Monthly Archives: August 2011

Shining like a beacon

There are two categories of saint in the Christian Church. There are Saints, like Mary and Francis, and there are saints, who fill the pews. We are used, in the church, to people who are pretty holy, who are dedicated, focused and turned towards God, and we take it as a given that we will often encounter others, on the pews and in the leadership, who are like that. They are holy men and women, saints.

Then one runs quite suddenly into extraordinary holiness, and knows why the church has called some people Holy, or in the Latin, Sanctus, Sancta, Saint, in an unqualified way. People who have human flaws, but in whom the qualities of God shine like a beacon. And I sat, yesterday, and listened to one. He is Bishop Christopher Senyonjo. He is the one bishop of the Ugandan church who has stood steadfastly against the demonisation of gay people. He was careful to tell us he was only an assistant Bishop in the Anglican church (although either one is consecrated as a Bishop or one is not, it is not in fact possible to be a bit a bishop any more than it is to be a bit pregnant) and he came retirement age, retired, but went on working as a counsellor. Then some troubled young LGBT people were brought to him, who were having trouble accepting their sexuality, and having trouble finding a place in a deeply homophobic society.

It seemed natural to Bishop Christopher to start trying to change things, for the individuals and for his society. A blog does not allow one to write of everything he said, but I will pick out a few of the things which most impressed me.

At no point would Bishop Christopher get drawn into the blame-game. He did not blame his church or his society. He blamed ignorance of human sexuality. If there was more education, then people would understand. In the past there had been a superstition against women eating chicken, and with education now people understood that chicken was a good food for both sexes. It would be the same for gay people’s relationships.

He wanted to see a fuller and more authoritative role in his society for women, but he did not blame Islam for the patriarchal nature of his society – it was a cultural thing, he said, ages old, and needing changed. Nor did he blame Islam for attitudes to gay people. It was just ignorance, superstition. It was also down to an unhelpful way of understanding how to read the Bible – but he did not blame American Evangelical missionaries for that, either. Once again, the answer was more education, and more love. Love was a theme he came back to again and again, and I was reminded of stories that St John the Evangelist used to be carried in to his congregations as a very old man and would simply say ‘Only love one another.’

He spoke all the time very calmly, with no agitation, with no fear, with a deep deep kindness. He spoke of six months he has spent in America. His wife had asked him not to return to Uganda, because she was so afraid for his life, so many death threats had been made against him. However, in the end he had gone home. There was no anger in his voice. He blamed nobody.

What would the introduction of the notorious Ugandan bill with its draconian penalties for gay people mean? ‘It would be a disaster, a disaster’ not just for gay people, but because Africa should be tackling problems of disease, and lack of education, real problems and not illusory ones.

It what seems to us in the West like a terrible and sad situation, ever deteriorating, did not cow Bishop Christopher any more then death threats. ‘I am an optimist,’ he said, ‘things can change.’

Let me sum up. A man of retirement age tackled the Ugandan establishment head on over an issue which does not in any way personally involve him, accepting it brought a very real threat to his life, a threat of being beaten to death in very nasty ways, and also accepted the odium heaped on him in his society, and he did this because he felt called to love everybody. He refuses to blame those attacking him in any way.

He asked for our prayers. He asked for our support, that we keep lobbying, because he thinks it helps. I left knowing I had listened to one of the saints. No, to one of the Saints.

Not making it

I am not much in the way of buying special occasion clothes. I wear them all right, but usually I make them myself. However, currently I have a house being renovated, a book being prepared for publication and have almost no flat clean surface in my home, and dress-making does not seem like a cunning plan. Therefore today I sallied forth to buy an outfit for my grandson’s baptism in a couple of weeks.

I headed for a shopping centre, and as they are really all the same, it matters not which one. I picked the one with a good cheap fresh fruit stall. I started in TK Maxx where I remembered seeing a calf-length skirt and bolero jacket outfit which I thought would be suitable. It turned out to be a knee-length dress and jacket. As is always the case, the dress was too tight over the bust. They always are, my figure being like that – either that or fine over the bust and far too loose everywhere else. The answer is to cut a bit more generously at the top. An answer which did not apply in this case. So I found a very neat tweed jacket – which was too loose. And its smaller cousin, which was a bit too tight. And no trousers in both the right size and the right colour to go with them, not even in other shops.

I moved on to the other chain stores. I had many nice ideas for a ‘look’ which out of deference to the father of the baby (my own son) was to be pleasantly inconspicuous and not at all like the kind of thing I make. All the dresses were too short, or sleeveless, or both. Jackets in my price range were cheap and nasty. Quite a few had me goggling that anybody could even consider putting such a nasty fabric into what was plainly intended to be ‘smart-but-casual’ wear. Tailored trousers were either too tight at the waist, or too loose at the hip, causing an odd jodhpur effect that was not intended. I, who have always been a bit condescending about ‘George’ where I buy jeans and Ts suddenly realised what a sterling job they do. There was very very little suitable for a size 16 lady nearing sixty who does still want to look well turned out and smart, and does not have the kind of money to spend that Harvey Nicks expects her to have. Very possibly I would have had similar problems in Harvey Nicks, too, but am able to keep them as a kind of happy dream.

In the end I headed to the one single shop which does not cater at all for my age group – New Look. Here I found a very chic pair of very full trousers – so full the hip problem was abolished – and a very sweet Art-Deco revival chiffon blouse/jacket, which sits at the waist (fine with such full trousers) and has huge sleeves, and the kind of pattern which suggests a 70s revival of Clarice Cliffe. I also got a simple vest to provide modesty at the neck of the jacket. We will pass over the fact that I yearned to buy some teal blue fabric to bring out the touch of that colour in the jacket, and run up the trousers myself.

The only downside is that the outfit, while perfectly modest, and covering all the flesh that anybody might want covered, and not needing either new shoes, nor an new bag, not yet a new hat, looks exactly like something I would make for myself.