Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Thoughts of a Grumpy Old Pinterester

When I’m at a bit of a loose end I quite like flicking through a magazine.  I haven’t got time to get involved in a good book, I just want to be a bit distracted by looking at some pretty clothes, something funny, a nice kitchen, or a new recipe.  I don’t take it too seriously and it is just something to fill a moment of quiet between one thing and the next.  Trouble is, I don’t often buy magazines so I don’t usually have any to hand.  That’s why I like Pinterest; it’s an easily accessible, ever updating magazine.

I’ve started to notice a few problems with it though.  Firstly, it works like pornography.  Those who talk about the effects of pornography say that although it isn’t technically infidelity, by thinking about someone other than your significant other you think about having someone else, you compare what you have with what you could have, you see other people having better things than what you have and you start to feel dissatisfied with what you have and then you feel unhappy.  Pinterest does the same thing; you go from “That’s a pretty bedroom” to “It’s prettier than my bedroom” to “Why does she get to have that pretty bedroom?” to “I hate my bedroom”.  Now, I love my home; we’ve lived there for nearly twenty years; it’s the home my husband and I have made for and with our two children and it contains more than just the stuff we own.  Of course I would change things if I could, but it works well enough and actually I can't be bothered with constant home improvement.  But I’m noticing a little worm gnawing at my contentment with it.  Pinterest!  I’m watching you!  I do not need a villa on a Spanish Island, or a free standing bath with spa jets.

The second thing I’ve noticed is the cute sentiments that get propagated around it in no time!  Things like this:

Really people?  Is that true or is it just a way to make someone feel better about not having the courage to sort out something in an honourable way that doesn’t destroy other people in the process?
Or this one:

Are you sure???  What sort of sick, masochistic God do you follow???  Please explain the theology of this?
And don't get me started on what people do with scripture!!!  Look at this:

Totally ignoring what the verse is actually about, justifying bad behaviour and worshiping the God of pulling yourself up by your own efforts!

Maybe we should actually analyse what the outworkings of these sentiments are before we scatter them around…the more they spread around the more people tend to view them as truth.  As I finally reach the stage of Grumpy Old Woman-ness I’m getting a bit outspoken about it.  If you follow me on Pinterest I’ve started a board called Things to Question.  Even if nobody else reads it, it makes me feel like I’m asking myself some important questions about what I’m seeing.

And finally, a big bee in my bonnet: so many images of women looking either like skeletons or like freaky body builders, with lots of exhortations to perform 3000 jumping jacks so I can look the same.  Occasionally images appear of curvier women, but sadly they are usually connected to dodgy sites!  Why are we doing this to ourselves?  Isn’t it enough that men do it to us, and increasing to themselves as well!  Let's have more of this:

I’m not even going to start on American understandings of cooking* but suffice it to say that I’m looking at Pinterest in a more thoughtful way these days.  

*No!  Opening 3 jars and adding them to a can of ready made “Biscuit Dough” does not constitute cooking from scratch.  And NO!  reducing the number of ingredients by using packets and jars does not make it a good recipe!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Handing on the flame Part Deux

On Saturday I blogged my reflections on the Olympic Opening Ceremony and had a few positive responses.  Since writing I’ve continued to think about what I mean and so I’m writing “Handing on the Flame, Part Deux” to carry on my internal conversation.  Feel free to join in.

Somewhere in the “Money” Chapter in Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster says (my summary) that Money has spiritual power because we want it and hold on to it.  By giving it away we break that spiritual power and free ourselves to have the relationship with money that God intended.  He suggests that we give away money not for the good it will do the people we give it to, but for our own sake, for our own spiritual health.  I think it’s the same principle that’s at work in the idea of the year of Jubilee.  If, every fifty years you have to give land back to the original owner you can’t become dependent on it for your sense of who you are;  you always have to know that everything we have belongs to God.  It forces a radical, paradigm shift in your understanding of wealth, power and privilege; it stops you from creating an identity based on what you can hold on to and instead forces you into a radical reliance on who you are in God.

I think that the model suggested by the Opening Ceremony has the same effect.  The Olympic heroes were in effect saying “This doesn’t belong to us; it’s bigger than what we have been and what we want” and the same would be true in the church.  We think that we can’t let young people be involved in the running of the church because they aren’t mature and wise; they don’t know enough to run it as well as we do.  What we’re really doing, though, is hanging on to our power and privilege.  Maybe this is why so many found the ceremony so moving, and why some others found it so offensive.  It was moving because it offered an opposite vision of what could be, and it was offensive because it challenged people’s ideas about a world based on prestige and success.

Cyd Zeigler on SB.com said this, which rather epitomises this attitude:

“The grand finale, the moment I was waiting for most, was the revealing of the lighter of the flame. So many great options were floated out there...and they chose one more boring and more forced than any other I'd heard: Seven no-name young athletes. I'm sorry, you've got to earn that honor. You've got to achieve greatness before you get to light the Olympic flame. You've got to inspire a nation. Instead, the event producers decided to hand the honor to a bunch of kids.”

I rather think he missed the point; that by giving away the honour to “a bunch of kids” Danny Boyle did indeed inspire a whole nation and maybe even further afield.

The Opening Ceremony programme says this:

“But we hope, too, that through all the noise and excitement you’ll glimpse a single golden thread of purpose – the idea of Jerusalem – of the better world, the world of real freedom and true equality, a world that can be built through the prosperity of industry, through the caring notion that built the welfare state, through the joyous energy of popular culture, through the dream of universal communication. A belief that we can build Jerusalem. And that it will be for everyone.”*

Maybe the same applies to the church: if we give the future of the church to our children, as terrifying as that sounds, the shift in our souls will be so profound that the church will be transformed into something we never dreamed possible. 

*Isn't it interesting that the image Boyle used is of Jerusalem, the city where God meets his people.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Handing on the flame

I watched the Olympic Opening Ceremony last night and was moved in many ways, but the part I found most moving and resonant was the lighting of the cauldron.  There has been a tradition of the person lighting the cauldron receiving the highest honour, and it is given to an individual whose achievement is above and beyond any other.  The British media and blogosphere has been speculating about who will receive this honour, with some cynicism.  The underlying feeling has been that it will go to someone who doesn’t quite deserve it but who has managed to somehow wangle it because of privilege and position, and I must admit to sharing some of that cynicism.

How wrong I was!  The flame was brought into the stadium by someone who is indisputably our great Olympian, Sir Steve Redgrave.  But then a miracle occurred.  He handed it to a group of young, unknown athletes.  The commentator Huw Edwards described it as “the transfer of the privilege and honour of lighting the flame.”  It was handed to seven unknowns, young people who are just starting out, as yet untried and unproven, but full of potential.  It was handed on by an older generation who recognised their potential and saluted and supported them in that.  The rest of us watched and cheered them on.  Huw went on to observe “Seven Great British Olympic heroes offering that honour to these young athletes”.  In other words it was freely given in recognition of hope in the future, offering, but not imposing on them, a vision of all that’s best in our life together.

It’s notable that it was given not to one, but to a team, as part of a ceremony that valued the contribution of not just the great and the physically able, but included the deaf, the old, the builders and plumbers, the Queen, children, nurses.  It was a ceremony that showed our pride in who we are and our hope for the future, served up with a dose of affection and humour.

It struck me forcibly that this is what the church could, and should be, in particular, and most importantly, the way in which we hand on the flame of faith to the next generation.  Let’s not wait until they have to tear it out of our cold, dead hands, by which time they have grown bitter and tired of waiting.  Let’s put our faith in them and the future and hand it on while they are still full of vision and energy, passion and life.  Let’s not keep the power and privilege to ourselves but lay it down in the hope that something new and vibrant will grow.  

I could go on about the changes that have occurred between how the Olympics was in 1948 and how it is now; training methods, the style of the opening ceremony, the nations taking part, the addition of technology.  Of course the 2012 Games don’t look like the 1948 games, but it’s still the Olympic Games and no amount of politicking or abuse of its values seems to damage what it is.

Paul said, in his letter to the Philippians: “…one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus. And maybe this should offer a vision for us not just as individuals but as a whole people of God.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Women in the church

I’ve been reading Rachel Held Evan's  blog and others connected with it for a while now, and have been really interested in thinking about the role of women in the church for years now.  I’ve been a feminist for as long as I can remember and have been fortunate enough to be an ordained minister in a denomination that doesn’t have a problem with that (in theory…but practice is a bit of an issue in place, but that’s a whole other blog).

Today I read this blog  (These square pegs) and the comments associated with it.  I also recalled the different conversations I’ve had over the years with people, mainly women, who talk about how they like the church community they’re part of but struggle with the attitude and teaching on women’s roles in the church.  I’m particularly moved by the depth of emotion expressed by Liz when she talks about how often the church she is part of now talks about Colossians 3.  Please note this isn’t directed at those folks who say that they don’t like the complementarian position but that it’s not a deal-breaker for them – my questions are aimed at those who expressed a lot of pain and frustration about it.

The question I want to ask Liz, and all those other women who have “settled” in a church that has a complementarian position is “Why do you stay?”  If you are so upset and so hurt by the position your church community takes why do you stay silent?  Why do you give tacit support to a structure that makes you scream at the injustice?  There are plenty of loving, godly church communities where your many gifts and callings can be recognised and where you will not have to sit in the Lord’s house every Sunday feeling so righteously angry.  Is it because to leave would be uncomfortable? Might split your family?  Might mean you would have to say out loud what you think?  Because you’re probably right.  My next question is “What injustice would your church community have to commit before you felt you had to speak up?”

If you did speak up about it a lot of other people might say they feel the same way.  And if you did leave and remove your support and encouragement, and all the other women did the same then the men leading these unjust structures might actually be forced to read their bibles again.  And then maybe your daughters wouldn’t have to be so hurt by their fathers in the way that you were.

Sometime later:
I wrote this blog a few weeks ago but never got round to posting it but then I read Sophia Network's blog and was reminded of it.  I was particularly stirred by this:
Malcolm Duncan mar11It strikes me that to believe in something means that you must live out of that belief – so that is what I have done. I am deeply uncomfortable with the view that you hold a position, but do nothing about it because of fear of what others might say, think or do. So for me, being committed to the view that I hold meant that I could not secretly hold it, but must play my part in advocating it, teaching it, practicing it and living it out – albeit within the context of Christian community, sensitivity and seeking not to be an offence to others. I cannot control whether other people are offended by my view – but I will not pretend not to hold it.
And I was stirred up enough to say my piece as well; I’m sorry if doing this causes some offence, particularly to my sisters who have already been wounded by the churches they belong to, but if you’re sitting in a church that makes you feel less valued because you’re a woman, please consider speaking up, or leaving it.

I also want to thank Malcolm and other brothers like him who see this as a gospel issue and are not prepared to remain silent.