Monday, July 27, 2009

XI The Seven Devils of Women's Ordination, or, She Who Lie Down With Dogs Catch Fleas

Some Conclusions

The foregoing leads to some inexorable conclusions: we need to de-institutionalise the clergy. [41] The more prominent the clergy, the more clerical the church, the less the self-effacing, humble Christ is revealed. We need people to take care of buildings and administer funds and be points of focus, but they do not have to be ordained. We need to find means of regularly holding up the mirror of Christ’s humility and self-outpouring love before each Christian, but most particularly before those in positions of leadership, who tend to lose their humanity. [42] This used to be the role of confession, but it, too, was destroyed by the abuse of power and the disease of clericalism. Nepsis, vigilance, was the watchword of the desert hermits against the seven devils: human beings do not have to be victims of their thoughts and impulses; they do have to want to be free from this bondage, from their sloth and self-absorption.

We need most of all to stop thinking in dualistic terms of ‘clerics’, ‘ministers’ and ‘laity’ and think instead in terms of persons who have equal membership in the Body, to examine from scratch what we are in fact doing in the liturgy. The gifts of the Spirit are not magic, which is a function of the pathology of control; the gifts of the Spirit are as vast and free as God’s immense love, and are given everywhere and to all, according to the individual capacity to receive. How to increase the capacity of each person to receive God’s gifts is the primary teaching task of religious leaders, to teach themselves, first of all.

Sometimes the image arises of the wider institutional church as a person who sits in my tear-drenched guest chair. Shaking this off, I sometimes wish instead that I could write a letter to the churches, particularly to the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church. This is what I would say.

I would remind each person, ordained and baptised, that God loves every one as a dear child, that it is possible to rest and weep in the lap of God, who cradles us in the Holy Spirit, who, in her womb, can bring us to new birth in Christ, who bears us to the Father. If we would only be empty, we can be filled with God, and by this Love we would learn that being obedient is not as to a sovereign, but a response of love called out of us by One who continually pours out his life for us, and in us, as deep calls to deep, kenosis calls to kenosis. ‘The God we pray to is always more humble than we are.’ If we can only learn to be in the present moment, to ‘will God’ in the present moment of eternity, a present moment that requires no doing—we must be done with doing until the vision is restored. The vision of God’s love from which the churches began, like Abraham’s vision, changes even as we approach it, and will never desert us, not ever, no matter how we might feel inside, if only we will contemplate this immense, fathomless, enfolding humble Love, and listen to its voice.

Those of us who care deeply enough about the institution to risk criticising it, who have risked so much for it, will not desert it, for we know that underneath the burnout there is still the inner ear to hear, the luminous eye to see, the heart to love, and the humility to forgive others, to forgive itself, and most of all, to receive God’s loving forgiveness.

To will God. What does this mean?

A Carthusian describes it thus: ‘To change something you must first will it, or rather will God in it.’

'The willing of what is, is, at once, utterly simple, yet very mysterious...of the order of intuition and practice. One would perhaps go a step further and speak of willing God in a situation, rather than the situation with God. One would quit oneself as initiator and base of attitude and act and plunge into the act by which God wills and creates what is, in willing Himself. By willing God, in this concrete context, we will all that is, not as we perceive it to be, but as God wills it to be and how he wills it to be in the mystery of his wisdom and love...To which must be added that this willing is something that God does or is in us.' [43]




The Church of England as an institution is dying. The ordination of women will not hasten that death, but in the present climate there is little reason to hope their ordination will arrest it. Perhaps in extremis the Church of England will be delivered from its devils; perhaps in extremis it will be able to receive deliverance into faith, silence and stillness; perhaps it will be given a near-death experience. In stillness, in the vision of God, there is neither up nor down, neither career success nor failure, no pinnacle and no long slide down from it. There is only the union of beholding and the action that issues from it (2 Cor. 5,14).

It might be argued that this hope begs the question, but that is precisely the point: we are now beggars, or ought to be. We don’t know what to do. Instead of making something up to make ourselves feel better, we need to wait and listen, without images and without plans, and, as anyone who truly prays will tell you, from this silence will be given more in concrete reality than we could possibly ask or imagine. But there must be faith, there must be patience, there must be willingness to ‘will God’, who is the source of all real vision and its working out in the nitty-gritty. Thus for me to make specific suggestions would be simply to set up a new set of stereotypes, a new set of slots for people to be crammed into; it would be to grasp at power; our only hope is to ungrasp. [44]

I have written this paper from the point of view of someone who has nothing to lose, to whom the institutional church on both sides of the Atlantic has done everything it is possible to do to a woman except take my life, and once or twice it has come pretty close to that. [45] Yet, without in any way caving in, I can say with Julian of Norwich, that this too can be turned to God’s purpose, who saves his Word in all things; that, while injustice is never God’s will, these ‘harrowing’ experiences have been woven into that holy will, which is perfect, that is to say, not static, but mature in its fullness. The insight that there is an immense love behind the universe is, as Helen Waddell observed, quoting Dante, initially a kind of outrage upon the soul. But as the gift of faith is given in the far reaches beyond all reason and understanding, it is the source of the only life worth having, an unspeakable solemn joy.

The grace to put on the kenotic, inviolably vulnerable mind of Christ, to adore, bestows on Christ’s poor ones the joy no one and nothing can take from us, however badly we may fail. It is a freedom to which each human being is invited. It is not anarchy leading to the fascism in which individualism invariably ends, but solitude cultivated for the sake of community. It is not rebellion against authority, but surrender to the highest authority, responding with obedience to those who also seek the mind of Christ, the most humble servants of all, who therefore may be legitimate authorities. (Phil. 2,5-11) To choose otherwise would be to fail the temptation in the desert, to adore the Adversary in exchange for the sorry kingdoms of this world.

What I have learnt from all of this is the age-old lesson that people, however well-intentioned, will always fail. God, and the fathomless vision that God longs to give, will never fail. It requires only that we acknowledge the gift in utter gratitude by cooperation with the grace that enables our simplicity, that opens our hearts to God for God to enlarge and purify with the fire of love—God, whose thoughts and ways are not ours. Christ’s peace is utterly simple, a simplicity that can never be comprehended, only received, and through it we are drawn into the mystery God’s own self-outpouring, into speechless wonder and ineffable joy.

They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint. (Is. 40,31)


[41] See ‘The Shadow of God: Issues of Vocation for Women’, by the Rt. Rev’d. Dr. Penelope Jamieson, The Orr Memorial Lecture, 1993, Huron College, London, Ontario.
[42] ‘Power is a fabrication, a fraud that separates men from their humanity.’ Stephen Schiff, commenting on the work of Alan Bennett in The New Yorker, September 6, 1993. The Native American writer Gerald Vizenor, in his story ‘The Moccasin Game’ has the same insight. ‘Men who had dreamed too much [i.e., their own projections instead of waiting for a complete vision] were transformed with only parts of birds and animals....Migizi, the eagle, was no more than the head of the bald eagle and he screeched his words.
‘“Migizi pretends to be human because he tried so hard to be an eagle,” said Nawina. “He shouts that the men who dream too much, the men who try so hard to escape their human bodies, are the men with weak visions. The humans with unbroken visions hold the bear and eagle in their hearts. Baapi and the hand talkers [deaf-mutes] are the ones with visions, and they do not wear feathers and claws as a disguise.” Earth Song, Sky Spirit, ed. Clifford E. Trafzer, Anchor, 1992.
[43] unpublished Carthusian novice conference.
[44] ‘Whenever someone still unconditionally hopes beyond all empirical hopelessness; wherever a particular joy is experienced as the promise of a joy that is limitless; wherever a person loves with unconditional faithfulness and resolve, although the frailty of such love on both sides cannot possibly legitimize this unconditional determination; wherever radical responsibility towards a moral obligation is maintained, even when it seemingly leads only to disaster; wherever the relentlessness of truth is experience and unconditionally accepted and grasped; wherever the unsurmountable discrepancy between what is individual and what is social in the plurality of man’s different destinies is endured in a seemingly unjustified resolve to hope for the meaning and blessedness which reconciles all these situations already experienced and accepted, even if this is not expressly and objectively formulated.’ Karl Rahner, SJ, ‘Religious Feeling Inside and Outside the Church,’ in Theological Investigations, vol. 17, New York: Crossroad, 1981, pp. 236-237.
[45] See my Seasons of Death and Life, San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1990.

Monday, July 20, 2009

X The Seven Devils of Women's Ordination, or, She Who Lie Down With Dogs Catch Fleas

The American Experience

To have some idea of what ordination of women may mean for the future, it is useful to look at the American experience.

In response to an invitation to pursue research, I left America nearly ten years ago. I have great love and respect for my adopted country, enough to observe it closely, if not uncritically. If I preferred the USA I would live there. I go back every year partly for family and business reasons, partly out of horrified fascination, and mainly to have solitude in the Alaska wilderness. In the past ten years, I have watched the situation in ECUSA (Episcopal Church in the USA) continue to deteriorate. That women have been ordained for fifteen years or so is merely incidental to this process of decline, which has been going on for at least half a century.

Around the time women were first ordained in the USA, there began a mad general rush for ordination. There were a lot of reasons given, personal call (always questionable and rarely properly discerned); desire to celebrate the Eucharist (subtext: a weak personality, that is, inchoate, unintegrated, seeking a form exterior to itself by acquiring personal power over others); gifts that ‘must be shared [read forced on] with the [poor benighted] people’; ‘worker priest’; and the most distorting of all, a reason I have often heard voiced in Britain as well, that one is not really a ‘complete’ Christian until one is ordained. [40] The selection process in ECUSA is slightly different in each diocese, but it is so haphazard, and relies so thoroughly on American self-promotion and sales ability, that the people who perhaps might be bearers of ‘the vision’ and able to convey it either don’t bother to apply or are turned down.

If you look at the American ‘Red Book’ or at ECUSA’s equivalent of Crockford’s (which goes by a slang name too vulgar to print in a respectable English volume on religion), what is immediately noticeable is that in many dioceses there are twice, even three times as many nonstipendiary clergy as there are stipendiary. They predictably cluster around the richest areas of the country. There appears to be a geographical parallel among nonstipendiary clergy in England, although, at least until recently, these were usually ordained for entirely different (and equally questionable) reasons than their American cousins.

In ECUSA, the clergy glut is so great (and the quality often so appalling) that some dioceses have now put a moratorium on ordinations. There are so many clergy in some parishes that at an early service there will be more clergy in the sanctuary than worshippers in the pews. ECUSA is arguably one of the most clericalised churches in the world. It has reached the point that when I am in the USA I go to one or two ECUSA services in a vain search for signs of hope, and the rest of the time go to Roman Catholic Mass. A lot of people do this, and the traffic is both ways. As a Catholic friend of mine, who goes to an ECUSA parish, says, ‘I can pray there. It’s not my politics. I can leave politics behind.’

The promise of new vision and a new church associated with having ordained women has not materialised in ECUSA. In fact, the women seem more and more to be adopting the ‘executive’ model, and they dress like upper-level management cum dog collars. Or perhaps they have opted for the earth mother/goddess model. Whatever, when I see one of these assertive types coming—the attitude is set in the face—I run (some things are identical on both sides of the Pond). I have come to dread clergy (female or male) who come at me with an agenda more than those who try to degrade me by their elitism (male or female). This says something about me, of course. If I were utterly receptive to the vision of God I should not notice, for love does not take offence, and humility is not aware of injury. But I am weak, and I bear wounds I cannot afford to have reopened quite yet.

ECUSA is in a state of decline. The usual placebos of ‘programme’ are offered, but the subtext can no longer remain hidden: the clergy are the problem. There is also a financial crisis: people refuse to give money for the ‘CEO’s office’ in New York, or for centralised programmes. Thus, proposals are being prepared for decentralisation. However, it is questionable how effective any remedy will be because, as with the C of E, the basic issues have not been addressed, and the vision of God is virtually never mentioned.

For example, this past summer I was shown a draft document from a committee on the environment (first year’s budget: $30,000). I have had lifelong involvement in ecological issues. This document was one of the few developments in ECUSA that prompted any curiosity. I read it, and handed it back to the member of Executive Council who had shown it to me. ‘What’s wrong,?’ he asked. I just looked at him, wondering how to put it. He is an old and dear friend.

Finally I said, ‘Where is there anything about repentance, especially repentance for presumption and exploitation, where is there anything about wonder, about humility before the mystery of creation? Where is that key Native American word, “respect”? Where is there mention of the vision of God from which any accurate perception of the interrelatedness of creation must arise? This document is entirely presumptuous.’

My friend was scribbling as I talked. He handed the document back. ‘Where would you put such statements?’ I did my own scribbling on the opening preamble, and the papers changed hands again, as I said, ‘There’s no place here to put something in about the vision of God. This document should be redone from scratch.’ ‘There isn’t time,’ my friend said, ‘it has to be through the committee process for General Convention next year.’ Then he looked at me: ‘It would have been pretty futile to have put you on the committee, wouldn’t it?’ ‘Yes,’ I responded, thinking how much ECUSA committees resemble the British syndrome of not really wanting to solve problems but merely talking about them endlessly.


Trying to comfort me, my friend voiced what I had been thinking by saying, ‘Next year when I have all this bureaucracy out of the way, I’ll try to get back to having something of a spiritual life.’

‘Isn’t that exactly backwards?’

But I didn’t say it.

The American experience: having women at the altar is more or less routine now. Some of them still try too hard. Most have faded into the clerical landscape and are lost to the rest of us. Only the most conservative parishes and ‘the Synod’, an Anglo-Catholic rump, still make a fuss. No one pays much attention because the pathology is self-evident. What has not changed is discrimination. In fact, it is almost harder for women now that the law is in place. ‘What are you complaining about,’ a clergyman will say when discrimination is pointed out, ‘women have equal rights under canon law.’ But the law and its implementation, the changing of cultural perceptions, are two very different matters.


[40] ‘I use the term “call” not in the sense of a datable experience, but as a sense that one’s life has a theonomous cast, is deeply referred to the purposes of God, which gives freedom and distance and perspective in relation to all other concerns. Such a call is not an event, but an ongoing dynamic of a growing and powerful claim [on the one being called]....We need to recognise that such a sense of call in our time is profoundly countercultural, because the primary ideological voices of our time are the voices of autonomy: to do one’s own thing, self-actualization, self-assertion, self-fulfillment. The ideology of our time is to propose that one can live “an uncalled life,” one not referred to any purpose beyond one’s self....If the ideology of autonomy talks us out of our call as it talked Ancient Israel out of its call, we too may settle for idolatries that feel and sound like a call. An idolatrous alternative may take the form of a moral crusade in which we focus on one moral issue to the neglect of everything else...a dogmatic crusade, which is often a disguised form of maintaining monopoly, an ecclesiastical passion, or an echo of civil religion...all diversionary activities to keep from facing the yielding in obedience that belongs to all who are called by this God....They are in fact attempts to keep the known world safe, to preclude the dismantling work of Yahweh....Jeremiah understand call to be deeper and more dangerous. The holy purposes of God move in upon and against all of our arrangements....[Jeremiah’s] yearning for God is not a pious or mystical quest. It is a court of last resort after every other yearning has failed (18:19).’’ Brueggemann, pp.18-22.

Monday, July 13, 2009

IX The Seven Devils of Women's Ordination, or, She Who Lie Down With Dogs Catch Fleas

[NB A reminder that the current series of posts is a chapter from a book published in 1994 and should be read accordingly. The reference to The Way of Silent Love vol. III is either The Freedom of Obedience or Poor Therefore Rich (sorry, can't remember which was published first and online time is very limited in my current location.]


There is nothing so simple as prayer and the journey into God. One needs but to sit in stillness with an open heart. The rest is sheer gift, the grace of Love alone.

Prayer is the mystery of the Resurrection by which we are drawn to the Father.

Modern advances in psychology have helped us better to understand what happens in our interior silence, but psychology is no substitute for still-prayer. One thing that has come clear is that we have to know enough of the truth of our selves [35] to have an unfolding truth to give to God. The truth of our self is continually emerging from silence and cannot be categorised; it is not the ego, or the much-vaunted self-image, which is primarily an illusory fantasy construction of a personality in search of itself. And the silence has to be fed, carefully, for in the silence, nothing is eliminated or left behind. ‘Our past goes before us,’ as St. Augustine (much misunderstood and fashionably maligned) observed.

Yet there is nothing so difficult as this still-prayer, for it requires that we relinquish our wilfulness. We are always devising ways wilfully to distract ourselves from the sometimes frightening confrontation with the holy, and the willingly docile receptivity required to receive it. Distraction which contemporary so-called spirituality provides in vast amounts. The ‘spirituality’ fad is riding the Thatcherite wave. It has become a market commodity and has created a ‘priesthood’ and clericalism of its own. [36]

The commodity mentality is evidenced by the occasional visitor, always someone I have never seen before, who comes into my study, sits down, and starts talking, can’t stop talking, talking without a break about this programme and that, Jung, Myers-Briggs, Ignatian spirituality, enneagrams, pilgrimages, the newest form of therapy.... I wait in silence, not that I could stem the flood even if I wanted to. Often the person is badly in need of basic psychotherapy. Usually the person has had a genuine glimpse of God, but has been fruitlessly searching for the ‘right’ way to go about pursuing it (the slot syndrome again). Usually the person is deeply angry, ‘angry unto death’ (Jonah 4,9), and angry at the time and, frequently, the large sums of money they feel they have wasted, realising at some level that something basic is missing and has never been addressed. [37]

We live not in the New Age but in the new age of empire-building celebrity gurus, spiritual technology and commodity ‘spirituality’. [38] Who was it who said that con artists succeed because in their heart of hearts people want to be fooled? A close look at some of these movements reveals further evidence of control. More than one Roman Catholic friend of mine (including a Jesuit) agrees that it is worrying to realise that St. Ignatius emerged in the Counter-Reformation and that so-called Ignatian spirituality is being revived under the present pontiff.

Similarly, behind the somewhat dubious claims of techniques such as the Myers Briggs inventory are yet more tools of ‘spiritual’ control. Such strategies simply put people more firmly in their slots, and amplify an erroneous impression of ‘normal’, which in its deep sense means not ‘according to a universal standard’ but rather ‘true to type’. Most of what goes on in the ‘spirituality’ movement appeals to the desire for a quick fix and the narcissistic pleasures of watching oneself be a ‘mystic’, which amounts to little more than additional distraction and further layers of self-consciousness. When added to the problematic British penchant for acting, an individual’s spiritual dilemma can seem byzantine. Much of it carries the loaded message of the self-help movement that there is always something more wrong with us that needs to be fixed—by us. Only God can effect the grace of transfiguration. Whatever made us presume to manipulate the holy? Whatever happened to the mystery of the human person, whose simple gaze on God can be more healing than years with a psychotherapist? Whatever happened to ‘sit in your cell and your cell will teach you everything’?

Which is not to say that psychotherapy does not have its place. But in the last ten years psychotherapy seems to have abandoned its brief of helping people to recognise the truth of the self, of helping them towards maturity, which includes, among other criteria, the ability to postpone gratification and the ability to live with ambiguity. Psychotherapy (over 400 psychotherapies at last count—makes you wonder) also has joined the commodity market. This is especially true in the United States. In Britain, psychotherapy seems more like drip feed, and the subtext is that if you have let the side down enough to ask for help, then, bad luck, you’re a write-off. From an American perspective, British psychotherapy seems divided into schools that vaguely resemble the cultish groups one associates with Glastonbury. In addition, the few British psychotherapists I have met seem very much de haut en bas, which is not encouraging. I must admit that my point of view is influenced by the stories of the people who sit in the tear-drenched guest chair, and that I exaggerate (but only a little) to make a point.

To each their own poison, but whatever it is, the subtext, once again, is control. So-called lay ministry, especially when it takes the form of that loathsome phrase ‘spiritual direction’ can quickly degenerate into admission to the foyer of the clerical club, glamour and power by association. No degree or course of instruction can create a spiritual person, or a person capable of discernment.

'The life of prayer entails going beyond without end, a refusal to rest content, a thirst for the infinite that shatters the pious, safe idols we are endlessly making one after another. This is the desert.

'It is possible to live for years alone in a cell, occupied solely with the things of God, without even passing the threshold of solitude, for want of leaving an infantile world people with images, ‘spiritual’ pleasures, and words without end. An entire world that reflects only the multiple facets of our own self and our unconscious desires. it is this self that one risks adoring, and not God. We need images, sensibility, concepts, but we must know how to go beyond, to leave the surface to plunge into the silence of faith, the humility of solitude, the boundless infinity of Love.

'Get behind me, Satan! Our thoughts are not God’s thoughts.

'The way of faith is a Way that is not a way. It is the mysterious world of the Resurrection. It is Christ, his death and his life. It is the Spirit who blows where it will. It is the Father whose infinite love cannot ever be circumscribed. Let us leave our selves to be borne by the Spirit towards the Father, ever renewing our abandonment in Christ.

‘We know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know him who is true, and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols.’ (I Jn. 5,20-21) [39]


[35] See my ‘Sexuality, Otherness and the Truth of the Self' cited above.
[36] See Sister Lavinia Byrne’s description of ‘spiritual direction’ as a ‘master-slave’ relationship in Sharing the Vision, London, SPCK, 1989, p. 21.
[37] The West has become a haven for spiritual charlatans.’ Sogyal Rinpoche in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, HarperSanFrancisco, 1992, an invaluable book for getting fresh perspective.
This is not, however, to idealise Tibetan Buddhism, which shares many of the same problems with Christianity and other religions. It is only recently, for example, that the Dalai Lama has encouraged Tibetan nuns to become literate and read the scriptures (he is the first to do so) or to note the squalor and poverty in which they often live.
[38] For an apt parable, see Julian Barnes comments on the decline of caroling in ‘Letter from London: The Maggie Years’ in The New Yorker, 15 November, 1993.
[39] The Way of Silent Love, vol. III, forthcoming.

Monday, July 06, 2009

VIII The Seven Devils of Women's Ordination, or, She Who Lie Down With Dogs Catch Fleas


Clericalism is rife because theological education makes it so. Clericalism follows the fault line of the split that took place in the 17th century between ‘academic’ theology and practical training (the latter being much despised). The split continues to this day. Academic theology in its present form, long waltzing with the ‘dying bride of German rationalism’ is, now, with her, at the end. [31] In England the trends leading towards the death of theology are summarised by the work of Richard Swinburne. The irony of this situation is that many of the breakthroughs in understanding language (the so-called post-modern movement) were begun by logical positivists, yet while language studies have not only flourished but also given us new and better tools for studying mystical texts, the heirs of the positivists, confined to abstract mind games and linearity, have reached reductio ad absurdum. As Neils Bohr said to Albert Einstein, ‘You are not thinking, you are merely being logical.’

We live in a multivalent and interrelated world, something the ancients well understood. The message of the Gospels is conveyed in paradoxes. Paradoxes are not botched premises that need dismantling and explaining. They are descriptors: they describe something empirical that cannot be described any other way, and it is only by going through the gates of paradox that the empirical will be discovered. [32] To think using the tools of paradox is much more difficult than mere linearity. It is not that logic is abandoned, for in the thought-clusters of this multivalent universe descriptive logic becomes much more precise, in part because a multivalent universe is not being forced into univalence.

Academic theology is the last bastion of a kind of scientism that scientists, in the wake of Einstein, Heisenberg, Bell and Bohm, have long since abandoned. Indeed, science is itself primarily a language. [33] Theology is not done in a vacuum: every statement has psycho-spiritual, moral and sociological nuances.

Yet from all appearances, Church of England ordinands have far to little formal training in pastoral care. What there is often appears to be regarded as merely ‘doing time’. They do not seem to learn how to connect real life and theory/theology—to American eyes, a typical example of the ‘minds cut off from bodies’ syndrome. Their training does not appear to include basic counselling skills. There seems to be no equivalent to the obligatory Clinical Pastoral Education [34] mandatory for ordinands in virtually all denominations in the USA, in addition to field work placements in each of three years of theological education. There appears to be no process by which ordinands can learn how their own problems might affect their work with others. Rather, ordinands seem to be taught how to hide these problems under the veneer of a clerical mask. The sort of education American ordinands receive hasn’t made an obvious difference in the fate of American churches (although it has improved the quality of ministry), but it gives them less excuse.

However, even laudable programmes have a way of being co-opted into and compromised by clericalism. An American friend writes, ‘CPE [is] turning into another power ploy instead of the adventure in self-awareness it was supposed to be and formation contradictions—like theological students being required to have a spiritual director who is registered with the Dean of that the training people can write to the director about problems they see in the student. Talk about boundary violations!’

To the outsider, impressions of ordinands’ public conversations and behaviour range from the comical to the revolting. There was the day that two were seated across the aisle on the London bus. That peculiarly smug, priggish, slightly fatuous expression of complacency and privilege I associate with Anglo-Catholicism was already firmly imprinted on their faces. They were ostentatiously reading breviaries. Their ridiculous behaviour might be dismissed as children’s play if the consequences of clericalism were not so deadly; clergy have a way of not growing up. Another day I overheard a conversation between two presumptive high-fliers who were complaining about the amount of time they had to ‘waste’ putting up with people in their field work parishes. And there are those with the agendas from whom I cannot run fast enough, with their fixed smiles and closed minds. These are subjective impressions, the sort of impressions the non-churchgoer might have, however unrepresentative they may be; but then, I was asked to write a subjective paper, and I am not alone in this perspective.


[31] Of many such declarations, see the Oxford University Sermon by Graham Ward, 7 November, 1993: ‘...It is not sufficient for theology to go on pretending that the culture and society we live in is the same as Matthew Arnold’s. It isn’t. Theology can no longer continue it honed for its use in modernity...a series of correlations between God and the world. Apologetics can only function on the assumption of shared values between theology, culture and society. But postmodernity is the recognition that there are no shared values, no common roots. Meaning is not shared, it is constructed and contingent. So the study of theology, if it is ever going to speak and resonate again in contemporary society, has to change; and change radically.... its increasing irrelevance is in fact part of the reason for its decline among colleges in this University.’

[32] See The Paradox of Intention and the works on apophasis cited above.

[33] See Inventing Reality: Physics as Language by Bruce Gregory, New York: Wiley, 1990.

[34] A three-month internship spent in a hospital where as much or more is learnt by ordinands about themselves as how to meet the spiritual needs of the sick and dying.