Tuesday, February 25, 2014

How long, O Lord ...?

I've been putting off writing for myself about church and state and same-sex marriage. I've exploded, once, on the Primus' blog; now I think it's time to work out what is, a couple of weeks on, still explosive. And my main feeling, reading and listening, picking up rumours about the SEC process with the issue and so on, is that I'm ashamed. I haven't walked out of the church - not yet, anyway - but I'm not happy about claiming kinship with people who can write, carefully and thoughtfully, something like this:
But it produces an interesting situation for churches and faith groups who, like the Scottish Episcopal Church, have a historic position expressed in our Canons – or church law – that marriage is between one man and one woman for life. That is our position. We expect our clergy and our members to acknowledge and respect it – even if in some cases they do not agree with it and aspire to change it. To change it would need a significant process over two years in our General Synod and would require two thirds majorities.

I wasn't brought up an Episcopalian. People who know me well know that my upbringing didn't really encourage anything so rash as faith, so that my confirmation at the age of 28 was actually an act of rebellion (sad, isn't it?). At that time, the Grey Book version of the Scottish Liturgy was in its infancy and a phone call from George our then bishop told me, as the youngest member of the old Provincial Synod,  not to vote for women priests. (At that same Synod, our then rector bemoaned the time spent discussing this as "unimportant".) It's as well to remember these things, and to remember that there are still people in the church who prefer to pray in Jacobean English and accept that "Father knows best" at every turn.

Why is it as well to remember? Think about it. It seems like another life to me. The young woman who stood up at Synod and demanded clarification over deaconesses who were women and deacons who held a post to which women could never aspire - that was me. At that same time the mother of someone who became a bishop in the SEC told me that it was women like me who should be going for ordination, and I was amazed. But in global terms, it's not so long ago, is it? To be precise, it's half a lifetime. And now things have changed where before they seemed immutable.

I have been going to the current General Synod for too long, as an alternate and then as an elected representative, and it's time I quit. But I long for someone to stand up and say this. Two years is nothing if there is hope at the end of it. Two years is nothing if people look seriously at a canon about a word - "marriage": stay with me - and realise that it is only a word and that it's not the word of God but a human word about a human institution that has existed since a time when people were ignorant of genetic differences.

The Primus says that we expect our clergy and our members to acknowledge and respect this historic position. No. I respect that it is history. Four hundred years ago the Church excommunicated Galileo. That's history too. We progress. We know now that people don't choose their sexuality - and a moment's thought would show the lunacy of supposing that any Christian would choose to adopt a lifestyle that would bring them so much pain and exclusion. Bit like choosing to be a woman, until recently ...

So are we going to be hung up on a historical fallacy while loving couples wait to have their union celebrated in the church they still - and God must wonder why - adhere to? Because the faith I still cling to encourages me to have hope, I still cherish a shred of optimism that someone in a position of authority will have the courage to lead the SEC back to where it was some years ago - and on, into a place where society will have less justification in consigning us to the scrap-heap of irrelevance.

And then, perhaps, I will feel less ashamed of the church that brought me, all these years ago, to God.

Friday, February 21, 2014

A high old time ...

Before it vanishes into the dream-like recesses of memory, a few words on our January holiday. We were walking with a holiday company called HF - no reason for originally choosing this lot other than the name, familiar from my parents' tales of pre-war holidays in the Highlands, but now a firm favourite. We had a week in Gran Canaria, staying in Puerto de Mogàn, which is apparently one of the prettiest of the former fishing villages on the south coast. As I've found on previous winter breaks in the Canaries, I think I would soon have been bored had we spent the entire week in this pretty village - there was a beach, and it was sunny, and there were cafés and tapas bars, but ...

But in the interior of the island there were mountains. A fantastic, volcanic landscape of huge calderas and bright green and red streaks of volcanic deposits, of steep-sided valleys and beautiful villages high on the shoulders of the mountains, where the almond-blossom told of much longer hours of sunshine than their opposite numbers far below. We spent five days walking there on wonderful paths - not your Munro-baggers' paths to a summit here or a distant peak there, but real paths built for communication, for mules and donkeys and people to pass between the valleys and the villages. Dramatic balcony paths used the split between two layers of rock to creep across the precipitous hillside; the occasional levada carried water across dry high plateaux. And we were able to walk here, to traverse ridges and ascend peaks and come down in quite another valley from where we had started, because we were being guided and because we knew that the mini-bus would turn up for us in some village square at an appointed time and whisk us back to our hotel.

I loved every minute of it. The walks, as promised, went on getting better as the week progressed, culminating in a hike to the dramatic Roque Nublo in the geographic centre of the island - we could see El Teide on Tenerife floating in the blue west from our path as we walked.  Our two leaders - for there are always two groups, so that the less energetic can choose a less strenuous option - were wonderful, setting just the right pace so that we progressed without feeling pressured, covering the miles with an easy stride that left plenty of energy for the hilarity that seemed to accompany us wherever we went. (It might give some flavour of said hilarity that one day was occupied by an argument as to whether or not Paul was riding a beast at the time of his conversion on the road to Damascus ...)

Most of our pick-up stops had a café, but whatever the day brought it ended in icy cold beer before we changed out of our boots and dusty clothes. We would march into our hotel bar like something out of a Western, and line up along the counter. Then the inevitable baths/showers/cups of tea/making sandwiches for the next day before the evening briefing and the scamper down to the neighbouring hotel for dinner. (Our hotel, where we had whole apartments as opposed to mere bedrooms, was refurbishing its dining room). We ate prodigiously and went to bed early. And then we'd rise in the chilly dawn (for it was chilly at 6.30am!) and start all over again.

We must have walked between 50-60 miles that week, and climbed or ascended several thousands of feet (people kept talking, confusingly, in metres ...). We were fit, and we all caught the sun despite our shady hats. I loved every minute of it. And I've just booked another HF holiday for May ...