Monday 26 November 2012

Unrepresentative Synod

I’d much prefer to be typing about our annual visit to the seal breeding colony on the Lincolnshire coast on Friday , but there it is. The bottom picture is a turnstone feeding on seal placenta.

The General Synod vote was a train crash waiting to happen, and it doesn’t give me any pleasure to say this was set out in my post of 14th July 2008.

Among the informed lay people who have been involved in discussing this issue there are some who take the position that the Church of England is not in a position to develop its tradition in this way at least without the consensus of the major Catholic and Orthodox churches; our continuity with the pre-Reformation church has never been fundamentally fractured. But they are in a small minority; the rest see careful weighing of our own place in a developing tradition as what happened at the Reformation and what continues to happen today.

Among them there are some who take the position that the Church of England is not in a position to diverge from a biblical interpretation which forbids women from taking leadership authority in the church; we are not free to make moves which a literal interpretation of any New Testament text would forbid. But they are also a small minority; the rest see careful weighing of the bible in our present context as what has happened at every stage of Christian history.

We know the size of these minority positions for two reasons. One is that only 7% of the parishes in the Church of England have taken advantage of the provision made at the time of the first ordinations of women as priests to ring fence themselves against their ministry. The other is that over the last year between them over three quarters of the members of the Houses of Laity in each Diocesan Synod have voted in favour of legislation to allow the consecration of women as Bishops.

So for 36% of the House of Laity of the General Synod to vote against this legislation was both entirely predictable and fundamentally misrepresentative of the mind of the church.

A hundred years ago England still refused women the vote and resisted their place in professions such as medicine. For the hundred years since, in the same way that those who found the Holy Spirit given to Gentiles as much as to Jews and brought their recommendation that such people could not be excluded from the church to the central authorities of the early church in Jerusalem, people have been bringing again and again to state and church irrefutable testimony that women’s voting, working, ministering and leading are as grace-filled as those of men. We can be respectful of those who take specific minority views on how we handle tradition and scripture, but there is no way of avoiding this truth self evident both to society and to the growing consensus in our church.

There are two ways forward from here. One is that, after behind the scenes negotiations, the six senior members of the General Synod will exercise their right to have the legislation re-presented, with safeguards for conscientious objectors more explicit, and passed next year. The other more tortuous and tedious path is that the next round of elections to the General Synod will be conducted with a sharp awareness that the militant tendencies of the church should never be over represented again.

This parish has produced as ordinands or has had serve in it as licensed clergy twelve priests who are women (Anne now Chaplain of our local Hospital, the late Bridget, the late Christine, George still working with us, Jan, Jenny, Judy still living in the parish and now a Canon of our Cathedral, Julie, Linda, Pauline, Sue and Terrie) and any implication that they are not real priests or that their fellow women priests are somehow incapable of being bishops would be laughable if it were not so sad.

Monday 19 November 2012

Not the final word

The thought that we will lose all our ash trees almost breaks my heart. We have seen it before when dutch elm disease robbed us of most of our elms. There have been other recent scares including bleeding canker claiming many of our horse chestnuts. Now it is the threat of ash dieback which hangs over our hedges and woodlands.

At the entrance to St Michael’s, Little Coates we have a particularly magnificent weeping ash. It is a feature people often talk about. It is old and we know that one day it will have to come down, but North East Lincolnshire Council has done quite a bit of tree surgery to keep it alive and safe.

A couple of years ago a couple celebrating their Diamond Wedding gave us a replacement weeping ash which the Council allowed us to plant a little way inside the churchyard. We had thought that it would ‘take over’ when the old one finally has to come down. Perhaps it will. Or perhaps both trees will succumb to this new fungal infection before that.

At St George’s, Bradley it is the conkers from the horse chestnut trees in the churchyard which people have enjoyed for years. Many of these trees were infected with bleeding canker and several have died as a result. A couple of years ago, with the support of villagers, we had to spend thousands making their stumps safe.

But there is hope. There is a spot only a mile or so from either St Michael’s or St George’s. Beside a footpath in the countryside just west of Laceby Acres and Wybers Wood there is a large lone elm tree. Nobody is quite sure how it has survived dutch elm disease. Perhaps it was too far away from other elms to get infected. I always enjoy spotting it when I am anywhere near. It is possible that surviving disease-resistant elms and ashs will one day repopulate our hedgerows and woodlands.

This hope is exactly the same as the one our churches will soon be celebrating in Advent. Many will be reading from the prophet Isaiah. There is huge destruction going on in Chapter 10 until it says that ‘the remnant of the trees of this forest will be so few that a child can write them down’. It seems that all is lost and God has abandoned his people.

But then Chapter 11 says a new shoot will come from one of those stumps. It is ‘the stump of Jesse’, and Jesse was one of ancestor’s of Jesus, which is why we read the passage as we prepare for Christmas. Next time I visit the surviving elm tree I shall remember that. I shall pray for all those who feel that abuse or bereavement or cuts or destruction around them have the final word. They don’t.

This is my piece published in the Cleethorpes Chronicle last week with three grammatical and spelling mistakes (yes, three; I must do better) corrected.

The picture taken at the weekend is of the two weeping ash trees at St Michael’s. Pictures have appeared before of the ash trees, the lone elm, and the stump of one of the horse chestnuts.

The article didn’t have room to mention the way a Jesse Tree became part of religious art, often in a stained glass window. The tree is usually shown as growing out of Jesse, through his son King David (often recognisable by his carrying a harp), and then upward to others; literally a ‘family tree’.

Monday 12 November 2012

Arma Christi - Lancea

I’ve been working on a fourteenth century poem which I discover was a widely used devotional writing.

It intrigued me because it lies behind one of the features of the decoration of many churches today.  One quite often sees items associated with Jesus’ execution displayed on shields or carried by angels or both. There are late thirteenth century examples on St Hugh's shrine in Lincoln Cathedral.  I once posted two 1920s pictures of the dice used to gamble for Jesus’ cloak, one from St Michael’s and one from St Nicolas’.

These are ‘Arma Christi’ – the arms of Christ both in the sense of his ‘coat of arms’ and in the ironic sense of what he armed himself with on his journey to the cross.  It appears there were well established devotions related to gazing on these ‘symbols of the passion’. There are even ‘Arma Christi’ rolls which could be unrolled and held up so that the devotional poem could be read and the symbols seen.

So I bought a reproduction of the 1871 Early English Text Society volume which includes two versions of the poem and pictures, and which may have been a major influence on the revival of the use them in places like this parish fifty years later.

The verse about the spear reads

Lord, the spere so scharpe I-grownde
That in thyn herte made a wownde,
It quenchyth the synne that I have wrowt,
With alle myn harte fulle evle thowt,
And myn stowt pryd also,
And myn onbuxmnes ther-too.

‘Unbuxomness’ is a perhaps the only word which isn’t immediately clear. It appears that ‘buxom’ hadn’t yet acquired the later sense of comely, jolly, plump and vigorous. It still reflected the origin of the word as ‘like an archer’s bow’ - that is with the right amount of both strength and flexibility. The Shorter Oxford offers meek, gracious, obliging and kindly. So, for un-buxom, I’ve offered ‘unyielding’ in a modern English rendering

Lord, the spear so sharply ground
that in your heart made a wound
quenching the sin which I have wrought
by all my heart’s evil thought
and by my stout pride too
and by my unyieldingness also.

I played with each line to begin to develop a contemporary engagement with the text as

Sharpened spear,
weeping wound:
soak my stains;
lance my lewdness;
puncture my pride;
soften my stubbornness.

which might work better with lines re-ordered to

Sharpened spear,
lance my lewdness
and puncture my pride;
weeping wound,
soften my stubbornness
and soak away my stains.

The first illustration comes from a fourteenth century original via the 1871 book and shows both spear and wound. The second is a shield behind the altar at St Nicolas’ which shows both the spear and also the sponge on a stick held up for Jesus’ to drink from.

Monday 5 November 2012

Playing with the big boys

And girls. Professor Susan Bassnett, one of the four judges for this year’s Times Stephen Spender Trust Prize for poetry in translation writes High on my personal list of fine translations was Peter Mullins' superb rendering of nine short poems from the Orkneyinga Saga.

This doesn’t in fact mean I won one of the three prizes announced on Saturday, nor even achieved one of the six further ‘Commended’ places, but, nevertheless, it is just possibly a comment to which I may return in my own mind from time to time.

The organiser very kindly sent me an e-mail a short while ago to alert me to the fact that I was to be what I now think of as ‘a runner-up to the runners-up’ and to invite me to the Prize event in London tomorrow, which sadly I can’t make.

I’ve posted four of the poems here last year, one on 11th September and three more on 29th December.

One of the others is a strange little piece with possibly onomatopoeic noises to represent the incomprehensibility as well as the shivering of a servant girl whose need Earl Rognvald unconvincingly credits himself alone with grasping.

Professor Judith Jesch's critical edition gives a literal translation

You are sitting round the fire, while Asa – atatata! – is lying in the water – hutututu! Where shall I sit? I am rather cold

and the Penguin Classic version (possibly based on a slightly different original scholarly text) is

You sit steaming, but Asa’s
s-soaked to the skin;
f-f-far from the fire,
I’m freezing to death.

My version attempts to retain the original sounds in the middle:

Storm soaked and freezing
Asa is pleading
with teeth chat-at-atering
and speech stu-ut-utering
for space by the fire
to get herself warm.