Getting oneself hurt

The omnipresent harassment of women. An idiotic and right wing Twit wants to know why women do not constantly call it out. Because we could end it. Plainly. The answer is that very occasionally, and for particularly egregious examples, we do. I myself go to court later this month to witness to one (alleged, it is sub judice) attack. But we do not do it because it is so constant.

 

Call out every drunken bloke who leers and calls us hen and is over-familiar? How? Who would come to our aid if he got nasty? We are all skilled at wriggling out of the situation without causing annoyance, or getting ourselves hurt. Because that is how subtly the blame comes home to roost on us. ‘Getting ourselves hurt’. Not ‘Being the subject of an unprovoked attack.’

 

It is the man in the street, the bloke in the coffee bar, the one in the book shop, the poor soul we meet when we are working. Most of it is low level. Mostly we can see an easy way to steer ourselves out of it with no more than social tact, and prudent behavior, and kind inoffensive words, and a sigh and exasperation we never show.

 

For all that, totting up my closest female friends, 75% of them have been raped. I do not have a single female friend who has not at some time been in some way sexually assaulted, and touched in ways they tried hard to prevent, and, although I had the good luck to avoid rape, that certainly includes me.

 

I could detail the times I was most scared. Walking down a road, in a busy area, but for the moment, in the early morning, deserted, there was the stranger who unzipped his flies and began jerking himself off. The conference for church lay readers, many years ago now, and not in my current denomination, when one of my fellows began to waylay me at intervals during the day. Again and again, I slipped out under his arms and again and again they enfolded me. I ensured visits to the ladies happened when he was engaged in some activity (if they see you go in, they know you need to come out and they will be ready). I walked corridors in company. It never occurred to me to report him, for you can be quite sure he would have put the blame on me. He would have been in trouble, but some mud would have stuck to me.

 

Have things improved? A little. Both the above I would now report. I might even be believed. And a good deal of my life has been lived in the company of men who just never behave like this, who admire and respect (and detest and squabble with) women whom they see as people in their own right. But despite being a pensioner, despite the lovely blokes I know, the fact is that every year and most months I will practise the skills of guarding my eyes, giving soft answers, and keeping my fear to myself.

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The Quran, the Cathedral, and the wrong story

I get sucked into other people’s narratives. Not their lives, but into the compelling stories they tell of ‘the way the world is.’ At worst, into their stories about my own life. As a young person my loving parents persuaded  me out of pursuing a career in the performing arts, because I might end up cleaning for a living as I waited for jobs. And, right enough, I can’t sing or dance. It totally escaped them that I might well have had a career in straight acting, or in directing, or any of the other roles around performance. They wanted me to have the right career.

Then I got persuaded out of a career as an academic, because of all the manifold failings of academia. But actually, a mixture of management, teaching and research is something I could perfectly well have done. I would have loved it.

As it happens, my dyslexia means that most of the more normal jobs open to people are impossible to me. As it happens, my persuadability wrecked my chance of a decent job, and I ended up cleaning for living without even getting a shot at things which might have been more fulfilling, and that was a far worse waste fate than my kind helpers imagined.  It is not the fault of the persuaders, but my own weakness. It does, however, have the desirable side-effect that I see too plainly how others grab the wrong narrative.

The current misguided narrative concerns a very beautiful reading from the Quran in my church, St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow, at Epiphany. Now, St Mary’s is a place of the uttermost theological conservatism. It is a place where both the two major creeds are honoured, where the laity, as well as the clergy, observe the beautiful custom of bowing for the name of Jesus, and for the section of the Nicene creed, which describes the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us.

The chances that anybody in St Mary’s would pick up the mistaken idea people in the church hierarchy there do not believe that Jesus was very God from very God is a risk so small as to be vanishing.

But St Mary’s is a church in a city where worrying racist attacks on Asian religious buildings have happened in the last two years. There is a serious risk, in that city, that the Muslim community could come to believe the Christian community are not supporting them, and that the Christian community might not realise that they have a lot in common with the Muslim community.

To put it bluntly, prejudice between two ancient and honourable faiths is one of the biggest challenges we face today.  That is not a small risk. It is a huge one.

The current hysteria in certain circles over the reading is a classic case of an entirely mistaken narrative. Nobody at St Mary’s stands the smallest danger of not knowing the orthodox Christian doctrines. We will continue to celebrate the Eucharist in all its fullness week by week, at mid week, for saints’ days and for weddings. We will continue to observe Ash Wednesday, and Lent and the Triduum. There will be an Easter vigil and a parish Easter Eucharist. Evensong will be sung, and there will be daily morning prayer. The Old Testament and the Epistle and the Gospel with be read, and Psalms will be variously read and sung. Prayers will be devout, and hymns and anthems glorious. We, her congregation, know that. Glasgow also knows St Mary’s worships one God in three Persons, and does that daily.

The real danger was not that I might not have the perfect career. The real danger was that I might not have a career at all.

The real danger is lack of love and respect and kinship between two great faiths.

Getting it wrong

What is the next dreadful thing that will happen? I ask myself. It has been a year of horrible news.  The ghastly fascinating watching as bad things crawl nearer, powerless to stop them. Brexit, with all the social and economic catastrophes it has already started bringing. Trump in America, and the inevitable diminution of rights for women, LGBTI people there.  The deaths of beloved figures, and yes, OK, some of them  were old, of whom Cohen, gone after a full life but at the height of his powers, is just the final straw.

And don’t even think of telling me to fight back. I always have and last year I took the step of joining the political party most closely aligned to my views to do it a tad more coherently. My time is limited and I give a reasonable chunk of it to living in a consciously ethical way already. That is to things like rearing my own hens, supporting my own family. Yes, most of it is a lot of fun too. And no, I do not always get it right. Could do better, will keep trying, OK?

But with the latest grim news, Trump, Cohen (unrelated of course), I woke up today realising that I was not feeling very accommodating myself. I suspect over the years I have been far too forgiving to the attitudes of others.  True, some of the worst of them are no longer a threat to me. A pensioner does not have to fend off groping in quite the same way.

I recall, as a young Lay Reader in the C of S, going to an obligatory in-service day. A bloke there targeted me. Trying to trap me in a corner, against a door frame to grope me. Not once, several times. I think of my young self, really scared, trying to slip out under an arm, to make sure she was not alone. Knowing if I approached anybody else I would be told I had solicited the behaviour. Of the flashers, of the wankers, of the other grabbers. At 64, with a skin like a superglued patch on a finger, that is not a hazard. But be very assured that I will totally support others who ARE harassed, and, yes, it still happens. Do you know just one single woman who has never, ever been either harassed or assaulted?

Now, it is more aggressive opinions I have to fend off. So – no, I will not shut up about Brexit. It is coming but I am not obliged to think it a good thing. Yes, I will call out low level racism each time I hear it. I will try to do it gently if it is mere ignorance. My part Asian fiancée is NOT obliged to consider herself white, and she can acknowledge both her Asian and her Swedish ancestry equally as she chooses.  Yes, I am free to choose a male or a female life partner, and that does not have to be a constrained or a diminished choice. It is first best, all five stars, thank you very much. Yes, I do think it an outrage that there is full provision for English churches to chose their own male bishop, and yet not for them to claim a female bishop.

I will try to find ways to put this across in ways designed to swing opinion behind me, and not alienate others, but you know what? If it upsets people, well it may just have to. And I may get it wrong. It is not only men who have that prerogative.

 

In richer colours

The London of my childhood, the London of the 1950s, was not at all colourless and depressing, whatever the popular image. It was vibrant with Jewish culture, West Indian culture, Polish culture. It was full of hope and, sadly, also of conflict and some really nasty attitudes.  It was a long and bitter struggle to establish that the minorities were British, that curry was delicious and that Asian fabric rocked. In my memory, those less affluent times remain as the time I learned to be an internationalist. Those of us fighting that battle always believed things could and would improve.

Economic prosperity really matters.  I have been poor too long not to know that. When an economy bombs – it is the weakest and the poorest who really suffer. I opposed Scottish Independence last time round for two reasons: that economically we were better off in the UK, and that I am at heart an internationalist. There was really very little conflict in my views.

In the time since, the UK has voted for Brexit.  Or, to be blunt, England and Wales have. What has surfaced since are some of the nastiest views from the 50s. Arguments I thought were over have come back. Not just back, but mainstream and butched-up.  Nor is there the slightest prospect that this nastiness will in any way be accompanied by a growth in prosperity. It will not. Brexit will make us all poorer.

So here I sit wondering if, in fact, the risks (huge) and the certain losses of an independent Scotland might, after all, be worth it. Not because I want ‘my country, free at last.’  But because I want ‘my country, linked to others, richer for shared humanity, for cultural diversity.’

It is no longer true at all or in any way that belonging to the UK is an internationalist option.  Those of us struggling for an inclusive society in the 50s had hope. I do not see what hope remains. We will not be part of Europe, and it seems, we will be a deeply racist society. It is not that firms have to report the numbers of ‘foreign’ staff, it is the idea somebody could suggest that. I simply think that belonging to such a society is something that one should avoid. Possibly, avoid at any cost.

I hope and pray that a Scotland in Europe might prosper in the way an England out of Europe might not.  But I am rapidly getting to the position where that is not my chief consideration. And that is something I never thought I would say.

 

Helping it

His eyes sweep the room, and he kind of smiles at my partner: ‘All the girls are at the meeting. Except you. And you are not really a girl, are you? Ha ha.’

Words from the Episcopal Church of Scotland’s Cascade conversations on LGBT relationships: ‘They can’t help it.’

The Bishop of the Church of England who stands in the Lords to deplore the hate-crime murders in Orlando does not mention that they were hate crimes, directed against the LGBT community.

Owen Jones leaves a Sky news programme when the other presenters will not acknowledge that the Orlando attack is a hate crime.

The thing is this. If you want to own the pain, and the bishop plainly does, you have to be prepared to be part of the solution. You have to be out there, fighting hard, and taking some of the flack. There is, currently, only one C of E bishop doing this, and Alan Wilson is not in the Lords.

If you are fighting hard, then you will see at once that an attack on a gay nightclub is an attack on gay people.  Some have seen this. Gay Pride events are promised stepped-up policing.

The C of E, not so much. If you are part of a same-sex clergy couple, you risk losing your job. Same sex couples cannot marry in C of E churches. And that sends a clear signal that the relationships of LGBT people are not of equal value to those of opposite sex couples. It is because ‘they’ cannot help it. It is because lesbians are not really women and gay men not really blokes. And that, all of it, the snide comments, the nasty little prohibitions, is the very fertile ground which fed the American gunman who killed fifty people on Sunday night.

 

 

Love, sex and role play

Perhaps it was the cooking pots which were to blame. Lead, you see. Poison. Whatever it was, Roman women tended to have very few children. Well, I say women, but in fact some were little more then children themselves. Today we would look at many marriages from that age, and say ‘child abuse’. A woman passed from her father to her husband in her girlhood.

The Romans had a lot of angst about having enough children – and honoured women who had good fertility. That may in part have fed the suspicion of recreational sex among Roman Christians. Certainly by the late antique period, sex was, for the Christian, to be directed merely at the creation of children, and not to be enjoyed for itself at all.

Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew is without irony. He can imagine that it is perfectly correct for a husband so to break his wife’s spirit that she will simply yield to his mastery. He lives in a world of hierarchy, with the monarch at the top, and then the nobles, the gentry, men, woman and children, all sliding down a pyramid. And marriage shores it up, by making certain that there is a noble self-sacrificing woman under each great man.

It is, of course, very easy to over-emphasise the degree to which women were actually subservient. Lady Macbeth is a monster, and her domination of her husband proves it, but she is very believable monster. Beatrice is a delight, a heroine and anything but subservient. Nobody who listens to Juliet thinks for a moment that the Christians of Shakespeare’s age are avoiding the pleasures of sensual love making.

My point is this – marriage had already changed. Even if the church was still somewhat sniffy about the pleasures of sex, nobody in society was really aiming at joyless sex any longer.

By the time you get to Jane Austen’s writing, women are openly considering the attractions of their potential husbands – whose figures may attract or repel, as well as their characters. Her heroines are seeking what it is posh to call companionate marriage. A marriage based on an equality of regard, if not an equality of power.

Most Victorian women married hoping for children, but plenty of them married past child-bearing age. It is popular to imagine they were too prudish to enjoy the physical aspect of marriage, but private letters, flirtatious, joking, sensual, show that is not so. Nor did they often, or usually, make arranged marriages or merely marry for money. There was a strong romantic attachment to the idea of love and free choice of a partner. In practice, the social circles of many women weer very small, but the ideal was to fall deeply in love, and love excused much.

Marriage changed. There is a huge difference between the Roman girl bride, literally given to a husband, and taught (in Christian circles) that sex should not be enjoyed for itself, and the blushing Victorian bride who has fallen in love with her handsome husband.

Our age has seen other changes. A growth in the belief of the equality of men and women. A much greater emphasis on the free choice of a partner. A strong distaste for particular roles in marriage, at any rate in theory (as usual practice lags behind).

Our society now accepts that some people fall in love with their own gender and make a commitment to go through life with them as a spouse. This arises quite naturally from a belief in the equality of man and women, and of a loving relationship as the basis for marriage. It is the logical conclusion of a path which has stopped seeing marriage as being about gender roles, and accepted that sex is not just about creating children.

Of course not everybody will agree. There are those who still see marriage as being very much about the willingness of a woman to surrender to a particular set of roles. That makes it hard to see that people of the same gender can marry.

Ironically, the emphasis in Christianity on marriage as a symbol of the ‘mystical union between Christ and his church’ really ought to draw Christians to a more modern understanding of marriage as based upon love and not upon role play. For Christians are called to be the body of Christ in the world.We are not called to be something really seriously different to what Christ is, but to be in Him, and to act as he would act. The Christian mystics all speak of the love of Christ, theirs for him, his for them. If we take that seriously, then the gender of a married couple ceases to be relevant.

Exsultet

Exult: exult angel-thronged skies, God-filled mysteries , Messengers and servants of God now blow your loudest trumpets. Such a king and such a victory. Rejoice earth, pure glory has flooded your corners and gloom picked up its skirts and fled.

Oh yes, Mother church rejoices, robed in lightning, and this hall resounds with the deafening cries of the peoples.

It is a just and worthy thing to acclaim with all the loving service of heart and mind and voice the invisible and all powerful Father and his only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

For these are the true paschal feasts, in which that real Lamb was slain, whose blood marks out the doorposts of the faithful.

This is the night, in which our mothers’ mothers and our fathers’ fathers, the children of Israel, were led out of Egypt and you crafted it so that they passed through the waters, and not even their feet were wet.

This is the night on which a pillar of fire purged the shadows of sins.

This is the night, this is the very moment, when grace comes back to those who believe in Christ wherever they are, and unites them with the saints.

This is the night when, having shattered the chains of death, Christ rose as victor from the underworld. For what would birth bring us, if he had not rescued us?  O marvel at your loving care enfolding us! O the immeasurable delight of your love: that, to redeem your servant, you handed over your Son! O necessary sin of Adam, expunged by the death of Christ.

O happy fault, which won so towering a Redeemer. O truly blessed night, for only night saw the moment and the hour when Christ rose from the dead. This is the night, of which it was written: And night will shine like day: night will light up my sweet joys.

O truly blessed night, in which heaven is joined to earth, the sacred to the human!

This night you are all grace and graces, fatherly God.

Receive all this: this candle, the solemn gift woven of our praise freely given, and of our work, and of the flowing gift of the mother honey bees.

This is one fire made many, yet never made less by its giving.

Fire and flame and a pillar in your temple, a precious torch which grows by dividing as it is fed by the mother bee’s melting offering.

We pray to you, o Lord, that this wax, dedicated in your name, may endure undimmed to destroy the shadow of this night. Receive it as a pleasing scent and let it join with the stars. May the morning star, the light-bringer, find its flames, that Light-Bringer who never sets. Christ your son, who, returned from the dead, shines serene upon the human race, and lives and reigns for ever and ever.

Amen.

(Sophie Agrell and Rosemary Hannah)

A clergy friend of ours asked if we could manage a free translation, shortened, of the Latin Exsultet, the great hymn of the church sung in the night when we look to the resurrection, which marks the lighting of Pascal candle. What you see above is what we came up with.