Monday, 28 April 2014

Sonnet - Joyce Grenfell, 1940

"If ever I am rich enough to make
Generous gestures let me hide my hand.
Let me give freely lest my giving take
With it freedom. Not the frailest strand
Of obligation must go with my gift,
Nor must the comfort glow of being kind
Be used to lend a foolish head a lift.
To work in wisdom, giving with a touch
So light that never breath of power blow
Across the crystal of my sharing much
That is lovely. Pray I may mark and know:
Beauty dies like a linnet in a cage,
Beneath the bruising hand of patronage."

Quoted in "Joyce by herself and her friends" edited by Reggie Grenfell & Richard Garnett (1980).

Friday, 25 April 2014

Guilt & Shame - Definitions

Guilt is when you know you've done wrong, and shame is when you know other people know you've done wrong.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

On Being Anglican: Letter to Archbishop Justin - first draft

Dear Archbishop Justin,

You are doubtless inundated with unhelpful advice from an infinity of sources. I propose to add to the woes of those who sift through your post. My concern is not so much about the unfortunate comments you recently made about the effect Equal Marriage in England and Wales might have on the peoples of Africa, but about Anglicanism itself.

We live in times of fast-moving change, and the churches, which are at best ponderous creatures, find this profoundly challenging. What was thought always to be true, turns out to be less true than it was, or not true at all, or just plain wrong. The media wants us to skip to, and keep up with the latest thing. We want to skip, but we don't know the steps.

The main reason we don't know the steps in the present controversies is that the theology has not been done - not the theology of sexuality and gay relationships, which has had a field day, but the theology of Anglicanism itself. There is too much reliance on the "clever form of words", and not enough on solid scholarship and the celebration of revealed truth. Take, for instance, the House of Bishops' statement about their clergy entering into marriages under the new law. These are, for the time being, civil contracts, which the church may or may not choose to solemnize, but which it certainly cannot in law forbid. Those with a sense of history, might remember the legend of Mrs Cranmer in the trunk, and Article XXXII. It is not fitting within the Anglican tradition to prescribe how the clergy should live, in this fashion. What might be cause for scandal in one congregation, will not be in another, and those priests and their congregations must work out together how to live with their different callings to be together. It is much to be regretted that the dismal pamphlet "Issues in Human Sexuality", which is neither good theology nor plain common sense, has become a touchstone in this regard. It is a political document which introduced the toxic notion that the standard for the clergy must be different - in kind, not degree - from that of the laity. Ours is a reformed church. Double standards are not permitted. And where bishops encourage them, bishops are rightly despised, and the Gospel goes unheard.

The Anglican Way isn't a church, and the idea of its being a denomination like the Roman Catholic or Orthodox, or other free church ones, is absurd. We say throughout the land that any baptised Christian is welcome to receive the sacrament at our altars. The Roman Church says their people mustn't. We say they are welcome. The principle is deeply rooted in the text and rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer Communion Service that ALL must be free to come to share the sacrament together, because if anyone is lost, all are bereft. When I asked Peter Akinola in Nigeria if he would come to the altar with me, he said No. I would still go with him. Which of us is the schismatic? Who is breaking communion?

I came to faith as a teenager at university, and quickly found myself at home in the Church of England. I was drawn by Cranmer's inclusive liturgy, and by the subtle genius of Elizabeth I in establishing a settlement which was for her all people. There was the music too, of course, and most of all there were faithful friends, for whom church-going was a normal thing, something I'd not really come across before. But those roots in history are important. The Anglican Way was a local church for local people, and as times have changed the the word spread, so other branches of the Church of England have gained independence, as the colonies did from the Empire, and done things in their own way, for their own people (like the tolerated polygamy in some of the African churches which are now condemning gay relationships). From the first, particularly under Archbishop Matthew Parker, we have entertained the teaching of "adiaphora", the things indifferent, about which we should not fall out. This heritage is unique in Christendom, and is our our charism, our own gift, to the greater church beyond our shores. If we hold to it.

What the bishops of the Church of England have been saying, and threatening to do, is selling out that heritage for the sake of keeping a peace which is no peace, and a unity which is no unity. Richard Hooker taught us that we must look to Scripture, Tradition, and Reason, for our theological opinions, and seek to balance our conclusions on a tripod with those three legs. In over twenty years now of being asked to explain what Anglicanism is, I have come to value a different, I hope complementary, Trinity.

The Anglican Way is Scholarly, Pastoral, and Liturgical. Cranmer himself was one of the first Reformed theologians who immersed himself in the writings of the Greek Fathers, as well as the Latin ones, and you find them in his works. The Reformation was about not taking things on trust - back to the sources, and let's hear what everyone has to say. Ever since his time, we have been graced with theologians of immense intellectual power - in the last century, Evelyn Underhill, Michael Ramsey, and Austen Farrer come to mind - and you may recall Pope Leo XIII's rueful comment when he received the Church of England's reply to his Bull denying the validity of all its orders "I wish my Cardinals could write Latin so well". Arguments that don't stand up are not to be permitted. Saying that the Equal Marriage Act is for the laity, but not the clergy, is one such. So is saying that if we do what is right for gay people in this country, Christians in other, barbarous, countries, will pay the price, is another. The test is not whether it works across the world's media, not whether the African bishops like it, not whether it can be kept quiet until I can retire, it is about truth. We have discovered in the 21st century that gay people are equals. That is the truth. And it is Good News not just for gay people, but for everyone. Scholarship points the Anglican Way here.

The Church of England has been uniquely pastoral from the first - beginning with the gory and unpleasant business of furnishing a divorce for King Henry VIII, but developing with a much more interesting subtlety ever since. The marriage of the clergy was permitted, not because anyone sat down with books and worked it out from the theory, (not least because there are no Anglican clergy in the pages of the New Testament, and never could be) but because the practice of human lives demanded it. Cranmer himself was illegally married for two decades - whilst he was archbishop of Canterbury. We are so used now to the presence of Mrs (and increasingly, Deo gratias, Mr) Vicar in the parish, that we forget what a big deal it was that the church was listening to the human condition and ceasing to impose a wrong and cruel prohibition which many in any case ignored. It happened again with the Deceased Wife's Sisters Marriage Act of 1907, something fought bitterly for years. It sounds outlandishly strange now, but I have a distant cousin it personally affected. We were told the sky would fall in. It didn't. The saintly Archbishop Ramsey incurred opprobrium when he voted in favour of the Sexual Offences Act in 1967, because he'd actually done some research, and knew what he was talking about. And for years parish clergy have been marrying divorcees in church against the instruction of their bishops (since adjusted) because it would be wrong to do anything else. We listened. That is the essence of being pastoral, to listen. And to care. And having listened, sometimes to change your mind.

The third mark of the Anglican Way that I see is liturgical, which sounds grand to outsiders, but the simpler way of putting it is, "how do they pray?" Prayer is the action of the Holy Spirit in the heart, the flame that galvanizes theological study or spiritual experience into focused intention. Liturgy makes it public, and shares it. We have read the Bible and found nothing there to condemn gay marriage. We have listened to the tradition of the church, and found nothing there which resonates with the time we are now in. And we have listened to the people who say "can you please ask God to bless us as we start this new step in our life together?" - and, as a church, we say, No. You may be too much of an insider to understand just how incomprehensible this is to people who might otherwise be well-wishers, or even converts. When Cranmer drafted the first marriage liturgy for the 1549 prayerbook, he was dared to put "for the mutual society, help,and comfort that the one ought to have of the other" as the first, not the third, reason for the church solemnizing it. His nerve broke, and he put it third. Subsequent prayerbooks have put it where he wanted it. He was married. He understood that bit, in a way that none of his predecessors had done. That's the bit that everyone understands.

This Anglican Way, Archbishop Justin, is the one which I believe you are jeopardizing by allowing strident views held in Africa to hold sway in our own country. Justice delayed is justice forgone. You cannot expect the Church of England hierarchy to be forgiven for how it has been behaved in this matter, unless words of penitence match deeds of reparation. It is bad enough for those of us who were honest to you lot, and you then lied about us. But we're insiders, and the C of E is part of us. We have a mission to the English nation of outsiders, and a homophobic church is just going to be despised by a generation growing up with cleaner minds and clearer thinking. Good News isn't Good News if it's really Bad News if you're gay. The punters aren't stupid, they can join the dots. The astonishing thing is that our bishops can't.

Time really is running out. The debate has been won. The Church of England needs to act on it, and move on, and fast. Above all, it needs to rediscover how to become Anglican, for the sake of its non-members, for whom, thank God, we exist.

Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
Easter Day 2014

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

LBJ - what's in a name?

At school, I had - still have - a friend called Matthew who was very good at winning arguments in our Politics and Economics classes. It was far too late in the day that I realised he did this mainly by making up statistics that I believed. Putting me on the back foot, he went in for the kill and won the day, more often than he deserved to. Another little kink he had, when arguing American politics (he didn't much care about it, but it was part of our syllabus), was to add the Presidents' middle names into the debate. Of course, I realise now, he was stalling for time, but it's left me with a lingering feeling that Fitzgerald, Baines, Milhous, Rudolph, Earl, Wilson, and the rest, were more significant names than they really were.

I particularly clearly remember Matthew declaiming about "Lyndon Baines Johnson". It was his mother's maiden name, nothing more interesting than that. No inheritance, no money, no ancestral claim to fame, just that funny way Americans have of needing a middle name. The man himself, however, was much more interesting. He rose to power because of compromise and a bullet. The suave, Bostonian intelligentsia, John F Kennedy needed a bit of rough on his ticket, so he chose the older, more Congressionally experienced, Texan. And then, he was assassinated, and the man he could barely stomach working with became his successor as president, and in 1964 won election in his own right, in a ground-breaking election.

It was ground-breaking because Johnson's support for the Civil Rights Act, and a lot of other social legislation, meant he lost, for the Democrats, the "solid south", for the first time, and for good. It was the last gasp of the Civil War, nearly a century later. For many, Johnson was a liberal hero, and rightly so. Perhaps a most unexpected one, and those are the best kind. He won the election with a far bigger majority than the sainted Kennedy had done in 1960, but you'd never think that to listen to the echoes of their reputations. By 1968, with Vietnam hotting up, he was getting tired and timid, and decided against standing again, as he was entitled to do.

For me, LBJ has a special place because of the story - no idea if it's true, and I don't care - that when challenged to dismiss the powerful and mad J. Edgar Hoover as head of the FBI, he said "It's probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.". It is a perfect image of how we must sometimes deal with our enemies.

But in England? In ornithological circles, an LBJ is a "little brown job". Not to be confused with, as Ronnie Barker made famous years ago as a vicar in a Cockney rhyming slang sketch, "a small brown Richard the Third", but just one of those very, very, many small, hardly-coloured, garden birds. Watching from a bench in the park the other day, I couldn't quite fathom what they were. They were zooming in and out of what seemed like a very closely growing hedge, and you just couldn't predict where they would pop up next. Finally, a blackbird arrived, and disappeared, despite its much vaster size, into the hedge, with a stroppy look on its orange beak, and after a moment out popped the LBJs from their tent. They were dunnocks, also known as "hedge sparrows", and although they look a little like sparrows, they are more closely related to robins, as you can see from their physique and beak. And they're not just brown. Especially at this time of year, when all birds are showing off their plumage to best advantage, they have a covering of gentle grey down to their shoulders, before the brown begins. You might say, that's not very exciting, and fair enough I suppose, but there is a school of aesthetic thought that "less is more" and these darling little creatures are exquisite.

So, take your pick - tall American President, or small British brown bird. Just remember the L. And Miss Baines, of course.

Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
April 2014

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Keys of the Kingdom

It struck me whilst out walking the other day that there is a tragic irony in the description of the legal provisions protecting the Church of England and the Church of Wales from same-sex marriage as the "quadruple lock". It does sound rather like a chastity belt, in which case church and state must be undergoing a peculiar time in their relationship. But worse than that, I was reminded of the Gospel story (in Matthew) of Saint Peter, traditionally considered (a little absurdly) to have been the first bishop, being given "the keys to the kingdom". My reading of Jesus's ministry is that he would only have given the keys of the kingdom to someone who wanted to unlock the gates, and bar no one. The Church of England hierarchy has negotiated the closing of the gates, and thrown away the key. There may be hell to pay.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Diana & Posterity

Watched the film last night, a kind present from HL, who knows my pathetic, failed-republican, morbid, fascination with all things royal. It was compelling viewing, with repeated and apparently accurate echoes of the story that any of us who read the cheaper newspapers when we get the chance know all too well. At the time, it was ill-received, but not I think so much for its intrinsic merits or weaknesses, but because of a sentimental anxiety about those still living, not least, Diana's sons. We didn't fret the same way about "The Queen", but then its subject was rather more robust.

HL managed to watch nearly an hour of it. His observation this morning was "she seemed too fake". An actress pretending to be a nobody who had become uniquely famous? You bet that's going to be fake! But I knew what he meant. Naomi Watts had done done her homework well - she had the gestures, the movements, the turn of the head, the walk, the hair, the make-up, all were true to my memory of the late Princess of Wales. But something was missing. She reminded me at times of Wendy Craig. A perfectly laudable, and I'm sure very nice, actress, but not an aristocrat. And that's what was missing. "The People's Princess" was a cherished daughter of one of the richest men in England, with a titled lineage going back centuries through our history. She never had, nor ever would have, a worry about money. Her status was from birth. At one point in the film - and I wondered how genuine this was - she said "I'm a princess". Well, she wasn't. She was an earl's daughter, and a prince's wife. That's why she was always Diana, Princess of Wales, never Princess Diana. And that's why, when she and Prince Charles finally divorced, she could no longer be Her Royal Highness - her royal highety was conferred only by her marriage to her husband, and it had ceased to exist when the marriage did. In a curious way, the vulgar newspapers got this right when, for years after her marriage, they continued calling her "Lady Di", something no one who knew her ever called her. She remained a rich earl's daughter, whatever her relationship with the heir to the throne and the rest of the royal family. It was the aura of aristocracy that Miss Watts failed to convey. Wendy Craig is rather suburban.

I should say at this point that my experience of Diana, Princess of Wales, was through the media, with the exception of one very brief meeting when I was a management trustee of an HIV charity in Oxford. It was a hilarious occasion - all the socialists and republicans flushed out of the woodwork in their Sunday best in the hope of being seen with the most famous woman in the world! She kept us waiting for 45 minutes whilst she spent time downstairs with people who were ill. In the flesh, she was immaculate - clothes, hair, and make-up, you knew they were all carefully contrived, but you couldn't see the joins. She didn't have conventional beauty by any means - she was too tall for a girl, and her nose and chin were wrong, although the cheek bones were good, but her eyes were lovely. They sparkled with naughtiness, but also, which I wasn't expecting, interest and intelligence. When I chatted to some of the people from downstairs, they said she asked knowing questions about medications and side-effects, the sort of things that those who sneered at her two O-levels would be astonished she could pronounce, never mind spell, and remember. She was a tremendously attractive woman, and I don't think she'd known that before she married, and after her marriage broke down, she wasn't quite sure what to do with it.

The conceit of the film was that the Pakistani-born London surgeon, Hasnat Kahn, was the love of her life. They split, she regretted it, and to try to re-kindle his interest she made sure (as she knew she could) that the newspapers were full of pictures of her being intimate with Dodi Fayed. As romantic stratagems go, this is redolent of playground petulance, and it was a ploy that should perhaps have been explored more - we had much of Diana discovering her depths as a campaigner against landmines, but nothing on her shallows as an emotional manipulator. She and Mr Kahn parted because, in the story, he couldn't reconcile his desire to continue his career in surgery with being married to the most famous woman in the world. He admitted that he couldn't sacrifice his role; in the film he doesn't challenge her with being unable to sacrifice hers, as I rather suspect she wouldn't.

Diana had mattered relatively little before the lot fell on her to be the royal heir's bridal victim. Her parents had had a bloody divorce. Aristocratic children see little of their parents, you'd think it wouldn't much matter, but in her case it seems to have. Then she received an offer she couldn't refuse, and perhaps was naive enough to think it really would be the "fairytale" of which Archbishop Runcie spoke at their wedding. I find it hard to believe that, moving in the circles she did, she never heard of the policy of "the heir and the spare" after which both parties are free to pursue their own romantic interests. The Windsors, it is very clear, were baffled that a girl who had known them from childhood seemed oblivious to their family code, a code which rarely wavers, and is never broken. If you go rogue - like Edward VIII, you end up in Paris. Ironic, that.

There were clear interleavings with history, insofar as gossip and rumour and biography become history, as there must be in such a film, but I think it best to judge it as a story, whose characters are caught up in a unique and unimaginable and impossible situation. Could Diana have married Dr Kahn? If she'd married a highly-regarded public servant in the medical profession, I think it would have done her reputation less harm than if she'd married the playboy Dodi Fayed. But if she'd become a Muslim? And could she ever really have been a wife? The story leaves us with an uneasy sense that it could not have ended happily ever after.

And it didn't. Diana died in August 1997 in a car crash in Paris. Conspiracy theorists have had a field day. She died because her driver was too pissed to control his car, and because she wasn't wearing a seat belt.

And with such mundanities are legends brought to earth and myths brought to life.

Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
April 2014

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Violets and Goldfinches and Happy Remembrances, and Happy Beginnings

Yesterday I saw violets and goldfinches for the first time this Spring. I have probably been unobservant, because the violets looked pretty well-developed, although I know that goldfinches, like the Holy Spirit, blow where they list. For me, they are happy creatures.

Violets were first pointed out to me by my Auntie Margaret when she came down to see us in Sussex one time, and went on a long walk with me through the woods and onto the South Downs. She said they reminded her of her childhood in rural Northamptonshire, after the long years she had spent in London with Uncle Jim. She was a lovely person. The first family (not by blood, but in her case, closer) member whose funeral I ever took. I wore my Oxford hood and said (which I thought daring at the time) "when we were growing up, Auntie Margaret was such an enthusiast for everything that we did, that there was absolutely nowhere the sun didn't shine".

Goldfinches were pointed out to me by Sister Helen Columba at Fairacres. Now in her late 80s (same generation as Auntie Margaret, although she would not consider herself to have been "spared" for longer), she was amused by my interest in birds when I came on retreat at the convent. She had a book of religious imagery and symbolism, and after one visit when I had waxed lyrical about them, she copied and sent me a page saying that the goldfinch, with its gregarious nature, and its red, gold, and black, colouring, was a symbol of the Holy Trinity.

What evocations of love and friendship, and yet I had missed them this Spring until now! Or, could it be, that they were biding their time until they could celebrate with all the joyful gay weddings going on since last weekend?

Richard Haggis
April 2014

The Church By Law Established

"Will you to the utmost of your power maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel? Will you to the utmost of your power maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law? Will you maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in England? And will you preserve unto the Bishops and Clergy of England, and to the Churches there committed to their charge, all such rights and privileges, as by law do or shall appertain to them or any of them?"

That's the Coronation Oath made by the British monarch before the Archbishop of Canterbury crowns them. Reading Harold Nicholson's account of the coronation of the Queen's grandfather King George V, I was struck by how seriously and simply that King took his religious duties, and how very similar the faith of Elizabeth II seems to be.

My friends overseas and my nonconformist and agnostic friends at home are baffled by the idea of the Established Church. Most assume it's all to do with Henry VIII's first divorce. But Henry was no Anglican. He was an angry, and I think rather nasty, man. Not born the heir, he became the heir, to a crown, and a fortune (his father being the thriftiest monarch we ever had), and he was tall and strong and clever and musical and talented and charming. And then it all went wrong. It went to his head. The Pope - who was being kept captive by the nephew of the wife he wanted to divorce - wouldn't do what he wanted. So, he sacked the Pope. He was the King of England, he could sack anyone. But he wasn't a Protestant - that was a European, specifically German, thing, and Henry was very British (unlike most of the people who have occupied the throne since). He had even written a pamphlet against Martin Luther for the Pope, so that he could be given the title "Defender of the Faith", to keep up with the Kings of France and Spain who also had religious titles from the Pope. He was suspicious of the vernacular, never permitted the clergy to marry (despite knowing full well that Archbishop Cranmer was married - a liberty which he introduced legally almost as soon as the old king was dead, and enshrined in what is now Article XXXII of the Church of England), and had by this time become too intellectually lazy to engage with theology at all.

Then there was Edward VI, from whom the nation was delivered by his early death, and Queen Mary I, whose even briefer reign caused utter chaos and bitterness. And then, for forty-five years we had the canny, hugely intelligent, glamorous, ingenious, devious, but utterly committed, Elizabeth I. She had a choice, and she chose the reformed religion of the mother she never knew, and her brother, but fashioned to her own tastes. This was to be a church for all the English people. We would go to church together, say our prayers together, receive communion together, and then go to the pub afterwards and argue about our beliefs, but go back together again next week. And Elizabeth intended there to be parish priests to supervise this, and bishops to stand up it for in Parliament. On the subject of the marriage of the clergy, she was old-fashioned, she didn't like it. But she reasoned that what was good for the laity - herself included - was good for the clergy, and good for the bishops. So, two of her three archbishops of Canterbury were married men. There is an irony in this, that of all the people in the land, Elizabeth herself was the least free to marry, even if she had wanted to.

She ushered in over four centuries (so far) of a distinctive way of being Christian and of doing Theology. In all of it, church and nation were united as one - argumentative and disagreeing - but normally able to keep their lids on their quarrels. And the monarch did as he or she was told - not by the church, but by Parliament, in which the church was represented by the bishops in the House of Lords. Of course, the monarch appointed those bishops, but usually on advice from ministers, and once they had their place, they had tenure for life, and could go rogue. The same was true of the parish clergy, largely appointed not by bishops, as now, but by lay people. But once the appointment was made, it was permanent until they died. If you wanted to be ordained, but knew your bishop wouldn't like you, you could seek "letters dimissory" and be ordained by another bishop who did. It was no centralised monolith, it was a fluid, flexible, going concern, delivering to the nation its spiritual welfare.

The weakest link in the decline of Establishment has been Prime Ministers - but for the best of reasons. Some of them, having little or no faith of their own, or beliefs rooted in other denominations, felt uncomfortable making appointments to the Church of England. This was to muddle their personal prejudices with their role as chief adviser to the monarch, the Supreme Governor of the C of E. In the meantime, the Church was itself rootling around with an eccentric version of democracy which became the General Synod. This was the lifeline that James Callaghan, the Prime Minister in 1976, sought for setting up a new relationship with the Church of which he was not a member, and despite his Baptist roots, felt that as an atheist, he was ill-suited to be choosing its senior clergy.

But what Callaghan did was to secede power to an undemocratic assembly, and the even more chaotically-selected House of Bishops. Parishes got no authority to nominate their own clergy, nor the people of a diocese their own bishop, still less the people of a province to elect their archbishop. And the world slowly went grey. The mavericks and dodgy bobs that Prime Ministers had appointed because they thought they might be a bit of fun, or the church needed livening up, were slowly got rid of. Gradually, as vocations and money got scarcer, and parish re-organisations had to happen, the bishops clawed away the power of appointment from the laity and to themselves. It was becoming harder and harder to break the rules, buck the trend, be true to something new, and be secure in your place to say it, and be it.

Then Archbishop Carey came along. He is a peculiar man, with tremendous pastoral gifts in private, who only ever seems like a great gallumphing buffoon in public. Not to his fans, of course, but to the wider world, which is the one the C of E is for - as Archbishop Temple said "the church of England is the only institution that exists primarily for the benefit of its non-members". And he was chosen by Mr Callaghan's system, but by a very different Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, who ignored the convention that the first name from the committee is the one the Prime Minister must choose, and instead selected the second, and there was no gainsaying her. There are those who say that Dr Carey's name was only on the list at all to make it absolutely clear who they really wanted. More fool them, more fool a foolish system.

And Carey did two interesting things. He set up an Archbishops's Council, "Carey's Curia" as it was dubbed, to run things from the centre, which is not how they'd ever been run - nor ever needed to be. Apparently he used to shout a lot and bang his fist on the table, and when countered with opposition say "because I'm the archbishop of Canterbury", as if that would win hearts and minds. But his other interesting invention was "Episcopal Unanimity". And this came in after the "Issues in Human Sexuality" report was published in 1991. This was supposed to be a paper to encourage discussion. He made it dogma. And unless you agreed to it, you couldn't be a bishop, a dean, a canon, even an ordinand. This was "the teaching of the Church of England". No it wasn't! It was a pamphlet! Two of its authors have subsequently resiled from its conclusions. One, Lord Harries of Pentregarth (formerly, in a humbler life, Bishop of Oxford) even speaking mightily for the Same Sex Marriage Bill in the House of Lords.

Even in this Stalinist regime, the Establishment broke out, in the most unlikely voice of the now-Roman Catholic Prime Minister Tony Blair, who recommended to Her Majesty that Dr Jeffrey John, Canon of Southwark, an openly gay man, be made Bishop of Reading. The Queen said yes. And then the church's nerve broke. Dr John, whilst privately despising it, was prepared to adhere to "the teaching of the Church of England" on sexuality (invented by pamphlet in 1991), and live celibately with his partner. It was a vulgar episode in our church life when private things were made public that should not have been. But the Archbishop bottled, and Dr John and the Bishop of Oxford, were forced to back down. Carey - only out of power a few months - had triumphed. Were it not for the Callaghan Compromise, Mr Blair could have said "I don't care what the archbishop thinks, this is my recommendation, and it sticks", as Harold Macmillan had said long ago when the saintly Michael Ramsey thought Archbishop Fisher would not have approved of him as his successor.

And now we have the Same-Sex Marriage fiasco. You'd love them more if they could be honest about their past, but they now claim to be in favour of Civil Partnerships (which came in at the end of 2005), when in fact the House of Bishops opposed them tooth and claw, with spoiling amendments and poisoned briefings. They were, rightly, ignored. This time, they have kicked and screamed against reality and worked behind the scenes to establish a "quadruple lock" chastity belt to protect the church of England, any diocese, any parish, any priest, anyone wanting to get married, from exercising their own conscience in the matter of same-sex marriage. This was a fundamental betrayal of the Establishment relationship. The state operates towards the church a little like the monarchy to the government - it can advise, and warn. And what the Church of England needed was a clear line from the government that the law of the land concerning marriage now included gay couples, and if the individual parsons found that difficult, they would be free to decline to take the service.

There is an analogy here with the practice of marrying divorcees, and those married to divorcees, with a spouse still living. This was subject to blanket condemnation by the bishops for years, but individual priests continued to exercise their rights as civil registrars within religious buildings to conduct marriages of which their bishops might not approve, but which were regular and valid and legal. What was needed from Parliament in the latest exchange was to extend this same freedom to same-sex marriage - the freedom in conscience to refuse to take the service, the freedom in conscience to officiate at it. Very few parish priests would marry a gay couple knowing it would cause mutiny in their congregations. Very few congregations would mutiny. And the bishops could shrug and say "we don't approve, but it's not our fault, it's the law, and we have no power over that". Bishops like it when they are not to blame. But if you want to exercise power - and saying No to a sizeable proportion of both faithful clergy and laity is exercising power - you must take the blame if you are wrong. Mr Cameron could have saved them from this, but like Callaghan and Thatcher before him, he doesn't really understand Establishment, despite being the most establishment prime minister we've had since 1964.

And nor do the bishops understand establishment, if they think they can stand outside the law. By fixing the chastity belt locks onto the C of E, they have removed a centuries' old right of English people to be married in their parish church, and if the C of E ceases to be the church of ALL the people in England, it ceases to be Anglican.

I would argue for disestablishment now, although I think that would be a tragedy and turn us into a sect, except that if it happened now even more power would land in the hands of the bishops, not the laity, and the Church of England would lose even more its Anglican character. For the sake of Anglicanism in England (and Wales), the "quadruple lock" must go. Only Parliament can do this, that is the nature of Establishment, and it is to our representatives there that we must turn and ask them to change the law before it does more harm.

Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
April 2014

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Jackdaws & Pheasants & Rape: Thoughts On Looking Our Best

April is meant to arrive with "showers sweet" but by a meteorological novelty, we seem instead to have skies full of dust from the Sahara, combining with European pollution, to mix with our own home-grown, higher quality, English pollution, to make a few days of Asthmatics Beware. Coming back from church yesterday, it felt rather romantic that the dust I was wiping off my glasses, and sucking into my lungs, might have come from exotic places I shall never visit. But then, being so close to the crematorium here, you never know.

Would I have noticed the dust, the different quality in the air, which superficially was just slightly misty but taller, if I hadn't heard about it on the radio? I'm not sure I would. It's often pointed out to us that despite our immense intellectual superiority in all things, human senses are feeble compared to almost any other animal's. You can't help noticing a dog's sense of smell, or the eyesight of a goose, and wondering what it must be like to be bombarded with so much information. For some of us, even a bus journey is too much information. And I don't just mean the smell.

In Spring, whatever kind of creature you are, no matter how attuned your senses, nature makes things easy - everything is decked in its Sunday Best. The flowers start it, then the birds, the trees, the fields. A friend of mine who used to be a botanist before selling her soul to the devil and making a grown-up living as a lawyer, used to say "if human beings did with their reproductive parts in public what flowers do, they'd be on a register". And if you could get a literal translation of what those birds are actually communicating at the top of their tiny voices in your garden, you'd report them as nuisance neighbours. But what we see, and hear, is beauty, and we don't dwell on the lurking furtive motives of sex and territorial conquest that lie beyond the colours and the songs.

Walking through the streets around Bury Knowle Park yesterday I was struck once again by the preponderance of jackdaws in this part of town. The day before, in Risinghurst, I'd seen seven all at the same time - not a flock, they're not that kind of bird, but within my line of vision on one street. In the Wimbledon of my childhood they were a rarity, known mainly from books. We don't generally think of the black crows as very pretty - the magpie and the jay have cornered that end of the market, although the raven is majestic and the carrion crow has a certain sinister charm - but it might be because, sensible fellows, they usually don't let us get close enough. Peering over a low front garden wall yesterday, however, I was perhaps no more than two yards from a pair of truly handsome jackdaws, sporting that silvery grey buzzcut that is their distinguishing feature in even sharper definition for the spring. They reminded me of those nearly-bald men who spend more on a haircut than men who actually have hair to cut, the epitome of "less is more" and making the best of what you have. And they can be handsome too, but the jackdaws get there with neither effort nor vanity.

Another recent sighting, on the walk back from Risinghurst, which borders farmland, has been a magnificent cock pheasant. He too is surprisingly tame, and when you get closer, you realise what a festival of camp excess his plumage is. The closest I've been to a pheasant's feathers has been when skinning it for the pot, but by then a certain lustre and sheen has worn off. Feathers, like skin, look better on the living. If pheasants had mirrors, rather than lady pheasants, to admire them, one suspects the species would swiftly die out.

For the plantlife, in field and garden, this season's colour would seem to be yellow. Here I am hampered by my ignorance of flora, and an inability to retain their image long enough to find out what they are when I get home. Forsythia and dandelions I do know, though, and most welcome they are. Give me the wild careless largesse of a dandelion over a hot-housed chrysanthemum any day. The path to the fields has been boggy for some time, but a few days of sunshine have dried it out, and it was possible to inspect the new corn crops that have been planted. Again, until they develop ears, I won't be able to tell what they are, but their deep green is very pleasing to the eye. At the edges of the field I was reminded of a school friend who on a drive into the country at certain times of year would piercingly shriek "RAPE!" on seeing a gorgeous field of yellow from the crest of a hill. Oilseed rape was very unpopular at one time, I think perhaps because its colour is too explicit for pastel English tastes, but I like it, and I believe it does the soil good, as well as being useful for cooking oil and animal fodder. The foliage of the plant is a rather indifferent green which needs to be redeemed by the riot of the yellow flowers.

The change in weather brings a season in human attire too, and yesterday the prevailing fashion seemed to be "leggings". It's not a word to inspire confidence, and the mere sight of skin-tight clothes is enough to make me feel sweaty and uncomfortable - not, alas, from wanton desire (usually), but because that's how I think I'd feel in them. Very few people have the elegance of form to carry them off. They accentuate curves, of course, but the curvey mountains come with deep valleys of flaunted creases. You need to be in very good nick to be able to flaunt a crease. The only thing on a person that should be worn skin-tight, is their skin.

And doubtless next year there will be a new fashion, and last year's leggings will be thrown out, as too embarrassing even for the charity shops, and more novel adornments will be sought. But Mr and Mrs Jackdaw will be sporting their bargain basement buzzcuts once again, and Mr Pheasant will be saying "oh this old thing? I just gave it a wash and threw it on", and there will be dandelions in the lawns and rape in the fields, and they will look their best, with no effort at all.

Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
April 2014

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Rough Diamonds, or just Plain Rough?: the Mystery of Class

A recent article in the Daily Telegraph ("It's time we stopped worshipping the working class" by Alex Proud, 31.03.14) bemoaned the love affair of the intelligentsia with the "working class", with everyone playing down their privilege, and being prolier-than-thou. It reminded me of Owen Jones's 2011 book "Chavs - The Demonization of the Working Class". And I thought, well, this is a rum business, they seem to be saying quite different things about the same thing, how can this be?

I knew what Mr Proud was talking about. Curiously, in his own piece, in which he admits to a privileged upbringing, he also mentions his parents having endured hard times, and growing up, at first, when they were poor. So he's actually playing the same game, laying claim to a heritage which is no longer his, and from which he has, materially, moved on. It's a game I've played myself. I know my parents were very hard up when I was born, but I don't remember that, nor a moment's discomfort or hunger. Despite being sent to an expensive and very good academic school, which most of the other parents could afford, and mine struggled to, I didn't notice that either. In fact I didn't even know my education was being paid for until I was in my teens. You will perhaps conclude, with some of my handsomely-recompensed teachers, "not a bright boy". It just didn't interest me. But I do remember committing a grave sin long ago when my maternal grandmother was spinning yarns about her own family in Ireland and their 500 acre farm, and saying how pleased I was to hear about it because "it's so much more respectable than scrap metal" (which was my father's business). As a statement of fact, this was introvertible. As a lobbed grenade of intra-family warfare, it was incendiary. This was exactly what my immensely snobbish grandmother wanted to hear, and what my not-remotely-snobbish mother didn't. Fact was, though, we owned our house, and my grandmother rented from the council, so who was posher? Eventually I visited this farm in Ireland, a few months after she died. It had fallen into the hands of one of her elder brothers. It wasn't 500 acres. It was 77. And over 50 of them were swamp. No shame in being an Irish peasant, but nothing grand, either.

It's certainly true that I've traded, socially, on having been a curate in Romford ("ever so rough" as a university friend told me in an answerphone message - and he'd grown up just up the road in Hornchurch), and having a father in the scrap metal trade, and a grandfather born in a workhouse (and then a barrowboy, and fed by gypsies!), and Italian immigrant great-grandparents (one of whom lived long enough for me to know) who couldn't read and write. It's really true that you get slivers of street cred for this sort of thing. But Mr Proud seemed to be arguing that when you have money in your pocket, the people who made you are no longer part of you, that you've moved on. I don't think that's true. I am proud of those ancestors that I knew personally, and many others I have discovered through genealogical research. None of them got a Nobel Prize or the OM, but they did some things extraordinarily well - in the case of my great grandmother Polly Patterson, who died at 37 having had twelve children, just surviving so long.

It's also true that I've gone downmarket. I went through a phase of saying "when I was at college". I wanted to say, because it was the proudest achievement of my life, "when I went to OXFORD!" but I thought people would hear the wrong things in those words, and judge, and assume, and condemn. So I played down the biggest thing I ever achieved. Which was a wrong thing to do. I had a friend at vicar school who struggled with my academic success. He couldn't admit that it might be something to do with having a razor sharp (and rather pedantic) mind. "Your parents paid for a very good school, no wonder you succeeded". So did many other parents, and their boys didn't get into Christ Church Oxford. So, latterly, I have stopped pretending. That was my achievement. Not money's.

What Mr Proud has identified, I think, is a desire to have made it on your own. Or at least, to come from parents or even grandparents, who made it on their own. It's all about merit. We must deserve what we have, even though, if we do the sums, the little some of us have and the vastness others of us do, doesn't really make any kind of sense. Maybe that is why Mr Cameron's pedigree has disappeared from Wikipaedia, with its baronets, and earls, and kings.

Mr Jones is looking at something quite different, and I think he is much more mistaken, but partly because he has set himself a much more substantial and interesting task. The title of his book speaks of "the working class", but its content addresses quite another class, the one that Karl Marx would have called the "Lumpenproletariat". The working class of his fond memory was the sort of people I was burying as a curate in Romford - people in their 80s (so, born in the teens and 1920s) many of whom had been married to the same person, done the same job, and lived in the same place, for at least half a century. It was a degree of emotional and financial stability and security that is unthinkable today for anyone, in any social class, except those who are immensely rich (and they seem to get divorced a lot). The working classes were white, lived near where they born, married young and stayed married, did one job for their whole career, rented and didn't gripe about it. That isn't what the "working class" is now. The term itself is iffy. I remember my headmaster loftily saying "we ALL work now", and having watched him oiling the windowsills of his Tudor rectory in Sussex, I feel his pain. The "working" class was named that not because the others didn't work, but because they didn't need to, and certainly not for other people. Well, times have changed
and most of the middle classes need to work, and even some of the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy. What has changed is that the kind of work that Mr Owen's working class relied on, and the social and family stability it brought, has perished.

So, the people being demonised are not the new middle class, who are the old working class, but the lumpenproletariat, as that layabout Mr Marx would call them. They are the single mothers, the out-of-works, the improvidents and ne'er-do-wells, created, we are told, by the benefits system. Single mothers are selected for special condemnation, and have been for at least thirty years, because they are obviously using the system to justify their insatiable hunger for sex - and their children are PROOF. There's an amusing defintion of the lumpenproletariat on the internet: "lumpen, the shortened form of lumpenproletariat, is used to refer to lower classes of society. The meaning of the term is roughly analogous to bogan, hoi polloi, riffraff, scrounger, white trash, or yobbo. In the Slovene language, the word "lump" means "rascal" or "scamp"."

The interesting question is why there are so many people who have fallen through society's supposed nets and find themselves in this place. Maybe it's inherent. My grandmother's family (other side) who grew up in poverty as children of Italian immigrants in Battersea in the 1920s and 1930s would speak of members of other families as "rough". It wasn't about poverty, the food they couldn't afford, or the clothes they were wearing, it was a state of mind and manners. Some inherit it, some break out.

My grandfather broke out. In this seventh richest country in the world, I don't think we're doing much to help others do so now, over a century after he was born in a workhouse.

Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
April 2014