Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Penis Envy

Good morning God,
I have never wanted equality with a man - why settle for less than you already have has been my motto. But now I find I have a peculiar case of Penis Envy It's a little late in developing I know, but previously I have never had a real problem with being a woman in a man's world. Whether in Information Technology or Lecturing, it was always easy to deal with sexism simply by being better at my job than the other 'guy'.

It took the Church to make a sort of feminist of me!
I confess that I have tended to play down feminist theology as a 'red herring' theology - one of those side-avenues that 'real theology' can dally around in whilst it muses over the real questions of who YOU really are and why You have any interest in us, and who on earth Christ was, and what in heaven's name has happened to the trinity as a result.. you know the sort of things I mean.
Feminism always seemed so stamp-the-foot angry, and, if I am honest - too one-sided for me. What's the point in making women into men? What's the point in being so aggressive that we lose who we are? I can't be a man hater - I love too many of them! From my experience training and working with male ministers, I just can't believe women are any more caring or creative, loving or flowingly liturgical(?) than any male minister fulfilling their calling to love Christ's flock.

Moreover, feminism has always seemed keen to categorise and define women as a group of people I didn't belong too. I am highly creative, but wouldn't know how to wear a scarf around my neck properly or apply a modern mascara. I enjoy a soak in the bath, but can't be bothered with make-overs or make-up (the very expression says it all for me!) I prefer mixed company where possible - but to be honest I don't care what the gender or sexuality of the person is - as long as they can laugh and converse,  preferably about theology, but I'll settle for anything cultural, political or scientific as a substitute!

I hate the very notion of Network or as it is now renamed 'Women in British Methodism' and the assumption built into it that just because I wear knickers I belong to a special group which the Church must pander to by allocating a place at Conference to a women who dares to claim she speaks in my name (as though I lack the ability to speak for myself!!!)

I am a woman not a wimp - I can speak for myself thank you - and I hate the very notion that such women's groups are based on -  that women are so waspish and wimpish that in order to succeed they have to have special consideration of their needs.

So that's my prejudices nailed to the mast - but what then of my anger and righteous indignation of the state of the Church? Of the disgusting male exclusivity built into every element - from the liturgy with its conditional offering, to the priesthood!

I could of course, take the attitude suggested by the David Hallam in a comment on my last post and simply thank God that I am a Methodist and a product of the Reformation..
Except, of course, as most women in Methodism know - the problem of exclusivity is as much a Methodist problem as a Catholic one.
Do the figures..
what percentage of an average congregation is male, what percentage is female.
Now.. what percentage of our Connxional Team is Male? What percentage of our District Chairs is Male? what percentage of our Circuit Superintendents is Male? And of our ministers.. our district officers, or our new  Pioneer Leaders?

The only place where the ratio of male to female  even begin to match the Congregation is in terms of local preachers... but even here I still hear complaints from women about women local preachers with their high pitched screachy voices!
I am incensed at how delighted everyone is that we have a female president and vice president - why so delighted? this should be NORMAL - we don't experience the same joy when we have the usual twosome - or when (increasingly more common) we have a male president and a female Vice president
Our very delight in the elections of Alison and Eunice show how much this is OUR problem as well as the catholic Church's problem.

What - did we think having women ministers was enough?
we have prided ourselves on the idea that no office in our Church is barred to women - but we have our own glass ceilings, they may not be in CPD - but the figures make it clear that they do exist in the hearts and heads of those who appoint and select our ministers, officers and pioneer leaders (albeit, I grant, perhaps subconsciously).

BUT Gender justice is a gospel issue - not just a Church structure issue.
Our structures are but a reflection of our underlying theology and liturgy (we are what we pray as a Church) 
So for me this cannot aford to be about helping the little woman out - I demand gender justice, and although, yes, I am little(!) I am not wanting special privileges or special consideration.  I dont want a different job, I don't even want women to want access to the sort of jobs men in Methodism currently hold - I want a more radical change. I want the underlying theology exposed so that we see how we got into this mess and are more able to use the gospel light to find a way out of it.

I want for myself and for other women in our Church what you God, have given to all - full and unconditional access to your grace, to your love and to your power to change what is wrong, to transform the world and assist in the building of a kingdom of justice and peace. I want everyone to have what my male colleagues have, the theological and biblical freedom and confidence to be who they are, and to grow fully in grace and holiness in a Church which follows Christ's example and celebrates both genders.  I want for everyone to have the same access to authority, the same rights within our Church, the same respect and the same consideration as every man is granted naturally - and I want it without anyone having to stamp a foot to get it.

I want an end to theological Penis envy..

Ironically God, the Vatican is full of male statues, each with the penis chopped off... there's got to be a feminist sermon in there somewhere!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Ecce Homo

Good morning God,
I'm trying to unpack some of what I witnessed and experienced at St. Peter's Basilica recently.. I need your help on this because at the moment I am deeply disturbed by my initial reactions.
I went to St Peter's to see - to witness - to experience the beauty and grandeur of the place. I went to pray, for healing and for hope for myself and for others.. but most of all - I went in search of answers, little realizing that what I was questioning would be so brutally laid bare. 

There was an annual thanksgiving and commemoration service for the Italian Air Force taking place in the heart of the Basilica on the day that I visited.The air was heavy with incense and gold glittered from every surface, sparkling in the lights illuminating the raised altar above St Peter's tomb. Inscribed in marble above our heads were the words and the language of those long since departed, reminding us of the solemnity and majesty of your actions and dealings with humanity - and everywhere Myrrh was present - scenting the statues of the dead, oiling the bodies of the embalmed and soaking into the bones of past Popes - all celebrating the powerful, centuries old message of the cult of death.

This was liturgy as I had never experienced it before: Here was the Church in all its pomp and power - dozens of priests and acolytes, cardinals in their brocaded costumes - all playing their part in the re-enactment of a murder , ready to offer, to those deemed worthy,  the opportunity to share in its spoils in order to preserve their own skins.

We were not allowed to join with those who were worshiping, we were excluded, cut off from the priests, denied access to the light - kept behind the barricades, only allowed to peer at the privileged as they engaged in their rituals.  And so we watched as tourists at another Vatican spectacle.

Whilst a big part of me died.

Here, laid bare, were all the lies I would rather not own up to about the Church...

  • The deep-rooted masculinity of the faith. I stood and witnessed the exclusive act of the Church at worship: a male collective worshiping a man re-imaged according to their own desires, overlooked by larger than life statues of men, and magnificent artwork celebrating and commemorating the glorious deeds of men - primarily the acts of either killing or dying
  • The cult of death, pain and suffering - the celebration and veneration of pain and anguish - whether of Christ - or of his saints. Not a single work of art, word or gesture that I saw at the Basilica was designed to celebrate life, sound joyous or evoke laughter and wonderment.
  • The blatant exclusivity of the Church. 
  • The power of the priests and their all too obvious disdain for the people. 
  • The obscene wealth on display compared to the great poverty of the majority of Church members..

Unexpectedly, at the end of the service, I was served the consecrated host without words, from a Gold cup, held by a Priest escorted by a guard who led him along in front of the barriers. I, and those with me at the front of the barricade were served as beggars might be served by a Lord with too many scraps from a table to dispose of by any other means. There was no grace in the giving, and I struggled to find grace in the receiving.

Ecce Homo

Behold the MAN...

But I couldn't find you there Lord - not in the host, nor later in prayer.
Your real presence  eluded me.
In spite of so many portraits, so many statues - I couldn't find you amongst the things that were created for your glory. Too much of it seemed simply an artistic orgy in celebration of death and dying. The greater your pain, the more accurate the portrayal of your agony - the more people liked it. It was as though the resurrection never happened, was not something to celebrate, as though there was no Good News - only the cry to repent or be damned.

I can, of course, rationalise my initial reaction much of the above. I can say that what I saw was not 'normal', that what I experienced was not 'typical', that the Church really is so much more inclusive, open and joyous - but that obviously the Vatican has to take things more seriously, has to have guards in order to take care of the treasures it has been given, has to be more careful, exclusive, authoritative - MALE?

All this I could say, but none of that helps me dispel the question - what am I doing associating myself with any part of this?