We are not Delilahs

In Christian circles, there is a debate over whether it’s ok to meet one-to-one with a member of the opposite sex when one is in a position of responsibility within the church. Last week, the topic came up ten minutes before the end of our second lecture on gender and theology.

As the discussion progressed, it was clear that there was a strong opinion from some in the room that a male church leader meeting alone with a woman was really not a good idea at all. It wasn’t a unanimous opinion by any means – one woman spoke of feeling completely ignored after her vicar insisted her husband attended a meeting between the two of them, and then proceeded to only address the husband.

As she spoke, I became more and more frustrated. What would I do in such a situation, given that I don’t have a husband to take to such meetings? Married male voices in the room spoke of needing to be particularly cautious around single women, and quite honestly, I felt terrible. I am a single woman, training to be a church leader. I am not a Delilah, seeking to corrupt every married man that I meet (or any married man for that matter!). But that’s how single women were seemingly being painted.

Now, I’m not naive. I realise that we need to be wise in how we deal with our relationships with other people – especially when holding positions of responsibility, and especially in the church. Here are some thoughts/wisdom I have on the subject:

  1. Do not assume anyone’s sexuality. Potential issues may just as well arise with those of your own gender, as well as the opposite one. Obviously, this cannot mean a blanket “Do not meet 1:1 with anyone at all!” because nothing would actually get done. Therefore, we need…
  2. Wisdom. Be wise! If you sense that a meeting may be misconstrued or that you realise that for your own safety, extra people need to be around, then make it happen. Obviously, with children, young people/students and vulnerable adults there are legal safeguarding measures to be taken into account.
  3. Trust people. I’d like to think that I can be trusted not form an unhealthy attachment to a married man. I trust myself and those with whom I agree to meet. If I don’t trust a situation, I use wisdom. (See above.) If you don’t trust yourself to ever meet with someone of the opposite sex alone, I think there may be questions you need to ask of yourself.

When I spoke up in the lecture, aside from defending the honour of single women, I also pointed out the reality of parish ministry – there is a high chance I’ll end up as an incumbent in a church that isn’t able to provide a large staff team, and as a result there will be situations in which I have to have 1:1 meetings with members of the opposite sex. I cannot say to someone: “I’m terribly sorry, I can’t sit with you and plan your mother’s funeral until I find someone who can chaperone us.”

Right now, I do have some specific boundaries. For example, I don’t meet with the guys in my student group outside of the context of a church service or our home group. If they want to have a deep & meaningful, they can (& do) chat with the church’s male clergy. [Would I prefer to be doing student work in tandem with a male volunteer? Yes please!] But on the other hand, have I met 1:1 with my church’s male Rector, Curate, Worship Leader and Operations Manager? Yes. I couldn’t do my job if I didn’t.

These ideas have far-reaching consequences. There are individuals who feel slighted, not listened to, or marginalised. Is that a good thing for the church to be doing? I don’t think so. It also has a huge impact upon the raising up of women in leadership – an issue that Jenny Baker wrote about brilliantly [do read the comments] and that I touched upon last summer in a post about women speakers at Christian festivals. In churches where there is a culture that men and women can’t meet alone, women lose out on mentoring experience from the men leading these churches.

One to One's tweet

Before writing this post (which took over a week to actually publish, thanks to deadlines and life), I asked Twitter for some opinions. What followed was one of the best Twitter discussions I’ve seen – especially given that it involved the church. (Twitter debates amongst churchy people can get horrid, it’s a terrible reflection upon Christians.) No one got angry, but instead answered my simple question with honesty, integrity and respect. The whole thing has been Storifyed, but here are some particular highlights, including the article by Jenny Baker mentioned above:

Jo S tweet Matthew Currey tweet Elizabeth Harrison tweetMark Scarlata tweetSean Doherty tweet

Sean, as befits an Ethics lecturer, had quite a lot to say on the subject, including the following (which was spread across three tweets, condensed for the sake of space!):

“I was lucky to have @Janie_Mo as my training incumbent, she wanted male curate to balance leadership of church but not many male clergy would deliberately pick a woman for same reasons – ‘woman as temptress’ stereotype to which the correct response is ‘don’t flatter yourself’!”

There is no straight answer to this debate. There can’t be hard and fast rules. But I’d love for people to stop and think about the impact and implications of their actions and decisions. If it’s never crossed your mind that it could be an issue, perhaps it’s worth taking time to think about it. If you’ve created rules for yourself, imagine what those rules feel like to those it affects. And most of all, don’t presume that anyone is out to ‘corrupt’ those they meet with!

Friday fun with history and dates

Before you get too caught up in all the stresses and strains that a Friday afternoon in the early part of the 21st Century brings, allow yourself a few minutes to see how life used to be…

Isn’t that beautiful? I can’t quite believe that once upon a time, there were no tall, shiny buildings behind the Tower of London; or that horse and carts were regularly sighted on the bridges of London. I don’t think I’m alone in finding it strangely poignant too – the many young men featured would probably be fighting in WW2 within little more than a decade.

From the sublime 1920’s to the ridiculous 1920’s. You know what’s set in the 1920’s? The next season of Downton Abbey. Ever wondered what this next season might look like if it was performed via the medium of Musical Theatre? No, I hadn’t either, but someone did and it looks rather wonderful:

As with so much of life, the dominant pre-occupation of Downton is relationships – primarily, marrying the right person, with the right inheritance, at the right time. (And then producing an heir to that fortune before script writers kill off one of the parents…) In the 1920’s, they had society balls. In the 2010’s, we have online dating. OK Cupid! would be one such example of this kind of match-making facility, but sadly it is not quite as attractive an option as a society ball. This is partly because you can make an amusing YouTube video out of the ridiculous things men include on their profiles – witness:

You think they’re exaggerating, don’t you? They’re not. Christian dating sites are even worse, apparently. Men publicly declare that they’re looking for ‘their princess’, or that they will ‘respect your purity’ – and use profile photos that feature themselves crying, or believe that their church building is an adequate image to use instead of their face. I digress. But talking of Christians, this gives me an excellent opportunity to share this video, which helpfully connects with the subject of Christian dating…

And with that, I should get back to my wrangling with the Doctrine of the Trinity. Nothing changes in the Christian world – people will always use ridiculous words in attempts to communicate the incomprehensible.

Friday Fun with Christian men, non-Christian men and Tube drivers

Apologies for the lack of bloggage this week – I’ve been spending far too much time with prostitutes, in a writing about them in a report for Vicar School sense. This has left little time for much else, including being in the audience for QI on Wednesday (a fellow trainee vicar and his wife benefitted from this though, so I at least feel generous). However, it has not prevented me from finding a smorgasboard of fun for this week…

Segue-ing nicely from Vicar School are two Christian comedy things that will probably only make sense if you exist in that particular bubble. For the last week and a half I’ve been entertained by a Twitter account in the name of Mr Christian Mann (yes, that is a joke – however, the Mr Christian Guy that spoke at a conference I was at last week was using his baptismal name – the hilarity). Mr Mann isn’t real (thankfully) but he does present the world with a unique take on church life:

I may know who’s responsible for this wit, but I’m sworn to secrecy.
In a similar vein comes the Hey Christian Girl Tumblr. Attractive men telling Christian girls what they (apparently) need to hear. Genius. 

Moving away from the church and Christian men, one of my other favourite things is obviously TfL geekery. For your end of week amusement I offer you Funny Announcements by Tube Drivers. All real, and for this reason, utterly fabulous. 

“Ladies and gentlemen, we apologise for the delay, but there is a security alert at Victoria station and we are therefore stuck here for the foreseeable future, so let’s take our minds off it and pass some time together. All together now…. ‘Ten green bottles, hanging on a wall…..’.”

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I do apologise for the delay to your service. I know you’re all dying to get home, unless, of course, you happen to be married to my ex-wife, in which case you’ll want to cross over to the Westbound and go in the opposite direction”.

Returning to the hot men question, do you remember Dawson’s Creek? Stupid question surely, of course you remember the classic teen drama of the late 90s/early 00s! Like me, you probably have all six seasons sat on a shelf – no? Just me? Oh well… Inspired by a new sitcom on E4 last night, featuring Jason Van Der Beek (aka Dawson) I headed over to his Wikipedia page to discover exactly what he’d been up to since Dawson hung up his flannel shirt and right at the bottom of the page, discovered a link to an utter gem. James Van Der Memes is basically a Tumblr consisting of gifs featuring JVDB expressing various emotions. Sounds ridiculous, but it’s inspired. Witness:

‘Dramatic Dawson’

‘Eyebrow String Dancer’

‘Na Na Boo Boo’

Adore it. Also, blatantly going to be getting those DVDs out after this. Have hope boys, Dawson was never the hottest in DC (that honour went to Pacey/Joshua Jackson), but he has aged very, very well. 
Have a fun Friday! 

On Christian goats and trolls

Something has got my goat in quite a big way – in fact, it got my goat quite a long time ago, but now I actually want to do something about it.

I love social media and social networking dearly. I write a blog(s); I tweet – probably too much; my life is organised via Facebook; heck, I’ve even spent time teaching people how to use it better. It’s definitely a good thing in my opinion, as long as it’s used with care and thought. The problem is that we are humans, and sometimes we’re not careful or thoughtful.

There are trolls (as they’re known) across the internet. Recently, there’s been a lot of coverage of the hideous comments many women receive on blogs or articles, simply because they’re women – especially if they’re writing on an issue that seems to be ‘feminist’ in nature. But they’re everywhere, from newspaper columns to blogs and random Facebook pages. Oh, and Twitter – there’s nothing like Twitter for a vicious, insult strewn argument…

I’m not naïve, I know that everyone gets annoyed or upset and does things that maybe, if they’d thought more about, they wouldn’t have done. This applies just as much to the internet as it does to the real world. Nor am I perfect – I’ve made mistakes just like everyone else. However, I have higher expectations of good online behaviour from my Christian brethren (perhaps that is naïve?), after all, isn’t the greatest commandment to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and love your neighbour as yourself?

Is bitching about other Christians in a public forum an example of following this commandment?

What about haranguing an individual just because you’re fed up with the (Christian) organisation they work for?

What if the people making the comments are ordained? Shouldn’t they know better more than anyone else? [In every single case that’s recently got my goat, the person concerned has been ordained.]

My goat has been severely got over the last few weeks. Time and again I’ve seen examples of this behaviour and last week it made me so angry that I wrote an original version of this post, just so I could do some cathartic venting. Some good friends read it and said that, once I’d removed the specifics, it might make for a helpful blogpost – so this is it.

In a Facebook thread where some of the worst behaviour was found, came a response that actually proved inspiring:

“To say it’s ok to discuss xxxxxxx, as though they are not also a brother or a sister, someone who will flourish best with edification, support and respectful engagement kinda defeats the whole point of battling through a life of faith.

It is not ok to malign people as though they were not human, let alone fellow believers working, to the best of their knowledge, for the good of the Kingdom. There is a marked difference between expressing feelings of dissatisfaction and seeking solutions with like-minded people and aggressively hurling abuse!”

I’d also like to challenge the people making these negative comments.
Would they say these things in front of the people they’re insulting? Have they thought about how people would feel after reading some of their posts? Have they considered how they might feel if they read something similar about themselves?

Ultimately, what is it about social media that people feel gives them permission to behave in a way that they wouldn’t do in ‘real life’? And, how, as Christians do we encourage others not to behave in this way? How do we demonstrate Christian love and relationship in a virtual context?

I don’t necessarily have the answers to these questions, but I thought they’d provoke some thought and possibly discussion. Interestingly, on the day when I needed to vent, a post along similar lines to this was published on the Big Bible blog, so other people are thinking about it too. In the mean time, perhaps the best approach is to challenge behaviour that isn’t appropriate – like my friend above did – and put ourselves alongside those who are being attacked. Oh, and to not press ‘send’ in haste…

When theology meets boarding school

Anyone who’s spent any length of time as a Christian in Britain – especially if you’ve worked for a church – is likely to have spent a certain amount of time at Christian conference centres. There are many of them, of varying qualities, but the more time you spend at them, the more adept you get at dealing with their eccentricities – of which there are also many.

Such places are either as hot as an old folks’ home, or as cold as a polar bear’s bedroom. There is never a happy medium. They frequently have interesting bathroom arrangements – particularly challenging when they involve scampering down cold corridors clad in nightwear hoping not to bump into the virtual strangers with whom you’re sharing the facilities. Sometimes their bedrooms are time warps – taking you back to a time when mains electricity wasn’t frequently available. On one memorable occasion, my room had no plug sockets and neither did the rest of the corridor – after much logical thought I concluded that the carpet in the corridor must need vacuuming, thus requiring power, and hunted high and low for a socket. I was successful and located them above every other bedroom door. [Hair had to be tried in next door’s room while standing in the doorway…]

As part of my training, I get to spend six weekends a year in such establishments (and a week in a French monastery, but more of that anon). This past weekend was residential #1 – at a former Catholic convent in the middle of nowhere (yet remarkably close to the M25) – and a venue I’d not yet experienced. In some ways, I’m rather sad that it’s closing down at Christmas and that we’ll only get one more trip there. It’s rather lovely, with an impressive chapel (lit with beautiful chandeliers rather conspicuously involving energy saving lightbulbs); beautiful quadrangle garden; excellent (compared with other places) food and plenty of eccentricities…

It was excessively hot almost everywhere, except places where you have to spend prolonged periods of time (like the chapel and lecture room). Mentions of the chapel on the schedule were met with with scurrying trips to bedrooms to pick up extra layers, and I rued the absence of my arm-warmers on several occasions.

All my lectures took place in the Great Hall, cue much Hogwarts comparison – though sadly the only wearing of robes took place during Sunday’s eucharist. My first glimpse of my cell, sorry, bedroom’s leaded window brought back memories of The Worst Witch, while the arrangement of North, South, East and West corridors was rather Mallory Towers-esque. [I may have resorted to using the compass in my phone in order to re-find my bedroom on Friday night.] All in all, it was rather like being at boarding school.

Sunset from my cell

You’d expect an ex-convent to have plenty of religious art and icons, but there were also odd extras in certain rooms. In fact, it was because of an odd extra that the room my fellowship group met in was chosen. (For ‘fellowship group’ read: ‘forced social time with people who are not in your year or not at your centre’, there was alcohol, it wasn’t so bad.) In the corner was a bizarre little feature – a tiny hand sticking out of the wall that seemed to do nothing. I may have been in a group of virtual strangers (actually, I wasn’t – two of my group are people I already know well), but that didn’t stop me from doing the inevitable. Obviously, I had to find out what its purpose was… 
I touched it – nothing happened. Then I tried turning it, and it moved! I screamed. I think my head had become so full of fictional boarding school excitement that I half expected it to reveal a secret passage. Sadly absolutely nothing happened, other than it moving to this position:
Disappointing. If anyone could offer an explanation as to what this interior design feature is for, I’d be most grateful.