Sunday, 27 June 2010

All fun and games?

Recently my Twitter reading list has been full of games. Football, mostly, but I think there was some rugby at some point, and then of course there's still Wimbledon. Among those who don't follow any sport at all one of the topics seems to be, er, Big Brother.

Does this seem absurd to anyone else?

It's not that the games are trivial, though Big Brother might seem so at times. As a musician, I understand something of the rigour of athletics, of training for an event, working with others or alone and then, on the day, doing the best one can in circumstances one cannot control. I admire those who have the level of commitment require to attain a professional level in sport, even if I myself have very little interest in the actual games. I respect that it is hard work, and I understand that it can be beautiful, sublime even, for those who appreciate it.

But more people I know have casually mentioned football or tennis than any other one topic. The English flags I've seen hung off of windowsills or attached to cars have almost rivaled the number of adverts I've seen on the Tube, and then of course some of the Tube adverts have been football-themed too.

I'd love to see that level of involvement over... I dunno. Something that actually affects us all. Homelessness. Environmental damage. Electoral reform.

I can't be the first person to ask why this enthusiasm for football isn't echoed in other arenas. What does football have that church doesn't? Why will people faithfully follow a team but not get anywhere near religion?

I think one answer is this: for fans and spectators, football doesn't make many demands. Oh, there are people who will go to great lengths to show their support for a team, who will spend a lot of money on tickets for games, who will obsess on one level or another about managers, players, game strategies.... but for the most part, that doesn't actually affect the outcome of games. I don't doubt there are people for whom today's World Cup loss is painful, that there are people who are so very attached to their teams that this is a significant wound. But I am pretty certain that for most of them, "What could I have done differently here?" is not a question that is on the agenda. The game isn't like that. And that makes it easy to engage with, easy to follow.

In football, nobody is going to ask you why you haven't been kind to your neighbour. In football, nobody is going to expect you to make a serious attempt at finding out what you are for. In football, nobody says you have to change your life, nobody says you have to care, nobody asks you to look at what is wrong with the world and try to figure out how you can change it.

Of course it's popular. It has all the camaraderie of a shared hope without having to get to know your fellow-fans as people rather than as fans. It has all the excitement of a big battle, without having to actually take any risks.

Perhaps that's too harsh a judgment, but the same could be applied to music in some circumstances. Music can speak to the soul in songs of comfort, songs of challenge, songs of pain and songs of joy -- or it can keep the ears occupied for a while without making much impact. The same could be applied to liturgy, in some circumstances. I've certainly been to church services where people seem to feel good but they don't seem to be challenged in any way, though of course it's impossible for me to judge what is going on internally.

It isn't that I don't think there is value in entertainment. There is. The camaraderie of a shared hope can make future collaboration on shared goals and purposes easier. The shared excitement can be the basis for lasting friendships in which people do learn to see one another as human beings, rather than fans of one "side" or the other. Getting used to the disappointment of a cherished team losing may well be good practice dealing with losses that have more practical impact. There are probably other positive aspects that I don't pick up on, simply because I have never been a serious spectator of sport.

I was getting at something here, but I've forgotten what it is, and I'm too t to pick it up again now I think.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Money and worth and so on again.

At Nearest Church I'm in the process of trying to negotiate a contract for playing the organ. The rate that they pay is significantly below the going rate for this area of London, and that has consequences for me and for the longer-term viability of music at Nearest Church.

I'm finding it all very uncomfortable. You see, I wish I didn't have to deal with money. I'd like to be able to do all of my work for free. All of it is work I would do if I didn't need the money. I think if we were all generous enough with our time and energy, we wouldn't be so dependent on transactional labour... and I know that if I want that generosity to come about, I need to be willing to be generous even when others aren't.

I mentioned this to a friend today and her response was, "How are you going to live if you don't get paid?" which is quite a reasonable question.

I bit my tongue and changed the subject, got on with the task at hand. But my first thought, and the one that has been nagging at me since, was Why should I live and another not?

Why should I have enough to eat when there are people in the world who starve because of my food choices? Why should I have a roof over my head when there are people who are sleeping rough? I am not better than they are, I am not somehow more deserving. I know that with every fibre of my being. So why am I blessed with material abundance, a garden to grow my vegetables in, a safe bed to sleep in, medication to treat my nagging chronic health problems? By many people's standards I am not wealthy, but to those who are starving, those who are homeless, those who have no access to medical care, I am incredibly, unimaginably rich.

Why should I live so well?

So I eat out of a local veg box scheme, grow some of my own veg in the back garden, don't drive at all, try to buy fair trade for those things I can't get from local sources, try to be moderate in my consumption of electricity... but it is still my privilege to do those things. I have a choice only because I am already rich. Do these little things help enough to make a difference? If I'd make a bigger difference by giving it all away, shouldn't I do that? When I tell myself my skills are best used where I am, is that me being sensible, or is that me running away, crossing to the other side of the road? Do I live as I do out of obedience, using available resources to create a lifestyle that can sustain the work I am meant to be doing, or out of fear, turning away from the call to give away what I have?

Even having the time to think about these things seems like a completely undeserved luxury.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Working together and who knows what challenges may come?

Interesting times locally. Vicar of Long Walk Church is retiring sometime next year. Local C of E churches in Upper Suburbia are talking about working together more, but at Nearest Church there's significant concern that too much collaboration means no time or energy left for things that are ours. And I can understand that sort of isolationism, but I don't think it will work in the long run. I think we can collaborate and still contribute uniquely. I think we need to collaborate if we're going to have any sort of unique contribution to make.

I asked about mentoring, about having church music experts I can talk to after Networking Organist has moved on. It's been suggested that I go along to a service in Neighbouring Suburb, because the music director is very good and shares some of my interests. So that's where I'll be off to tomorrow morning.

I couldn't find said music director on that church's website. They do have a link to Anglican Mainstream. No no no no no no no goes my brain. I don't want to go. I don't want to get involved. I don't want to risk being in a position where I might have to say something, might have to upset people, might encounter some injustice or exclusion that I can, and therefore must, do something about.

Anglican Mainstream have the following quote on their website:

"If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at the moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved. To be steady on all fronts besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point"

Martin Luther

Christianity posits that the truth of God is the love of God: merciful, unwavering, steadfast, faithful love. One of the places where the battle rages is in deciding how to show that. I don't think the debate on sexuality and ordination is really about sex. I think it's about perfectionism, about whether we can decide and judge what is human, what is acceptable to God. It's about whether we can accept that those different from ourselves are still human beings, still beloved children of God. It's about whether we have one standard for our sins and another standard for those things another might do which we think are sinful. It's about taking responsibility for embodying God's mercy.

I happen to believe that homosexuality is not sinful. I can't claim I have "done the theology" -- I was just raised in a reasonably liberal background. It's a no-brainer. But I am concerned with this argument around whether LGBT people should be ordained, not because I am convinced that homosexuality is not sinful, but because I am convinced that we are all sinners and even if I am wrong about the sinfulness of homosexuality I do not think that it is fair, just, kind or merciful to refuse the vocation of any human being based on something so minor. And it is minor, compared to so many things.

I know if I am asked, I will say the above, in some form. I will say that whether clergy are truthful is more important than whether they are gay, but that I probably don't know any clergy who haven't at some stage told at least a little "white" lie. I will say that whether clergy are jealous and covetous is more important than whether they are openly lesbian, but that I don't know anyone who hasn't had at least a tinge of envy toward a neighbour's house or car at some stage. I will say that in the grand scheme of things I hope that mercy trumps our judgments, I will say that I pray that love will topple our fears. And I will say it even if I think people probably don't want to hear my answer, because if they ask, I can't justify saying otherwise. To be steady on all fronts besides is mere flight...

Oh, bother.