England's Women

I wrote last month on a small part of the whole host of biblical background which undergirds the necessity of women bishops.  We are now another month on and I wondered about writing again on women bishops, surely we are all getting bored with people banging on and on about it.

And that's the trouble.  We are now just over three months on from the vote on 20th November that saw over a decade (and more, depending on where you begin your count) of work, reports, meetings, discussions and legislative consideration go down the drain.  It was crushing for those who had been part of those talks for a very long time, who had felt that the Measure that sank was the best that had come out of all the possible permutations that were available.  I have seen men and women with heavy hearts over the last few months.  Really.  This is not a joke. It can be soul-destroying. I have wondered myself, how these people will continue their work on this having received this door being slammed in their faces, a door that has been slammed before and which will, in all reality, be slammed again, a number of times, before women bishops become a reality.

The sheer drudge and monotony of keeping going is the reality of the life of the activist.

The sheen of fame, fortune and glamour that surrounded the issue last November has dulled.  The outrage has distilled. There are those who got a smack in the face and who wanted to sit up and do something, but three months on, stuff takes over, there are other things to do.  And that is right...there are other things to do.

But not for me.

And maybe not for you.

If that is so, then keep reading, for this post is for you.

Your heart is stirred, you feel that you have been caught up in a story so much bigger than yourself and you do not care that you may be a small part of that story, swallowed up in the bigger tale that will be told when, some day, in the future, a woman will don her mitre in this land as a sign and a symbol that the Kingdom of God is recovering its Image.

That a mitre on the head of a woman in the Church of England will be a mark of the restoration of all things, where women and men begin again to stand alongside each other as equal partners in God's mission.  That this future sight will mean that we no longer collude in the belief, worldwide, that women are a radically different type of human being to men, so much so that she can be privatised, beaten, sold, starved, deprived of education and medicine in order that the true human, men, can survive.

We live with the knowledge that this will be our shame throughout future generations, that we colluded for so long, too long, in the disfiguring of the Image of God: that women have been tortured and killed and men have been dehumanised in the process.

We work so that the time of our shame will be finite.  The calling is high, but it is a long, arduous and sometimes downright boring road.  It is a road filled with meetings and writing, reading and talking, synods and lectures.  Occasionally we will be part of historic moments, such as 20th November 2012, we may even find ourselves being interviewed or staging a protest...occasionally.  Mostly however it's plod, but it is plod with that image in your mind, ever before you: the mitre, as if tongues of flame, descending on a woman's head, in the CofE, this romantic heartland of Anglicanism, and the explosion as our shame is ended.

But mostly it is emailing and stuffing envelopes and intentionally behaving as if women should and must be bishops.  Boring perhaps, but if this is your calling, I can tell you now that you will not escape it, it has caught you up.

How do we keep going in this sometimes arid land?  When people think we are a little mad and we wonder it ourselves every so often?  I think of Wilberforce - yes I own our struggle in the same vein as that great activist, hubris perhaps, but I don't think that Wilberforce ever thought of himself as anything less or more than I have described above.  We are caught up in a part of the Christian story that is both ancient and new - the foundation story of our faith is that of the liberation from slavery, liberation to freedom.  We own the Exodus story, as groups and peoples have before us.  It is beyond and before Wilberforce's cause, and it will transcend ours, because it is God's.  We share the DNA of Wilberforce because it is about liberation and re-humanising ourselves in the truth of the equality of every human being before God.  Wilberforce worked for decades because of this truth that he held in his imagination.  But he was firstly a politician, and he was firstly a politician because he believed he could make things better.  It is a small suggestion perhaps.  Initially it wasn't to do with God, he was embarrassed by his fervent evangelical relations.  But soon the belief in his own ability to make things better, to know better how a country might be run, became infused with the desire to change the world, fuelled by exactly that embarrassing fervent evangelicalism.  Well thank God for embarrassing passions!

Wilberforce was fed by God's own imagination, if we rely on our own then we are doomed.  Our imaginations do not carry us far enough, they are not big enough, fast enough, broad enough and they do not let us be embarrassed enough.  God's imagination is playful, but it is also bright and hard as diamonds, it exposes the flaw and breaks the heart.  Once you have been infected by God, there is no going back, you cannot simply choose to imagine something different.  God's reality is burned into your mind's eye with a ferocity that can never be 'fixed'.  And are we not glad!

If this is you, then you will be drinking this up as if I have given you a long awaited glass of water.  Or perhaps a top up along an already well trodden path for you.  I think I may have lost some of you along the way, don't worry, we'll see each other again soon.

For those who are still with me - let's keep going, keep walking together, one day the tongues of fire will descend and we will laugh and embarrass our grand-children, who will not understand the story into which they are born.  We will send them off into a new story, ancient and new of course, where they will find their own God-given cause and perhaps recover our story in order to live theirs.

And if their story continues to be women bishops?  So be it.  One day there will be tongues of fire that descend on the beating heart of England's women.


Anne said...

The photo says it all! Thank you

Kathryn said...

Came back to this after a deeply sad meeting of our diocesan WATCH committee...We've all been doing this for too long - all our adult lives for 3/4 of those present - & given the mess in which the institutional church finds itself, it's extraordinarily hard to find the energy to continue. Thank you for the fire of your committment &, of course, that photo :)

Anonymous said...

Love it x

Jody Stowell said...

I am very aware of people who are very weary. Writing is one of the things that I can give, I hope that it encourages people to keep going and to see themselves in the whole picture. It is the only way!