integrity to people and societies worldwide that are slowly but surely coming to recognise the full humanity of women as a lynchpin for human justice.

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note:  Until very recently my own diocesan bishop has been +Richard Chartres, who took a similar line to +Philip: he was a diocesan bishop who would ordain women deacon but not priest, and he would never concelebrate with anyone, to avoid that debate altogether. Luckily I’ve had a brilliant suffragan bishop who is totally supportive of my ministry, but I would be lying if I did not say that the Bishop of London’s refusal to make women priests did not (a) hurt personally and (b) exacerbate unhelpful and sexist politics in the diocese.

 

Saint Scholastica

Until very recently (today) someone who writes blog posts for this blog was not aware that Saint Scholastica was St Benedict’s (possibly twin) sister. As a sister to a fabulous brother myself, I felt a sudden kinship with the saint and desired to look upon artists renditions of her. Great news! She’s (kind of) happier looking in art than Saint Cecilia usually is. Witness:

‘If I stand very still it might not poo on me… Oh! And now I have time for theological reflection. Does the holy spirit really become incarnate as a dove and if so, would it poo anyways?’

statue

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‘Ah yes, Bennie, yes yes, you go on talking…’ (knowing look to bestie nun)

side-eye-2

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‘My crozier brings all the boys to the the yard.’

crozier

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‘Bennie! Our monastery looks just like Harry Potter’s forehead!’

lightning-bolt

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‘Yeah, yeah, they bring that sign with me wherever I go. Gets kind of embarrassing, sometimes.’

red-book

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‘LOOK I’M ALMOST SMILING! I HAVE THE JOY OF THE LORD!’

screen-shot-2017-02-10-at-14-07-19

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‘Is this a quill or a sword I’m holding? You’ll never know…’

quill

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‘Hey, B, me and my girls are just chilling out here. You couldn’t go make yourself helpful and put the kettle on, could you? Thanks, hun. Shut the door when you leave, mmkay?’

benedict-and-scholastica