Andrew – The Name of the Day.

Today should really be March 6th – St Andrew’s Day. However, I shall ask for blessings on the following Andrews, anyway*. My amazing son-in-law, Andrew. Then Andrew Symes, writing for the Anglican Mainstream blog with a review of a book: “Good Disagreement: Grace and Truth in a Divided Church”, edited jointly by Andrew Atherstone and Andrew Goddard.

Symes tells us that the editors maintain that “gospel truth matters… error is dangerous and needs to be strenuously resisted”, and he comments that this must be done with grace, and also by carefully distinguishing between primary and secondary issues. I take that to mean those things that are the absolute gospel truth and the other things where there is a bit of leeway for fudging. And he acknowledges that an attempt to pursue “unity in essentials, freedom in second issues, love in all things” is not easy.

In my own village church over the last 20 years we haven’t so much agreed to disagree; instead we talked about our grandchildren and our gardens and what more we could do to be helpful/useful in the village or with overseas aid. The issue of same-sex marriage in the Church in Wales however has caused a major disruption. I feel as though I have been deliberately frozen out of my church and many others have felt that the last thing the supporters of SSM wanted was any discussion. Sadly, the attitude seems to be “you are old and prejudiced and therefore homophobic.”

At that point something happened to change the whole course of this blog! You might want to leave now because I’m about to climb on my language hobbyhorse.

The word homophobia has always puzzled me. The word phobia means “a fear, horror or aversion, especially of a morbid character”. Attached to homo shouldn’t it therefore mean “a fear, horror or aversion of men”—all men. I looked up homophobia in my copy of the shorter Oxford English dictionary and it wasn’t there, although ‘homo’ appears in the Addenda as a short form of homosexual. In fact homophobia was first used in the  1960s. So now the word begins to make sense. Clearly “homosexualphobia’ would be too much of a mouthful.

Unfortunataely the word is now bandied about freely, indiscriminately and in the main inaccurately. Surely not many people have a genuine phobia, a real fear or horror of same-sex couples? They may not like the idea, they may have genuine theological worries, but that’s a long way from a phobia. I know. I suffer from Ophidiophobia, and my daughter was even worse. When her godmother gave her a subscription to National Geographic Magazine I had to go through each month’s copy and cut out all the pictures of snakes before she could open it. That little exercise actually helped my phobia enormously and I haven’t fainted at the sight of a snake since.

*Nor will I forget Simon and Jude, Apostles, whose day it really is.

So Be It . . . .

Alerted by Archbishop Cramner’s blog, I’ve just caught up with Giles Fraser’s offering in the Guardian, about the nuisance caused by rural parishes. (I don’t normally readgiles blog The Guardian. It still seems to carry more than a whiff of a mid 19th century iron-master’s attitude to the deserving poor.)

Surely Fraser is just doing a Katie Hopkins, isn’t he? Attention grabbing nonsense—except that, in view of the horrific violence against Christians I think his suggestion of blowing up village churches shows a singular lack of sensitivity.

In any case, he’s nothing like as radical as he thinks. Those of us who live in villages have been there long before him and we know that much of what the Church does is very silly.

About 10 years ago Welsh congregations were presented with very posh, very expensive binders, entitled Investing in Mission*. I suppose the thinking behind the poshness was that we would take the contents more seriously. We didn’t, of course. We got furious at the waste of money. Members of village PCCs expressed themselves fairly succinctly, because nothing in it applied to rural communities; we’d be better off doing our usual things, which had so far kept our church lively, welcoming and relevant to the village.

The PCC Secretary showed willing by attending two of the six meetings held in the next village to discuss the project and then got fed up. From those two meetings two things emerged.

  • The injunction that we should put more money in the plate and stop wasting time and energy baking cakes showed as little compassion as  does Giles Fraser. A widow on a small pension allocated as much as she possibly could to the church—half went in the plate and half into cakes, which sold at the weekly coffee mornings for more than twice the cost of the ingredients. It also gave her real joy to think she was still able to do something for her church, to say nothing of the pleasure it gave the cake eaters.
  • The meetings listed the pluses of a village church. The value of a ‘sacred space’ in a church yard where our forefathers slumber; the Sunday services; Christenings, Marriages and Funerals; many special services to which Chapel goers and many others came; concerts, exhibitions, school celebrations, fund raising (with the emphasis on fun) from Bingo to Skittles. The list was long.

The conclusion was simple. When we can no longer afford the upkeep of the church we will lock the door with a heavy heart, put the key in a safe place and continue to worship—in a garden shed if necessary.

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Coffee after the Service in the dog kennel.

*’Awakening congregations to their responsibility in resourcing the mission of the local church using a multi-pronged approach to raising the issues, teaching and challenging commitment.’ Or you could just bake a cake.

I Told You So

Oh boy! Am I feeling smug. I am NOT a dinosaur nor an illiberal died-in-in-the-wool bigoted old fogey. My instincts, founded on sound common sense and close observation of the world about me, are right after all. Heterosexual parents in a stable, long term relationship – ie, happily married – are best for children. And there are not one but two studies to prove this.

I picked up the first one on the blog Anglican Mainstream. A report first published in 1994 in ‘Social Justice’ has just been updated by its two authors and an account of its findings is given under the slightly alarmist headline “Do children of single parents become criminals?”
And on the website of the Institute for Family Studies I found a paper entitled, more conservatively, “Marriage and Child Wellbeing”.

Just three quotes to make my point.
“….the children of continuously married, two-parent families fare better than do the children from all other family forms.”
“. . . . newer studies have uncovered considerable evidence discrediting progressives’ claims that cohabitation is a perfectly functional replacement for traditional marriage.”
“When it comes to child well-being, marriage seems to be more than the sum of its parts.”

As I noted in an earlier blog, the Bishop of St Asaph wrote in the Diocesan magazine, Teulu (family) Asaph, on the subject of same-sex marriage: “Let’s be honest. Society has never paid much attention to the Christian teaching that the only proper context for sex is within the faithful marriage of one man and one woman. Sex outside of marriage has been happening all around us for two thousand years, among Christians as well, and although many have sincerely sought to live with the Church’s teaching—and succeeded—there have been many people who have not.” So that’s all right, then, is it?

Well, it was enough to convince me that it was a family I could do without. I’d also like to point out it’s not just the Church’s teaching. It’s Christ’s teaching, and, no matter what the Bench of Bishops think, Christ has NOT changed His mind.

Bishop Morgan Inspired Musings

Last Monday we took a visiting friend out for the day.

First stop a tailor’s shop, hidden deep in the Conwy Valley. Before her, her father operated out of this little hut, providing every type of outfit from Eton uniforms to marriage suits— which then got let out to accommodate middle age spread and then got taken in again, as old age took its toll. But she’s closed on Mondays. We then went to Gwydir chapel, just outside Llanrwst. But you have to get the key from Gwydir castle, which is closed on Monday. Never mind, just across the road from the castle is Ty Hwnt i’r Bont, where they serve Welsh Rabbit (or Rarebit if you prefer) to die for—providing it’s not Monday, when they’re closed. Ty Gwyn, on the edge of Betws-y-Coed, was open, fortunately, and provided an excellent lunch; not Welsh Rabbit but Tomato and Basil soup, scallops, mushroom stroganoff and octopus salad, all fresh and delicious.

Then to Ty Mawr, Wybrnant, home of Bishop William Morgan, who translated the Bible into Welsh. They—the driver and the visiting navigator—said they’d checked on line and it was open till 4.30 pm. After taking a more than normally scenic route we finally arrived there at 4.10 pm where a notice on the gate announced that last admissions are half an hour before closing. But that information was irrelevant because it was closed all day Monday. So I just enjoyed the haunting isolation of the place and the concomitant peace and serenity.

William Morgan’s name is largely unknown today, which is hardly surprising because he was famous for translating the Bible into Welsh. I’m tempted to deliver a brief history lesson at this point because his is a story well worth telling and, for Welsh language speakers and enthusiasts, a vitally important one. Ty Mawr now contains a remarkable collection of bibles from around the world and it was in fact the Bible rather than Bishop Morgan that I was musing about on the journey home.

On BBC’s Desert Island, along with your eight discs, you will find the Bible and Shakespeare. Shakespeare is still on the school syllabus but what about the Bible? Do children ever get the opportunity to read the Bible these days? My guess is (and I would love to be told I couldn’t be more wrong) that Religious Studies for GCSE, which include such topics as citizenship, life issues, morality and philosophy and ultimate questions, don’t rely much on the Bible for example and illustration. In fact, the syllabus covers so many topics and so many religions that it can only skim the surface, and the Bible demands studying in depth.

If I’m right, what a wonderful world we are denying our children. What a hard task we’re giving ourselves trying to teach citizenship and life issues etc., without using all the amazing stories gathered for us in the Bible. There we can find storytelling beyond price. Get small children hooked with the story of Noah and move on from there. Joseph and his technicoloured dream coat—that’s got it all. There’s favouritism, jealousy, sibling rivalry, wickedness, crime, success, seduction, imprisonment, deception and guile, all building up to a triumphant finale. Skip several books and get to David. David and Goliath; David and Saul; David and Jonathan; David and Bathsheba.

I can see a problem, of course. If the Music syllabus doesn’t include a sufficient number of female composers to please young women they may object to reading a book written by men for men in a man’s world where assertive women are few and far between. There’s Judith cutting off Holoferne’s head and Jael beheading Sisera—both in a good cause, but there’s too much of that already in today’s world.

And yet, there are some amazing women in the Bible, delineated mainly in just a few words, yet revealing characters instantly recognizable. Read about Rebekah, for example, beginning in Genesis, Chapter 24. It’s a brilliant story, as relevant today as the day it was written, and should provide topics for discussion for several ‘Religious Studies’ lessons in more vivid language than any modern text-book will use. It will also pack more punch because it was true then and it’s true now, and that fact alone should give long pause for thought.

I trust Almighty God to know what He’s doing, though His “mysterious ways” are certainly hard to fathom at the moment, particularly in the Church in Wales. In fifty years time I pray my grandchildren won’t be blaming me for the fact they’ve only just discovered the wisdom of the Bible and resent the deprivation. I also pray that they will have enough of that uncommon attribute – common sense – not to stomp around, shrilly demanding apologies from the Minister of Education, if we still have schools and from the Archbishops, if we still have churches.

An after-thought: I wonder if it would make sense for churches to hold their major services on Mondays when everything else seems to be closed.

‘Nothing astonishes man so much as common sense and plain dealing’

“Nothing astonishes man so much as common-sense and plain dealing.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The Case of the Barrister’s Photo” has had a remarkable effect on me. As you know for several weeks I mused about this lady, and the comment—“stunning photo”—made by a fellow barrister, that she found both offensive and demeaning. I was worried because words that I’d used all my life suddenly seemed to have taken on new and, to me, hidden meanings and I certainly don’t want to give offence inadvertently.

Fortunately, since then, the world has thrown up several bits of news even more bizarre, and I have realised that the reason I feel confused is because, far from losing my marbles, I have actually retained my common sense; an increasingly uncommon sense, it seems to me.

First there’s “The Case of the Father/Mother.” A week ago I came across a blog by Caroline Farrow on Anglican Mainstream. It was her banner headline that caught my eye:
“Let’s get this straight. A man cannot give birth.”

The first sentence was both fascinating and frightening. “Did you know that describing the state of pregnancy as being solely applicable to women is considered offensive?” There’s that word ‘offensive’ again! Well, of course, I had to read on; what on earth could be offensive about the words ‘pregnancy’ and ‘women’? What other words are you going to use? Well, ‘pregnant people’ and ‘birthing individuals’, that’s what.

Ms Farrow’s blog left me needing more detail if I were to understand what was really going on here. I went searching for the Father/Mother in question, an individual called Trevor MacDonald, who is a great advocate for LGBTTQIA. (I had to look it up. The Q stands for queer, which I thought was definitely an offensive word but what would a confused misfit know.)

Trevor MacDonald, who never actually admits he was born a woman, has had two children, a boy and a girl, and in the Huffington Post you can read all about it. He began transitioning at the age of 23, including having his breasts removed, but he didn’t have “bottom surgery” so he still had the ability to produce children. Years later he got married to Ian and became a pregnant person. (I presume Ian’s was the penis that impregnated Trevor.) During pregnancy Trevor obviously had to stop taking testosterone etc. The baby grew in Trevor’s retained womb and the birth was perfectly normal, the baby emerging along the usual route. This isn’t actually stated as a fact, but it is noted that it was an “obstetrically normal” birth. Breast-feeding was a bit of a challenge, apparently, but then it often is, even with breasts. The HuffPo, as it is lovingly called, recommends that MacDonald’s video interview is definitely worth a look. “Not only did he speak eloquently about his experience but he also breastfed his brand new baby throughout the conversation.”

If you are tempted to think I made that up, or it was typical HuffPo nonsense read on.

This piece of news from the Daily Telegraph I have labelled “The Case of the Mother/Father”.

“Fay Purdham froze her sperm before spending £60,000 transitioning into a woman.” Now, apparently, she has launched an appeal for £100,000 for a surrogate so that she can fulfil her dream of becoming a mother. Well, no, Ms Purdham. Actually, since you don’t have the physical wherewithal you will be the baby’s biological father. You still need a woman’s womb and a woman’s egg, with your sperm.

Can you understand why I feel utter despair that common sense has flown out of the window? Nature abhors a vacuum and I fear the sort of things that are beginning to fill the void are going to have a disastrous effect.

Someone like Fay Purdham can say: “I am a woman but since I had the foresight to freeze my sperm before I became a woman I have the right to fulfil my dream of being both mother and father to a child”. Without common sense what is there to stop her overweeningly selfish, self-absorbed fantasy? It’s legal, and no medical staff involved dare mention moral, ethical or psychological concerns unless they want to lose their jobs.

Someone like Trevor MacDonald can say: “I am a man and I want a baby and, since I had the foresight to keep my necessary woman’s bits, I have the right to a baby; moreover, since I am a man I have the right not to be offended by the word woman.” And the intimidated Midwives Alliance of North America solemnly rewrote their guidelines deleting almost all mention of women.

There are plenty of other examples. A Dr Church lost his job of 30 years in a Boston US hospital, not for any medical reason but because of his treatment of gay men. He told them the truth about the effect some of their behaviours could have on their health. He also refused to go on Gay Pride marches.

An Irish baker refused to decorate a cake with a Same Sex Marriage slogan because of his religious principles. There were other bakers in town but the couple concerned exercised their right to take him to court. The Court found him guilty, although this smacks to me of religious persecution.

Before it’s too late can we all set out to astonish men and women with our own sound Common Sense and Plain Dealing?

No Worries. Dim problem

I needn’t have worried about making personal remarks at my Welsh Class last Thursday. In fact, we weren’t doing comparisons as I had feared. Instead we were revising Yeses and Noes. In any case, half and hour into the class I realised the question of what I could and could not say as personal comment wouldn’t arise with this particular group. We are there to learn Welsh and have fun. Age differences matter not a scrap when you’re agonizing about what sort of ‘yes’ you need for any particular question. Whether 20 or 30 or 70 or 80—it couldn’t matter less when you’re all struggling with the same mistakes over and over and over again.

If you’re used to replying simply ‘yes’ or ‘no’, or possibly ‘oui’ or ‘non’ or ‘ja’ or ‘nein’ the sheer range of possibilities in Welsh can come as a nasty shock. You don’t believe me? Read on.

If the subject of the question comes first it’s easy. Ia or naci. And there are some past tenses where you can answer merely do or naddo. I think with a question beginning ‘would you like. . .’ you can just answer oes, but I may be muddled about that. With every other question you have to answer with I do, I will, I would, or he will, they won’t, etc., as required. I think I counted twelve different yeses that I had to sort out on Thursday evening and I’m sure there are more.

When you’re frantically trying to pick out the right answer from all those possibilities you certainly don’t have the time to feel demeaned about anything, least of all a comment about a photo. On the other hand, if you’re worried about being demeaned you probably shouldn’t join a Welsh class in the first place.

By the way, you can say ‘thanks’ in Welsh—diolch. But guess what, you can’t say ‘please’! You can cheat and say plis, but to be correct you have to say—wait for it—os gwelwch chi’n dda. Which literally means ‘if you see good’.

As well as speaking this flowing, musical language the Welsh also sing and play rugby rather well.