Sunday, 7 September 2008

Mary Contrary

It has been smack on the wrist time from Mark Harris, who is worried that Anglican blogs are veering off into politics and he wants them to come back to order, keeping focus, a bit:

Meanwhile back in Anglican Blogland, tempting as it is to pay attention to the civil politics of the near present, where the US and Canada both are having national elections in the next few weeks, we need to pay attention to upcoming actions political and otherwise in our beloved churches.

I believe an important end game is being played out in the Anglican Churches. When it is over there will be Anglican Churches in conference that will have made the jump into modernity, and Anglican Churches in conference that will have avoided modernity like the plague.

Would that I could be so reliable. This is not an Anglican blog as such, and back in June 2007 I joined this blog world for comments political and religious. It is only Anglican in focus because that's where I am, and the political aspect has been relatively neglected. My second blog entry was political, and my third was about being a liberal Anglican and straight into the controversy of Richard Turnbull, who was doing a GAFCON before GAFCON to Wycliffe Hall Theological College. The starter gun had gone off, and I've been running around the Anglican circuit since.

I realise just how soul-rotting so much Anglican news is; Stephen Bates said this before and now Riazat Butt has said similar, that for Ramadan she would like to avoid the Anglican obsession with sexuality. It is rotting her soul too, and she isn't even Christian never mind Anglican. It is corrosive stuff.

I'm not sure about end games: one end game leads to another. Unravelling, maybe, where the shuffling and dealing of the pack of cards carries the danger of spilling them all over the floor. You get the sense of players who are angry and even careless, scoring points via bluffs and sleights of hand, and a game like that leads to accidents. A more practised, civilised, serious game, where people can look at each other intently, leads to fewer accidents. Sometimes I think that this Anglican game is so rough and with such bad manners that even the prize money is carelessly tossed around the table, and people claiming the property they have not won. The one thing that the Lambeth Conference was good for a few months back was for people to sit properly at the table and take note of what the players were doing. It didn't make much difference otherwise, of course, partly because some had walked off to another table and yet they carried on playing. Thus cards are also flying around across tables and people are pelting each other with chips.

Sometimes one wonders about the past more sedate world of Unitarianism, so decentralised that the blog world would have to carry disputes within congregations. Actually, in Britain, the ongoing sore was the General Assembly Object, a desperate sort of statement to gain definition by "upholding liberal Christianity", when Unitarianism has never upheld anything in particular, but just been where it has evolved and been as diverse as religious culture. That was my last campaign there, an end game then, when others seemed to be unconcerned. Actually, I increasingly switched off - it is when you stop engaging in the disputes that the end game really comes, and once you leave you ought not to carry on disputing (yet so many Anglicans who leave for continuing Churches carry on bashing the one they've left). That's not quite right: I switched off, then along came a local matter where I decided to make my point and having made it felt that the end had finally come. Thus I left, bizarrely, for somewhere that does uphold things, on the grounds that you may as well do it properly, so long as it is moderately.

It is even more bizarre that I now have a role locally at present providing discussion material for the In Depth Group that is overtly for theological discussion but covertly a safe space arena where some people want to say otherwise risky things, a group where nothing can be, is, nor should be, upheld. The ironies are well seen. This group was developing before I arrived; one of them was a subscriber for a year to a Unitarian publication. Actually, I have just been inviting people of other perspectives along, so long as they understand the ethos - that cannot be lost because others rely on it.

I was doing such this morning, when some people reappeared after holidaying - people with theological literacy (as someone said, it's not exactly Sunday School). This was after a service - back to normal after August - but with a strong theme about the Virgin Mary. As ever I sat and listened to the sermon, which was roughly along the lines of all the different positive takes on Mary, from liberation to family values, and our preacher gave his usual near-postmodern whole tradition approach where we each take our own reading but also allow the other readings to do their work. My liberalism is a little more selective than this whole tradition approach.

The problem I had is that virtually nothing of the Virgin Mary (and all of that) is meaningful. I'm like this liberal postmodern liturgical moderate Catholic, bumbling along with the words like water off a duck's back, who suddenly has a severe bout of scraped-out Puritanism. Today was one of those days. I can say all of the words - "Look no book!" - but come to a view that so much of this is just a load of crap. Someone came to me afterwards and said about the unknown history of Mary and "that's it". Yep, that's it. I'm not alone.

Someone, namely David Bradnack, has written this week that the Creed suggests bad science and it makes Christianity a religion of deception. Such would presumably include virgins giving birth to children. What about the Creed also being bad liturgy? In a Sunday Eucharist it stands as a member of the police force just after a sermon, just in case the preacher veered off. "Now you've heard that near-postmodern whole tradition stuff, here come the nutcrackers," the master of ceremonies did not say.

My view of liturgy is that it is like taking religious sentiments out of museum glass cases, to be put back again. I would prefer it if the Creeds were left in the glass cases and that they became jammed.

I'm not going to the Choral Evensong. My petrol level is too low for the time and place where I fill up. I had too many journeys last week and need to ration. I would have gone, otherwise, but I have to say it is a service theme I don't particularly want to encounter for a second time. For me the Virgin Mary is: bad science, a negative impossible image of the sexless virgin mother (of ridiculous and twee family values), and I hate it. I am blowing out candles with this theme, not lighting them.

On the other hand there is the story of the strain Jesus obviously had with his mother, and that she seemed always to be around. He seems to have brought her along to a wedding, but she might have been a problem. He said, "Hello, meet me mum." We know the feeling. He obviously went off to make some alcoholic drink. There seems to be something dysfunctional about his whole family, who seem to muscle in on the act after his death. Goodness knows what happened to dad: I wonder if mum and dad separated?

Oh, as if I could be bothered to speculate with this history-like stuff.

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