Monthly Archives: March 2014

Keeping it safe

Beauty from Chaos

‘So you do not blame them for sleeping?’ asked John. Jesus had worked the Ten Bridesmaids up into a good story and had been telling it during the day.

Those days, with the crowds, the only time we really got to talk was the night. I looked at Jesus. He looked fit to drop. Here, in private, and in the house with just the little light flickering he let himself look worn out. I knew that in the day, with the crowds, he would sparkle as bright as ever.

‘I do not blame anybody for yearning for sleep, no. But the point is, they have forgotten what they are there to do. Like the bridesmaids who have forgotten to get oil, or just not bothered to get it, I see people every day who have simply forgotten what this people of God are actually supposed to be doing. They have…

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Catching clean


I wrote the following for Thinking Anglicans – always an honour and a pleasure, and it turned out to be unexpectedly difficult to keep the boundaries myself – to keep the gospel where it is, with all its challenge, and yet to make it clear that the call was not to get submerged in the lives of the damaged in such a way that we damaged them further, and lost our own footing.

Do you catch clean, or do you catch dirt? Any fule do no that you catch dirt. If you sit next to Mrs Streaming Cold on the bus, before you can blink, you feel that wretched tickle at the back of your throat. If a cockroach crawls over your bread, it has made it dirty.

It is very easy to catch germs, and it is very easy to become unclean. We have an entirely well-based fear of contagion. It has kept us safe from sickness and plague. No wonder we trust it. It has protected us from moral and social contagion too. You don’t believe in moral contagion? Um. Well done. Only, ask anybody who is trying to get their teenager out of a downward spiral of behaviour. It is the friends who are encouraging each other in ever more destructive behaviour that are the first targets for action. Consult the various proverbs and comic verses. If you sleep with dogs you catch fleas. You can tell a man who boozes by the company he chooses (at which, the pig got up and walked away).

Dirt works like the Second Law of Thermodynamics. You can’t pass heat from the cooler to the hotter (try it if you like but you far better notter). No amount of sitting next to Mr Sports Coach on the bus will let you catch a six pack.

So it is that the unclean are shunned, like cockroaches. In Samaria, a woman who knows what she is comes to the well in the burning heat of mid-day. She does not need it pointed out again that she is a cockroach. She does not need the skirts drawn aside, she does not need the comments. She makes the pure unclean, just by being there. Jesus meets her, speaks to her as though she were not a cockroach, to be shunned. He asks care from her, and offers her cool water. Water from a deep well of pure.

In a remarkable story, layered with sparkling meaning, Jesus does one more remarkable thing. He makes clean pass to dirty. They touch. He does not become unclean. She becomes clean. The normal course of life is reversed in a transformation as remarkable as a resurrection.

What we consider clean and unclean has changed in my generation, in more than one instance most remarkably so. The principle remains. It is possible. It is possible to move towards what you think is wrong and impure, and to transform it by love. As I have prayed for poor Fred Phelps this week, I have been acutely aware of that. To me, he represents all that is most unclean. Yet he is an old man, dying.

This illustrates what love cannot do. Love cannot compel. I do not imagine Fred Phelps will have a death-bed conversion. Nor is the contagion of love a matter of hanging around to sort out the problems of others. Jesus is not derailed from his mission, he is not still in Samaria a year later, sorting out the upbringing of those children in one family with five different fathers. In a period which had no word or concept for ‘clear boundaries’, Jesus had astonishingly appropriate boundaries.

None of this should detract from the challenge of this story. Love, the disinterested love of our fellows on this earth, is the ultimate clean, and it does not work like the Second Law of Thermodynamics after all. You can catch clean, and you can pass clean on. We really ought to try it. Because, if that is not true, our faith is in vain.

Blaming an enemy

If you are at all interested in this, you might like to come on over to the Lent blog, Beauty from Chaos, where a different person posts every day.

Beauty from Chaos

He wriggled his back against the tree a bit, and narrowed his eyes. ‘A better story,’ he said, ‘There was a rich farmer – rich enough to have slaves to work the fields.’ We nodded, envious. Imagine that. Not working under the hot sun. ‘And he had his field sowed with corn seed. And it came up, nice green, and so so thick. Then, horrors. A servant, walking by the field, realised the horrible truth. Darnel! Looks just like wheat when it is young. Good for nothing, though, and once it is far enough up to tell it from the wheat – well!’

We paused to consider. Horrible situation. Try to weed it out, and you would grub out a lot of wheat too. Leave it in, and it was shading out the wheat. ‘So nothing for it, but tell the master. And you tell me, what do you think…

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Not in my name

This is a very angry blog post indeed, but bear with me – let us do the house-keeping first. Then we can throw all out toys out of the pram.

Secrets are always kept. Because they have, far far too often, been things which have done damage, we now strive not to have them. Secrets stay hidden, and are potentially dangerous. Adultery and abuse are secrets.

Secrets should not be confused with surprises. A surprise is prepared in private, but its essential nature is to be revealed at a strategic moment.  Birthday cakes are surprises.

Confidentiality is something offered by a stronger to a weaker. It is designed to protect the weaker by limiting potential damaging information to a safe circle, and it can ALWAYS be broken at the request of the weaker person, and it never protects or includes the stronger one. The identity of a rape victim is confidential.

So how has it come about that  the Design Group for Discussions about Same-Sex Relationships has become a secret meeting? A meeting which those invited to participate in, have been asked not to speak about to their nearest and dearest.

We are told that this is to support confidentiality. But see above – confidentiality can always be transparent if those in a vulnerable position wish to share their information. And it NEVER protects those in a position of control.

We are told that this secrecy will make the design group ‘a safe place’ – but if you see the note on secrecy above, you will see that secrecy is always a dangerous place. How can we have any confidence at all that those designing the process of designing the process have any understanding of safety if they do not understand the distinctions I outline above? While our church is structurally discriminatory to gay people, while outrageous things are said about them in its meetings (one is told that at a recent meeting LGBT people were referred to as ‘these people’) they cannot be asked to keep confidentiality about any process.

Let us be quite plain. The issues of LGBT inclusion in our Church (in my Church) affect almost ALL of us. They affect those of us who are LGBT. Those of us who have friends who are LGBT. Those of us who have family who are LGBT. They affect all of us who care about human justice. All of us who care about gender roles, and so all women, everywhere in the church, regardless of orientation. The future of this issue will make or mar our Church. It will either become a dull, sexist, unjust backwater, or it will become part of a new radically just society.

It is outrageous that the process set up is so unsafe, so untransparent that every Christian Episcopal LGBT person I know is boycotting the process. (Including Dr Beth Routledge, who blogs about it here). It is utterly outrageous that this is being done in my name.


We have frog-off. This evening, after a day of sunshine, the frogs are up and out and calling. I make that the earliest frog-off since I have lived here.