wildeabandon: crucifix necklace on a purple background (religion)
I recently read “Paul: The Misunderstood Apostle” by Karen Armstrong on [personal profile] angelofthenorth’s recommendation, followed by a reread of Meeting God in Paul by Rowan Williams for comparison. Both were good, and left me with a deeper understanding of Paul’s writings, as well as of the context which surrounded it. I felt as though I got more out of the Williams, but that was more because the thing that it was doing was of more interest to me personally, than because it was a better book in general. To me the most marked difference between the two books is that the Armstrong felt like a history book with theological implications, whereas the Williams (based, as it was, on three sermons) was a theology book with historical underpinnings.

One thread that was common to both books was the emphasis on how radical Paul’s teachings were. He often gets characterised as a fuddy duddy conservative, misogynist and homophobic, corrupting Jesus’ message and making it more acceptable to the traditionalists at the time, but actually, in the context of the hierarchical worlds of the Roman Empire and the Jewish religious authorities, his proclamation in Galatians that “There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither slave nor freeman, there can be neither male nor female -- for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” would have been ground-breaking. Similarly, in Corinthians, where he says “The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does”, this was just common wisdom at the time, but to follow it as he does with “and in the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” would have been shockingly egalitarian. The whole letter to Philemon, in which he exhorts his friend to take his disgraced runaway slave back into his household, but as an equal, was turning the established order of things on its head. The question of how we square this with some other verses where he seems more sexist or pro-slavery is a difficult one, and Williams notes but doesn’t address it. Armstrong makes an argument that some of the other verses were later additions by another writer, and I don’t have sufficient knowledge to assess its robustness.

Both books are short and engagingly written, and both were improved by reading the other at a similar time.


Apr. 14th, 2017 06:54 pm
wildeabandon: crucifix necklace on a purple background (religion)
Well that's certainly been a spiritually intense day. Unsurprisingly, keeping silent vigil for sixteen hours (even with a short break to get some coffee and breakfast about thirteen hours in) is both physically and psychologically taxing.

At first I was consciously trying to keep my thoughts focused on our Lord and his tribulations in the garden of Gethsemane, remonstrating with myself every time my mind wandered and dragging it back. As the night deepened I realised this was folly, and allowed my thoughts to drift away; in retrospect the fact that they wandered back of their own accord, bringing me new insights and answers to the question "Where is God in my day to day life" isn't that surprising.

The real revelation came later though, after the watch had ended, and we entered into the Solemn Liturgy of Good Friday, a service which draws you in to the horror of the crucifixion, and always leaves me feeling somewhat fragile. Entered into from a starting point of having been awake for 24 hours, alone in the garden watching my Beloved Lord suffer, something just broke. I began to weep as Fr Daniel delivered an austere and beautiful chant of Psalm 22, and continued through the Passion of our Lord.

Fr Justin, always an outstanding preacher, was on particularly fine form, with a meditation both impassioned and erudite on the different interpretations of Jesus' final word, Τετέλεσται, "It is finished." We were invited to shed our hindsight knowledge of the resurrection, which makes clear the valedictory nature of the phrase, that Jesus' great saving work, His fulfilment of the scripture and His redemption of the whole world is now complete. It is finished. Instead we were asked, hear those words through the ears of Mary, of the disciples. Watch the last breath of our dear son, our beloved friend and teacher, and see his life, and all that he has worked for disappear, ended, ruined. It is finished.

By now I am a complete mess of tears. I don't believe I can truly imagine what it can have been like to be there, but I understand better now than I ever have before.
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You may recall that about a month ago I talked to my spiritual director about being, in some sense, an atheist? He recommended the book God of Surprises as reading material that might help me process the tension of belief and unbelief.

Well, I certainly can't accuse it of false advertising in the title. I, er, appear not to be an atheist any more. Which is unexpected, to say the least. This evening has been a bit of an emotional roller-coaster, and I'm now feeling a little weepy and a lot overwhelmed. Prayers from those of you that do would be appreciated.
wildeabandon: photo of me with wavy hair and gold lipstick (Default)
I’d say that he took it surprisingly well, but actually I wasn’t a jot surprised. His response was just as considered and wise and useful as I’ve come to expect.

I started meeting with Fr Angus for the Sacrament of Reconciliation during Advent. I’d found it such a powerful and useful experience on our parish pilgrimage to Walsingham that I wanted to take it up regularly. After having asked Fr Daniel’s advice about suitable confessors and undergone a certain amount of procrastinating and faffing, we began that discipline. After a short while it became clear that actually, important and useful though confession is, there’s a point of frequency above which it starts to feel repetitive and rote. We discussed this and agreed to move to taking a more general approach to spiritual growth, which would include, but not be limited to confession.

He’s very good. His way of thinking about and relating to God makes a lot of sense to me, and gave me some useful ideas about how to start thinking about and resolving the tension of alieving but not believing in God. I still have a lot of work to do, but before I started meeting with him I'd been letting my faith drift and stagnate a bit, whereas now it really feels like there's some important growth going on.
wildeabandon: photo of me with wavy hair and gold lipstick (Default)
I started writing this a week and a half ago, saying...

I feel as though Lent has started well for me. As I anticipated, the first few days with no facebook were quite challenging, and I think that had I not taken the step of uninstalling the app on my phone and logging out on all the computers I use I would have slipped far too easily, but by now the instinct to load it up every half hour has become far more infrequent, and also less jarring when I remember.

My other discipline, which I expected to struggle with rather more, is getting to bed with the lights out by 10.30 every night. I am having slightly more difficulty getting to sleep when I go to bed that early than when I go exhausted, but by that I mean it takes me 10-30 minutes to drop off, rather than the moment my head hits the pillow. I had wondered whether that would mean waking before my alarm (which goes off at seven), and on Thursday & Friday it didn't quite, but I was definitely in the waking process by the time it went off. Over the weekend with no alarm set I slept quite a lot - 9.5 and 8.5 hours between going to sleep and waking up each day, but this morning I woke just before five, feeling quite refreshed.

...and then got interrupted, and haven’t got back to finishing it since. I’ve not quite had the discipline to stick to it perfectly every day since, but I have managed to be in bed by then, and lights out by 11.30 or thereabouts. I’m definitely finding that although I’m spending less time awake, I am finding much easier to spend more of that time being thoughtful and prayerful and in general more the me that I believe God wants me to be. So that’s good.

The lack of FaceBook is definitely helping with that, but is also leading me to feel quite disconnected in ways that aren't entirely positive, so I need to give some further thought to how I might be able to regain that connectedness without giving back so much of my brainspace to it.

I’m also reading Meeting God in Paul by Rowan Williams. In fact, it’s short enough that I finished my first read through of it last night. I found it interesting, moving, and enlightening, and definitely feel as though I have a better sense of both who Paul was and what he was trying to say in his writings. I haven’t magically stopped finding him difficult and at times frustrating, but it’s easier to view him with nuance now. I’m going to go back and re-read more slowly, looking up the various biblical passages referred to, and writing some short notes.
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There’s been a fair bit of coverage on my social media of the recent interview with Tim Farron after he was elected leader of the Lib Dems, where he repeatedly deflected the question of whether gay sex was sinful. My initial reaction was bemusement, as I wondered why people care what someone else believes about their ability to relate to a God that they don’t believe in. With a bit more reflection and some comments from others I realised that there’s a lot more cultural weight to the idea of sin than that, and I also got the feeling that the acknowledgement that we are all sinners is seen as facetious and insincere, which is far from my experience when I have thought the phrase myself, or heard it from other Christians I know.

There was an article I read recently, I’m afraid I can’t remember where, in which a Christian who does believe that homosexual acts are sinful talks about why he is more vocal in his opposition to that particular sin, compared to lying and violence and selfishness and so on. And his point was that whilst these other sins are certainly committed, and probably tacitly condoned, no-one is actually arguing that they aren’t sinful, or that one shouldn’t try not to commit them, just that it’s difficult, whereas with homosexuality, the dominant narrative has become that it isn’t sinful at all. And I think that that is actually a good answer to the question of why some Christians are concerning themselves with speaking out about homosexuality when there are far worse sins in the world.

In case it wasn’t obvious, I do, rather strongly, disagree with the belief that homosexual sex is sinful. I have definitely had sinful sex, which made me less kind and less loving, and probably more of it has been with men than with women, but then I’ve had quite a lot more sex with men than with women so that’s hardly surprising. But on balance, most of my relationships, whether of one night or several years in length, have been good and loving and positive experiences, and have turned me into a kinder, better, more loving person, and that is particularly and overwhelmingly true of my relationship with Ramesh.

But when one believes that something which is commonly viewed as acceptable is sinful then there is a bit of a dilemma. You can lie, which is of course, sinful in itself, particularly in the case where it condemns other people to sin. Or you can speak out, and suffer the social consequences. There are two big things which are commonly accepted and which I believe are sinful, at least in part because of my faith, and which I mostly avoid talking about, because I don’t want to look judgemental...

The first of these is not giving to charity. I don’t have precise or set numbers on this, and it’s definitely an area in which I fall short myself, but I do believe that if you can afford to, but are not giving away enough of your disposable income that you notice yourself able to have less fun because of it, then you have some culpability for the harms that could be averted by that giving.

The second of these is divorce, or more accurately, choosing to divorce someone who isn’t abusive. I’m not 100% on this, and I do believe that sometimes things and people change enough in ways that you couldn’t have predicted that it’s the right choice for everyone involved, but I feel that it happens a bit too easily, and perhaps more importantly, that marriage happens a lot too easily because everyone knows that it’s an option if it doesn’t work out, and what I really feel is sinful is making a vow that you only intend to keep if it’s convenient, or deciding to break it merely because it’s not, rather than because it’s become completely untenable to do so. I do find it very telling when Christians are far more vocal in their opposition to gay sex, which has a couple of brief Old Testament mentions and one in Paul's letters, that to divorce, which our Lord speaks about repeatedly in the gospels, and is a significantly more common phenomenon.

Now, with those beliefs, I don’t think that my friends who have chosen divorce after a foolish young match, or who don’t chose to give to charity are worse people than me. Perhaps that’s what I mean by “we are all sinners”. There’s so much that I need to do better that I can’t begin to compare, and perhaps it is easier for me not to sin in those ways because I’ve let myself have too much liberty in others. (and indeed, if my ex-husband hadn't left me when he did, seeing the man he's become since I would be sorely tempted) And I don’t think that my morality should be legally imposed on others (well, maybe I think that the % of the UK budget going to foreign aid should be increased, but not by nearly as much as I think we should all be giving).

But perhaps after reading this you think that I’m a terribly judgemental bigot, and if you do, that’s your prerogative. But if you don’t think that, but you do think that Tim is a bigot for refusing to say that homosexual sex isn’t sinful, then you might want to think long and hard about why.


Apr. 13th, 2015 01:12 am
wildeabandon: photo of me with wavy hair and gold lipstick (Default)
I spent this weekend on pilgrimage to Walsingham, location of one of the most significant Anglo-Catholic shrines in England. It was an extraordinary weekend, and I feel gloriously refreshed in spirit.

I was deeply honoured to be asked to serve as thurifer for the pilgrimage mass on Saturday, and whilst slightly nerve-wracking, as serving somewhere new always is, it was also deeply moving, and I think I managed not to get anything wrong. It will live long in my memories.

Later that evening was the procession of Our Lady of Walsingham around the grounds of the shrine, which was exquisitely beautiful - scores of pilgrims bearing candles and singing a hymn telling the history of the shrine. One lovely thing is that the sound of the organ is transmitted to speakers all around the shrine, so the frequent difficulty with processions where all the singers get out of time with one another is overcome.

Following the procession was a service of healing ministries, where I partook of the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the first time since just before my confirmation, more than eleven years ago. For years I've been wanting to avail myself of it again, but somehow the longer it's been since the last one, the harder it gets, and so whenever it came up I found an excuse, or just didn't get around to it. And now I feel like such a fool for that failure. Afterwards I walked around the shrine grounds, feeling as though any moment a breeze could sweep me away, such a heavy burden had been lifted. I am determined, now, to make it a regular habit.

I picked up a couple of books whilst I was there. First was The Lion's World - an edited transcription of a series of sermons by Great-grandfather Rowan on the Narnia books, which flawed as they are, were an important part of my spiritual development. I read that over the course of the weekend, and it moved me deeply, and now I'm re-reading the series keeping his insights in mind. The second, which I have only scratched the surface of so far, was recommended by Bishop Lindsay, the Shrine Administrator - The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, by Fr James Martin, SJ. For most of my life as an adult Christian I've felt a certain pull towards the Jesuits and the Ignation approach to spirituality, and based on the first couple of chapters I am very much looking forward to reading the rest and incorporating it into my life.
wildeabandon: photo of me with wavy hair and gold lipstick (Default)

[personal profile] sfred asked "Could you tell us something about where you're at with religion, these days, in terms of practice and/or beliefs?"

So this is actually quite difficult, because I'm a practicing catholic in the Church of England, and I don't really believe in God. Which is to say, that although I have a gut feeling that something Godlike probably exists, if I think about it hard and look at the evidence, it seems much more likely that we've evolved to have that gut feeling for various reasons that have nothing to do with it actually being true, and that in fact, it probably isn't.

However, (1) knowing that doesn't make the feeling go away, and (2) the last decade or so has demonstrated very clearly to me that participating in regular worship and being part of a church community makes me much happier and mentally healthier and kinder than when I'm not. So I just don't think too hard about it.

I'm a Christian specifically partly because it's what I grew up with, but mostly because the Easter Story, the sacrifice of everything, and the love of all humanity no matter how flawed we are is something that is beautiful and magical whether it is true or not. I'm catholic specifically because it's the liturgy I grew up with, and all the emotional responses I have to the Easter Story are hotkeyed to that liturgy. I'm anglo-catholic because "we believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church" and that church is Little St Mary's in Cambridge. More seriously though - LSM was a wonderful place for me, and where I first realised how much happier I was being part of a church community, but also, until recently the Roman church has been rather hostile to us queers, and although that can certainly be found in the CoE* it's also much easier to find catholic communities who are actively welcoming.

I worship at St John the Evangelist, Brownswood Park, which is actually my parish church. When we last moved I was expecting to go to another church nearby which I used to attend last time we lived near Finsbury Park, but it's about half an hour away, so I figured I'd try the parish church first, and it turned out to be just my sort of place liturgically, as well as being closer, having an extremely charming** priest, and not being Backwards in Bigotry***.

I'm on the serving team, which means that most of the time when I'm attending Mass I'm in the sacristy party - either thurifer (that's swinging the smoking handbag with incense in), or crucifer (carrying the cross during the procession in and out, and helping the priest prepare the bread and wine which will become the body and blood of Christ). This actually helps a lot with the not-actually-believing stuff, because it means that I'm concentrating sufficently hard on what happens next in the liturgy that I don't get bogged down in too much "but what if this is all meaningless".

*I remain utterly devastated that I still can't get married - please tread with extreme care if you want to discuss this
**although younger than me, which I find a bit terrifying
***Forward in Faith, the organisation opposed to the ordination of women, which is made up of an uneasy alliance of evangelical biblical literalists who think that women should be silent because that's what Paul said (and also that homosexualists should burn in hell), and high church Anglo-Catholics who are mostly older gay men who think that women have cooties and should be kept away from their playhouse.


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