Monday, February 27, 2017

Bishops and bash-ups.

Following on from an earlier post, and the appointment of a new Bishop in Sheffield, I have been wondering how to disagree well.

There are many ways to disagree badly. Here are four:

We can deny, pretending there is no disagreement. When a contentious topic rears its head, we put our head down and ignore it, move the conversation on or explain away the row with double-speak. I don't advocate being argumentative but we need to have the courage to challenge assertions we deem questionable when they are made. Failing to do that may be a means of self-protection - it also keeps relationships superficial.

We can get defensive. Often, in our enlightened, left-brain, Protestant culture, we conflate our 'selves' with what we believe. A different opinion, then, becomes one and the same as its host, who therefore becomes an opponent, potentially capable of extinguishing us. So, we fight and lash out, attempting to 'crush' the (views of the) perpetrator, losing all capacity for playfulness.

We can manipulate. Rather than engage with a challenger head-on, as a respected and interesting equal that we do not fully appreciate, we use them and any flaws in their argument as an opportunity for promoting our opinion. We look for ways to humiliate them, write them off as quacks or win them over to 'our side', all for the sake of an ego boost or few extra supporters.

We can either brown-nose or uncritically support the underdog. Depending on our inclination, our desire to curry favour or stick up for someone makes us treat any 'truth' or merit on the other side as an insignificance.

What, then, does a good disagreement look like? A readiness to grapple with the matter at hand. An ability to step back from our views, recognising we and the Other person are more than they. A refusal to use conflict for selfish gains. A preparedness to question one's own instincts.

The appointment of a Bishop who opposes the ordination of women is one high-profile example, in my view, of the church mishandling disagreement. My own opinion on lady vicars is probably obvious but I hope it isn't the point. Rather, when I look at the above list, I don't see how people who feel forced to submit can possibly engage in an ongoing, healthy disagreement about such a fundamental and emtionally-charged issue. The appointment will lead to denial, defensiveness, manipulation and tribalism.

I'm really a bit baffled by it.......

Monday, February 20, 2017

Hopes for a great Emergence

According to Phyllis Tickle (et al) we are in the middle of an unsettling, seismic transition in church - and culture.

Tickle (hee hee!) relies heavily on Bishop Mark Dyer's theory that "about every 500 years the empowered structures ... become an intolerable carapace that must be shattered in order that renewal ... may occur".*

A symptom of all this is that we no longer know where authority lies. This unnerves us: we seek out guidance in new, untested places and / or cling desperately to ageing structures we silently fear are old wineskins.

Battles over and confusion about authority have certainly characterised my time in church institutions. If the Reformation wrestled down popes and corrupt institutions with Sola Scriptura and the priesthood of all believers, many of us now wrestle with the idolisation of the bible, the confines of denominational rules and the unrealised equality of every worshipper.

It seems to me very promising that the general direction here is of people daring to take more personal responsibility for their faith. Of frustrating attempts to palm off choices on our leaders, the bible, culture at large or any other authority external to ourselves.

I am not suggesting any woman is an island. Of course, we are social creatures. But taking responsibility for oneself seems, today, to be a rare and valuable gift. We blame:
  • immigrants for our joblessness
  • our circumstances and personality for our bad behaviour
  • those who think differently for our anger
  • new-fangled ways for our obsolescence
  • the bible for our inhumanity.

If Tickle is right, surely in spite of all the dispiriting immediate evidence, mankind is steadily moving towards a rejection of authoritative structures that allow us to evade personal responsiblity?

(Possibly, I am optimistic. Possibly, it is simply the case that in moments of transition, we fall back on taking personal responsibility because a new authority has not yet emerged!)

It seems to me that accepting personal responsibility for our universe is to accept the gift Christ offers us and offered us four chapters ago, when he showed us how to make choices, live a life and accept all its consequences. All to the beat of a very different drum from those followed by frightened clerics, politicians and peers.

* So, going backwards from 2017, there was the Reformation, the Schism, Gregory The Great / the Fall of Rome, Christ. Currently, we are the middle of the Great Emergence.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Of little use or ornament

In Mad Men, Mona remembers full-time parenting: "you sit looking at your child across the tea table, absolutely exhausted by the day. But you haven't done a single, measurable thing to justify such exhaustion."

I paraphrase. Watch Season 7 for the exact quote, which is great.

Ah, they say, but parenting is SO important. What could be more so than raising a person? So demanding. So rewarding. So worthwhile. All probably true....

Somehow, though, this kind answer doesn't quite address the issue. Which is that non-achievement, a lack of public recognition - not to mention small people - are exhausting. And usually, early life only prepares us for the exhaustion of over-achievement.

A parent never knows for sure what he's 'done'. The link between his input and a child's life is extremely complex. (Thank goodness - we are judgemental enough without a clear relationship between Mother's teasing and Jack's anorexia or Father's stories and Rachel's literary brilliance.)

Pre-parenthood, we (are taught to) assess ourselves in gaugeable terms. School and work life facilitate this. Often, so does home life, where adults critique themselves in terms of societal good-standing, promotions and mortgages or even happiness. Children are rewarded (not necessarily with money) for meeting the required standards of behaviour, mood, morality, performance, sociability or whatever. We use these superficial ways of accruing value, of achieving, to propel ourselves through life. They are energising, if superficial.

Sitting at home with infants offers you no purchase whatsoever on the slippery slopes of progress. The slow fall can be liberating, if you embrace lessons offered up by this intense, hidden, purely relational existence. It is also quite terrifying and wearisome.

Most of us parents need to break free, go back to our safe zones and achieve somewhere, sometimes - in career, social life, religion, possession-accumulation, hobby or however we shored up our ego in days gone by.

Even though we cannot reliably discern the fruits of parenting in our children's lives, we can learn things from this chapter. Having allowed ourselves to feel the exhaustion of non-achievement, for example, we might develop more compassion not just for other parents but for those facing even harder chapters of 'uselessness' - unemployment, illness, old age.

We might sit at the tea table with them, proving we're quite at home in the company of the useless and exhausted.