(Almost) all you need to know in one glorious Book

Well, glory be and alleluia! The Church of England have finally woken up to the fact that children need to be taught Religious Education in schools—what we called Scripture and which gave us the firm foundations on which we could build our lives. Something solid. None of this woolly ‘Whatever’.

“Understanding Christianity” is a set of comprehensive materials for children from 4 to 14 to develop their understanding of Christianity. This is intended to help them to make sense of the world and their own experience within it. Let’s hope that will scotch the idea that God is an old man in the sky.

Revd Nigel Genders, the Chuch of England’s Chief Education Officer says “The ability for young people to have informed conversation and dialogue about belief and faith is key to building a peaceful society and helps combat ignorance and extremism”. Youngsters who can hold conversations about faith and have dialogues about belief will certainly help to put a spoke in the wheel of those “safe space” wimps who constantly seek a security blanket of some kind to protect them against anything such as a dangerous thought or an offending word. I’ve met old people like that but I find it difficult to get my head round the idea coming from “thinking” students.

I do hope schools will respond positively. The Bible is actually a wonderful resource for teachers. You can grab a child’s attention with an enthralling story and, with a biblical story, move on to history and geography; if you begin with the story of Joseph you can include drama and music as well. Moses lends himself to the same treatment; from the brilliant beginning of the baby in the bulrushes you can’t go wrong. Try cooking with manna in a lesson on nutrition. No maths? Go to Noah. By the time you’ve had the children work out the measurements of the Ark, calculate the amount of food needed for the animals and compute the amount of rain that will need to fall before the Ark is afloat I think you’ve covered a lot of the basics. Then you can move on to the building of the Temple.

I’ve often thought you could teach some age groups for a year without going much beyond Genesis and Exodus, (with no nonsense about Creationism) and still cover most subjects in the curriculum. Probably I’m talking through my hat. My teaching was limited to 12, 13 and 14 year old girls, all D streamers in a Secondary Modern school near Heathrow. If there was a curriculum I can’t remember what it involved.

I do remember one beautiful summer we measured things, beginning with the playing fields. We were none of us very good at Maths so I reckoned we needed to learn practical things like how much wallpaper and how much paint we’d need to decorate a room. And how much grass seed we’d need to sow a lawn. I was qualified to teach History but even there I taught the Georgians largely through the medium of Georgette Heyer novels. As David Attenborough said recently of his Zoo Quest series—“We’d never be allowed to do it now.”

Of course I didn’t have to prepare children for exams, apart from end of term tests. I can see it wouldn’t be much preparation for A level Maths or the International Baccalaureate.

We used to know the Bible much better than we do now; not just the New Testament but the Old Testament as well. What made me realise this was reading a short story by Dorothy L Sayers. She was a very good theologian but this was one of her murders. It was entitled ‘Nebuchadnezzar’, but that was just the name of the game that was being played. It was a form of charades, where the letters of a name were acted, scene by scene. This was around the early Thirties, I think, when these games were taken very seriously, with dressing up and appropriate props such as colander helmets and toasting fork tridents. In the story, the first letter was definitely J, either Jezebel or Jehu, and the next letter was either A for Adam or E for Eve. The third letter was either N for Naaman, L for Leper or E for Elijah. They left the Bible for the fourth letter. L for Lancelot or E for Elaine was from the Knights of the Round Table. Finally, the last scene, again from the OT, revealed the word to be Jael.

You couldn’t do that these days, not even in a theological college where the teaching of the Old Testament is, apparently, severely limited. You could argue that these are not very nice stories to teach children but in the middle of the horrible history of Jezebel you read the wonderful passage where God comes to Elijah, not in the wind, nor the earthquake nor the fire “but after the fire, the still, small voice.” The hideous slaughter going on in that part of the world (the fall of Fallujah, as I write) makes the Bible battles both topical and relevant.

In any case, I don’t think, if it’s being carefully taught in context, the story of Jael hammering a tent peg into Sisera’s head, is anything like as bad as some of the on-line games modern kids play.

NB When BT said May 27th they meant June 7th but I’m not holding my breath. I actually began writing this on May 27th in hope!

 

Learn more about the Trinity

or not, as the case may be.

Last night three Anglican priests alerted me to a podcast on the St. Asaph Diocesan website. One priest called it ‘appalling’, one said he could understand my despair and the other merely sent me the web address with an exclamation mark.

While writing this blog I’ve been wondering whether to post the web address here but I’ve decided to just tell you about the podcast. It advertises itself in the sidebar as Trinity podcast. If you’re really interested you can find it for yourself.

“Learn more about the Trinity and how it can help unpack the mystery of God.”

Unpack the mystery of God? It makes it sound as if it’s a thing – a jigsaw puzzle or a Lego kit – that we take out of the box occasionally and try to fit together. I’m amazingly fortunate – I only have to look out of my kitchen window to be almost overwhelmed by God’s mysteries, but we don’t need majestic panoramas for mysteries. William Blake knew this. In Auguries of Innocence, (1803). he wrote:

“To see a World in a Grain of Sand And Heaven in a Wild Flower,                                                  Hold Infinity in the Palm of your Hand, And Eternity in an Hour.”

He was echoing Julian of Norwich who died 600 years ago this year. Mother Julian was a Mystic and always insisted she was unlearned, yet her words still carry a powerful punch today. I think Blake was probably thinking of this particular passage.

“And in this he showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand as it seemed… In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second is that God loves it. And the third is that God keeps it.”

How come 600 years ago and 200 years ago they knew so much that we seem not to know any more?

The five minute podcast is a conversation between the Revd Dr Manon Ceridwen James, Director of Ministry and Tracey White, Diocesan Funding and Training Officer. It is ill-conceived, poorly executed, essentially trivial, and I must admit I did despair when I listened to it.

Manon begins by explaining the Church’s teaching on the Trinity. “God is three persons – Holy Spirit, Father and Son. God is three and one. I don’t know how that can be but God is a mystery. I know that’s a bit of a cop out.” It’s certainly not much of an explanation of the Trinity, however Tracey is on hand to help out.

“I think we over complicate it a bit. I used to think that God came first, then Jesus and then the Holy Spirit because that’s the way it’s kind of taught in church.” Fortunately a Vicar pointed out to Tracey that at the creation the Holy Spirit was already there.

Genesis, Chapter1. Verse 2. ‘And the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.’

It’s a pity that same vicar didn’t sit her down and do a bit more teaching, because she says, “This was a bit of a freaky thing for me, that the spirit had been around because I thought it had only arrived at Pentecost.”

Is this an example of where the young have been let down? I can remember doing Genesis in Scripture in school. It took a year or more because the stories were enthralling and we had it drummed into us that these stories were helping us to understand Eternal Truths. (Which is presumably why I now have such trouble with menstruating men.)

Tracey says she understood the Trinity when she read “The Shack” but her comments on it don’t do the book justice. “God is a big black woman. Jesus is a kind of hippie carpenter and the Holy Spirit is a kind of shape shifting being who sort of flies around, not flying but just moves and you think you see her and then she is not there, she’s somewhere else.”

I have read “The Shack” and it’s a story that deserves better than that. The author, Wm Paul Young, wrote it in 2007 to help his children understand the Trinity. He had to self publish it in Oregon in the States where it caused controversy and divisions, particularly with the more fundamentalist churches which considered it heretical. Within a year it had sold 1 million copies. It is genuinely helpful in explaining the Trinity and it also got many people, Christians and non-Christians, talking, questioning and arguing about it. It’s well worth reading.

Tracey goes on to say “I’m also glad we’ve moved away from the Holy Ghost. I remember as a kid I found that quite scary, the idea that there was this ghost about. It’s good that that seems to have gone out of fashion.” I doubt these childhood memories will help anyone to understand the doctrine of the Trinity, or Manon’s reminiscences explain the gift of the Spirit.

I found this statement from Tracey rather worrying. “We seem more open to the Holy Spirit now.” Now? Does she think this is something we’ve just discovered? What does she think the saints of old were doing when they wrestled all night in prayer? What was the Anchorite, Julian of Norwich doing locked in her cell for most of her life? Being open to the Holy Spirit, that’s what.

There are some more comments that seem to indicate odd theologoical ideas. For instance, Manon says, “When we think about God we think of God as an old man in the sky.” Who is this ‘We’? Who does she meet who think this? Certainly not the golden oldies of my generation who make up the bulk of the pew fillers these days. We knew better than that by the Third Form.

Inevitably we get to gender. “God is usually referred to as the father but it’s nice to hear other ways of addressing God,” Tracey tells us.. There’s some chat about the reassurance for Tracey, being female, that there is an idea of femininity with God; that’s really helpful as well. There’s some discussion about Jesus being female because he is wisdom, a word which is feminine in both Hebrew and Greek. Finally, Manon brings the podcast to a close. “We don’t have to think in gender terms about God. We can be a bit more creative….. That’s really helpful, for example, for people who had bad experiences with their fathers; it’s helpful to see God in different ways.”

As far as gender is concerned Mother Julian got there first. “Our Saviour is our true Mother in whom we are endlessly born and out of whom we shall never come.”

I am left wondering what on earth the churches have been teaching over the last 25 to 30 years.

NB I haven’t been able to blog for a couple of weeks – weak signal. Still can’t manage pictures. BT promise to transform my life on May 27th. Maybe.

 

Not Passionate Enough?

The Archbishop of Wales must be very happy with one recent appointment up here in North Wales. In response to Dr Morgan’s apology for the “persecution” suffered by Lesbian and Gay people over the years at the hands of the church the Bishop of St Asaph has appointed the Reverend Sarah Hildreth Osborn as Chaplain to the LGBT community. She is the Rector of Llanrwst and three other churches, who added the name Osborn when she “married” her wife last summer. She is to provide a ‘safe space’, the Bishop says, “where people can learn and grow together, share stories, find healing and be encouraged in their journey of faith.” A bit like church, then. I hope the safe space won’t be like the ‘safe spaces’ students need to help them avoid any contact with people who have different ideas and beliefs that might offend them.

I’m sure this is also very good news for the congregations in Revd Hildreth Osborn’s four churches. These congregations have dwindled over the last five years, in one case from 35 to 7, so they will be very glad to welcome all those who previously felt outsiders, but now know they can be assured of a warm welcome in the Conwy Valley.

Bishop Gregory told his readers that the bishops, in their pastoral letter, ‘believe that the Gospel calls us to include gay and lesbian Christians in the life of the Church.’ I’ve been reading the gospels regularly over many years and in many different translations and I don’t think it ever gets quite that specific, but I completely agree with him that, as an Anglican, even a misfitting one, I should be honest and open, and treat everyone with respect. I’m horrified that the bishops had to write, in so many words, that ‘we reject absolutely violence or hostility’ towards gay and lesbian Christians—or anyone else!

Bishop Gregory began his Ad Clerum talking about Saint Catherine of Siena. She is one of the saints he would most like to meet. That would be an occasion when I really would love to be a fly on the wall. He adds that the values of her age are not the values of our own, and there are bits of her life and character which sit uneasily in the modern context. Yes, well, I can think of plenty of so-called values in our modern context that sit very uneasily with me, now.

Lastly the bishop commends St Catherine for her commitment to deep prayer and her passionate involvement in the world and the issues of the day.

I have been long retired and live in an idyllic isolated place but that doesn’t stop me trying to be involved with the world and the issues of the day, and I hope it never does, even if the passion becomes a little feeble at times. I also believe that as a Christian I should try to commit myself to deep prayer—well, I thought that was something Christians do.

In which case, why are the Welsh bishops apparently ignoring Archbishop Welby’s week of prayer leading up to Pentecost. Not only are the Anglican churches in England doing this but many non-conformist churches and chapels are enthusiastically joining in this great wave of prayer. There’s nothing remotely controversial here. Just prayer, and along with prayer the suggestion that individual Christians might like to talk about their faith over a meal, or coffee and cake, or a pie and a pint in a pub. That makes great sense to me, since those are two of the things our Lord spent a lot of time doing—eating and drinking with sinners and passionately wrestling in prayer.

So why on earth are we, in Wales, not joining in? There are no border guards between us and England. No one has yet built a wall across the A55. Is the problem that deep prayer is no longer advocated by the Archbishop of Wales or are our Welsh bishops simply not passionate enough?

It Must be a Joke!

 

Just as I begin to think I’m not an Alien and the world isn’t getting more insane by the minute, and the lettuces are beginning to grow and there are no signs of the sleepless slugs then Wham! I read a headline that threatens to send me into orbit again. However, I have learned to listen to my one and only husband (notice I’ve dropped the ‘so far’) and now I pause before I blow my top. And in that pause I realise a particular headline must be a joke, though a joke in rather bad taste.

Here is the headline in question: “Students call for sanitary bins to be placed in male toilets for transgender men on their periods.” You can tell the students involved are British because there’s no nonsense about ‘bathrooms’.

Birmingham and Cardiff universities are pressing for these changes with Southampton going one better. Students there have drawn up a “Trans Inclusion Policy.” The word ‘trans’ is defined as a “wide umbrella term, covering those who transcend traditional boundaries of gender and sex, those who are gender variant, and those whose gender identity does not match their assigned gender.” The statement goes on to say that the majority of negative experiences among trans students was caused by single sex toilets and changing rooms. “All suggestions for improvement included either the number of gender neutral toilets available, or adding sanitary bins to male toilets for men who menstruate.”

I’ll pause now while you either tear your hair or roll around laughing.

The NUS estimate there are about 28,000 trans out of a total student population of 2.3 million. Which means that a majority of female students would probably be made uncomfortable sharing a toilet with a bearded person with a penis, whereas many others would know it’s just a piece of nonsense.( You don’t imagine, do you, that there were any sanitary bins in that 28 seater Chinese toilet I was writing about last week. One can always make one’s own arrangements.) After all, students these days are not known for their tolerance, if unplatforming efforts and their need for safe spaces are anything to go by.

At this point I must declare an interest. I was once a student at Southampton. I was the first of my extended family to go to a university and my parents had to face widespread disapproval along the lines of “What’s the point. She’ll only get married.”

After the nurturing encouragement of a grammar school I learned to live in a most unsafe environment, surrounded by people much cleverer than I was, from all sorts of backgrounds, who constantly challenged my views and opinions and beliefs. For my first year I was usually out of my depth and frequently scared stiff but I thought that was why I was there—to grow, to develop, expand and stretch out to all that was out there.

Pondering on those days a thought suddenly struck me. Evolution doesn’t happen quickly; even half a century is just a blink of an eye. Students can’t have developed into alien beings in 50 years, therefore they must be having a joke—seeing what they can get away with. Alternatively, the few who have drawn up this inclusive policy document for the sake of menstruating men are quite sincere—sense of humour lacking activists—and the great mass of students are too busy finding un-safe spaces in which to grow, or merely grow up, to bother with bins of any sort, anywhere.

The clincher was provided by my one and only—a former President of Southampton University Students’ Union, who is convinced that the average student, these days, is likely to be a pembwl* gwyrion.

 

*tadpole. Some colloquial expressions don’t translate.

This blog looks very boring. For some reason it won’t let me add any photos.