Thursday, 11 June 2009


Tim Goodbody writes about why he is still an Anglican, when I wonder whether I should be, a reflection taken further when I spent Wednesday evening unplanned listening again to Yusuf Islam. This absorption started with Cat Stevens in 1971, then Imagine (with Alan Yentob) and Yusuf's story of disappearing into his own musicless Islam and the community and then re-emerging into moderate, engaging Islam, and then his recent BBC 4 Session. This is a person of spiritual depth who sings about transition, love, peace and faith. I appreciate even his song Beloved, which is about the Prophet, and indeed I could listen to that many times as I can listen to George Harrison and My Sweet Lord (about Lord Krishna). However, it is his songs of transition old and new that mean most to me.

Some folks near and far know that I stray to some religious channels just to sit in incredulity, though I have a soft spot for the communication Genesis-Revelation sets up with its clientele. So I happened on two people this time, a nurse it seems permanently staring into the camera and the usual presenter who looks here, there are everywhere and has a Bible verse in his head for most things. As the nurse was being rather broader than the usual, he suddenly decided to declare that he was dogmatic on only (three then) four things. I nearly fell off the chair. They were the resurrection, otherwise they are wasting their time, and he said there is no science to prove the resurrection; the virgin birth because Jesus could not have a human father; the creation (literal, as in Genesis) otherwise Christianity all then falls apart; and the Jewish people whom God will gladly restore to Israel - thus this presenter is part of the Christian Zionism of that station (and some of its anti-Islamic rhetoric is as dangerous on home turf). At other times he has said this restoration of the Jews to that land and the coming of the Messiah is around the corner in terms of his lifetime. That's what they always say and they are always disappointed.

Well I didn't stay long, to hear again a bit more of the human journey some 60,000 years back towards Australia. That's rather earlier than origins according to these bizarre creationists, as indeed is the appearance of this world and the making of the universe itself: and if they wish to have such a high barrier to their beliefs at which 'it all falls apart' then that's their problem. As for this ethnic preference for the Jews, it means nothing but strife and conflict and of course it puts land ahead of faith (of any kind). Like Yusuf Islam says, we have to work for peaceful ways ahead through all these incredibly difficult conflicts.

But of course many a Christian, rejecting the Creationism and the obsessive right wing Zionism, will affirm the virgin birth and resurrection, and some will affirm the resurrection. Whilst I can just about say that someone can 'live a resurrection life' (though I don't see the difference between that and living a baptism life - they both have the dying and rising metaphor) I certainly do not believe in a virgin birth (not in any necessity to believe in that - rather the opposite because a fully human Jesus would need two parents to qualify) but nor do I believe in a resurrection in any historical sense. I am not even satisfied that there were subjective experiences, at least shared ones and generally. The story has the concept for direction for something that will be and is delayed while the Church community is in between the beginning of the end and the end. thus identifying with the community you can live that resurrection life: an issue of outlook and stance, in a sense that with Islamic concepts Yusuf Islam has modelled his life - and looks to a time when the children killed in war are resurrected to an endless playtime.

Tim Goodbody is ordained and the Church of England gives him the advantages of outreach, yet he opposes the parochial system. It is a contradiction that he recognises. People go to rites of passage, or to appear at folk-religious festivals, which is a chance for his sermon moment of manipulation - I suppose if people enter the institution for such purposes then they should expect such a message. He also uses his access into public institutions to spread his word, which I find more problematic.

He also dislikes all the politicking. So the two integrities are an oxymoron and he is frustrated by the 'continual haranguing that evangelicals get from the liberal wing of the church for our position on matters of sexual morality'. Does he expect the issue to go away?

The existence of dispute shows that there is life in an organisation, because people will always disagree; however, there is no doubt that the level of disagreement in the Church of England is such that it is sapping the life out of it. The dispute is such that it demands institutional changes and realignments, which will kick off in earnest with making women as well as men bishops.

As for myself, there is that sense of transition again. I've been here before. It is like one of those product cycle curves. You've relaunched via a new product, this time me back in the Anglican Church. You dip down at first because it is a change of environment and there are new specifics when you had the previous stances. But then there is the 'getting into it' and the curve rises upwards. All is fresh and new. You become much more comfortable, with working theologies and busy in contributing. Then you start looking down, and you realise you are on thinner foundations than you'd like, and then contributions start to pause or end, or shift about. Just as an example, I was on the PCC, and then decided after a year to come off, a close run thing then between stopping it and even accelerating involvement up a level. Now such would be an impossibility. You get a real sense of the downward curve and reflections on events continue that sense. I make adjustments and clarity.

However, all of my life has this sense now. I saw my dementia-crippled mother in hospital last weekend, and there is coming the moment when I will have to vacate this house (which looks increasingly run down), and there is now nothing holding me in this part of the world, and there is a good argument really to start again. I wouldn't mind a sustaining income either. The feeling of transition is intense, and goes along with my beliefs in transience and experience of uncertainty. The whole of my life needs a relaunch and this means institutional relationships. The sense of deaths along the way seem to be coming together at once, for something new to come about - and yet consistent with the me who is me.

People say that a religious community offers stability, and you do make friendships and connections that are important. These are spiritual friendships (I import the concept from Buddhism) and not to be sniffed at. But there is the sense that such stability is something of an illusion, and that that downward curve cannot be defeated. If there is no relaunch, then all that happens is a continuation of that marginality I have experienced before. You tread water and contribute less and less. So I am in that kind of Steven Georgiou - Yusuf Islam moment, that the pointers are in a direction and there seems to be an end to be met and something new ahead and yet, in my case, unknown.

From Father and Son (Cat Stevens/ Yusuf Islam):

How can I try to explain, when I do he turns away again.
It’s always been the same, same old story.
From the moment I could talk I was ordered to listen
Now there’s a way and I know that I have to go – away
I know, I have to go

Away, away, away, I know
I have to make this decision alone – no

All the times that I’ve cried, keeping all the things I knew inside,
It’s hard, but it’s harder to ignore it
If they were right, I’d agree, but it’s them you know not me
Now there’s a way and I know that I have to go – away
I know, I have to go


Erika Baker said...

The question really is whether, once you are done with religion, there is still faith or not.

I think that's what divides those who manage to remain in a setting where people worship together from those who leave to altogether new pastures.

If there is faith, can one rise above and beyond the religious squabbles, the human attempts at defining and controlling access to God, and still find spiritual growth within the church parameters, or does one have to move out of that altogether because it becomes too damaging for the soul.

Tim Goodbody said...

Hi Adrian,
Just as long as poeple realise that's Yusuf Islam and not me in your picture.

for the record, I do not oppose the parish system, I just hink it neds to be more flexible.

Father and Son is a Great Song

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

It's not just about squabbles, but about renewing the self or putting the self into something that carries it. For some people this means the same place, for others it is the sense that the place is not working as it did.

If others experience this 'product life cycle' then they might do it from within the brand, especially if they have submitted to the brand, but I am not a person of brand loyalty.

Erika Baker said...

The big problem arises when you find that nothing carries you any longer - when you have moved through religion and find no faith at the end of it, of whatever "brand".

If you do find that there is faith, then it can probably grow and be sustained whatever the religious mantle around it.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I don't agree with this definition of faith. Faith and belief is not the same. Faith is about trust and direction, not about a set of beliefs.

Erika Baker said...

That's what I meant - did I express myself badly?

Faith is "the kernel", it's what is left when dogma, doctrine, man-made rules about access to God etc. have all gone.

Some find they spend all their lives with religion, others eventually move out of it. And by that I mean any or all brands.

But that says nothing about their faith.

Doorman-Priest said...

Institutional religious organisations aren't good for people who outgrow their religion. I liked Erika's question about whether faith remains. I hope it does.

john said...

One of the many problems in this discussion seems to me to be the very word 'faith'. The operative Greek word is 'pistis': 'belief' is a much better translation.

Erika Baker said...


A wonderful Jesuit priest I used to know used to say that all Christians share the same faith, but we don't all share the same beliefs.

If we could hold on to that truth, a lot of our squabbles would be much less toxic.