Sunday, March 14, 2010

CEN FRIDAY, MARCH 12, 2010 No: 6014

As a female who enjoys Bible study, academic theological debate and who responds well to a doctrinally led, reasoned approach to the bones of my faith; I was somewhat perplexed by Mr Alan Bartley’s letter, 12 March 2010. This is due to the fact that he seems under the impression that all men are rational, intellectual and level headed beings and that conversely, all women are emotional, silly and suggestible and by implication, lack sound judgement. He quotes research by an Edwin Starbuck (conducted as recently as 100 years ago); citing it as proof of his theories about women and men and the state of the church today.
“Edwin Starbuck, a student of the famous William James, noted a number of differences as to how the sexes differed in coming to faith. Among them that women tended to be “more suggestible, hence yield more readily to ordinary influences” while with men intellect [is] more prominent;”
Quite apart from the fact that this research was conducted on Edwardian women who wouldn’t have had much in the way of formal education and would therefore have had little experience, opportunity or expectation of being asked to think academically; it is also well out of date in that the men who did the research would have had a whole range of prejudices that few in this day and age would share, (mostly because they have been disproved: i.e. women brains are smaller and therefore less intelligent etc.)
In addition, Mr. Bartley states that anyone who disagrees with his suggestion that gender stereotypes are true are apparently ‘mad’.
“we would be mad to deny that the stereotypes are true of how the bulk of men and women approach life and life decisions.”
This statement is one way to stifle opposition I suppose, but hardly an intellectual one. In fact it seems to my female mind that this would seem to be a more emotive argument, based on dubious experience and opinion.
Mr. Bartley goes on to tell us that women are apparently attracted to Christianity because the church has failed to ‘argue the credibility of Christianity’; but has relied on emotional appeal not reason, which (according to Mr Bartley) is what ‘lights our candle’. As an evangelical woman about to be ordained, I know how much importance Evangelicals put on sound biblical exegesis and argument. Mr. Bartley clearly doesn’t spend much time in evangelical circles if he thinks our whole approach is experiential. Maybe the reason he hasn’t come across women of intellect is because they are not tolerated in his church? I praise God that Jesus encouraged Mary to learn at his feet, the attitude of a disciple and rabbinical trainee, that St Paul commended the teaching abilities of Priscilla and Timothy’s mother and grandmother and that Deborah led Israel and was blessed by God for her sound judgement and spiritual advice. Having said all of this, to deny the relevance of spiritual experience as Mr. Bartley seems to do, is to deny vast swathes of the biblical account. Jesus didn’t spend the whole of his ministry in the synagogue using his reason and intellect, he went out and healed the sick, raised the dead and was moved to tears by the death of a friend. He gave his friends supernatural experiences - Peter walked on water, met Elijah and Moses etc. He encouraged his followers to pray, believing that answers would come and appeared not to despise leaps of faith alongside doctrinal reasoned argument - the thief on the cross springs to mind.
Mr. Bartley seems to think that the less academic approach of the Post Modern world is down to feminisation. I have studied Post Modernism as part of my course. I was under the impression that Post Modernist thought was more down to the rejection of a Modernist reasoned hypothesis which stated that humanity would continue to improve and develop and reach an eventual utopia. This was a humanist doctrine: biblically incorrect, dangerous and against the truth of the gospel. Thus I would respectfully argue that reason can be just as damaging as emotion and can serve to promote untruth and unbelief. People have rejected it because it has been shown to be untrue in this context. If we want a balanced approach to faith then we need both reason and experience. Doctrinal understanding is essential and a good grasp of theology necessary, but so too is an appreciation of the mystery and majesty of God. The understanding that we are human and that he is so much more than we can ever fully understand. You don’t have to be a woman to grasp that, you just have to have spent some time in his company.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Rocky Climb?

Today I am going off on our penultimate course weekend. In fact this will be the last 'normal' weekend away together as the last will be a sort of formalised farewell event. This thought has brought home to me just how close to Ordination we all are. In three and a half months all of us will no longer be Ordinands but Curates. Whilst that thought is daunting, it is still very exciting.

God has been amazingly close throughout this experience. I feel so honoured to have been called into this particular ministry; not because it is somehow 'better' or 'special', but because of the privilege that ordination gives in terms of access into peoples lives, the automatic trust they give you and the task of helping them at some of lives most significant times and events.

My thoughts on all of this are many. I hope I am up to the 'job'. I hope that I develop more wisdom, sensitivity and intuition for others. I hope that I have the strength, time management and stamina to carry on when things get tough. My faith and experience of the Lord tells me that he will equip me for all that he asks me to do and that whether I am up to things is his department not mine. I am not to worry..full stop!

Trust is a big part of this whole process. I had to trust that God called me to do this four years ago. I have had to trust that the church will discern God's will for me from the beginning of the Ordination process and into the selection of my Title Post. This trust has to continue as I step out on the next big part of the journey. I don't know what God has in store, what rocky trails there are to climb, what obstacles I will have to navigate my way over/round or through. Who knows what will be along the way? What I do know is that the view from the top will be thank you Lord...bring it on!

Thursday, March 04, 2010

The Good Soil.

I've been thinking quite a bit over the past year about the way in which we as Christians tend to want to push each other into particular ways of worship. Even the most Liberal of my college friends can have incredibly firm ideas about what is the RIGHT way to conduct a church service. In fact it is often the most Liberal docrinally who (I have observed) can be the narrowest in this regard...

In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus talks about good and bad soil...Some of us land in good soil and grow. But we are not told any more about this good soil. Have we perhaps come to a point where we believe that the same soil is good for everyone?

Returning to the root of the analogy (sorry, bad pun), are we assuming that all plants do well in the same kind of conditions? Clearly looking at nature we see that this isn't the case. Plants need very different conditions to stay healthy. Plant a cactus in a swamp and it wouldn't get far and would probably be extremely sick - if not dead. Growth would be non existant. Plant a cactus in a hot dry and sunny place and bingo - it thrives. The opposite could be said of ivy which prefers dark, wetter, forested environments. Many plants need something strong and rigid to grow up. without that rigidity they would be unable to grow up towards the light. Others are quite capable of growing and supporting themselves amongst a variety of other plants...You get my drift.

The point is this:- we are just as differnet spiritually as a plant. Note: I am NOT talking about doctrine here but worship practice. Why do we assume that because a particular way of prayer or form of music works for us personally, that it will work for someone else? Why do we think for example, that all will love the structure of liturgical worship because we find God within the familiar language and practice or conversely, all will find it's rigidity dictatorial and oppressive just because we do?

My musings may explain why I have know a number of people who have thrived in one church which had a range of services and a variety of sorts of people present, whilst other people found it extremely hard to cope in a place where everyone didn't do things in the same way as one another. In the latter kind of situation, spiritual growth can be stunted because the environment is wrong for that person. Put the person into an environment suited to them and growth begins...and is often startlingly quick too!

I too have experienced others trying to squeeze me into a box which I just don't fit into and to try to force a type of spirituality upon me which doesn't help my growth but actually stunts it. It hasn't been a particularly helpful experience. Let's be less keen to assume that out way is the best for all and more willing to accept that practices which work to put people in touch with God can be extremely different.

As an about to be ordained priest it will be my role to find the ways in which my congregation can get in touch with God...these ways may be incredibly varied and may not suit me...but I must be prepared to try both old and new for the sake of the spiritual growth of the people.

I thank God that the Church of England in 2010 is becoming more and more varied in her worship practices...let's celebrate that and encourage it...after all, if it leads to spiritual growth, why would we want to stop it?