And another thing… (The trouble with working women)

I’m clearly on a roll here. Thought I’d jot down a few reflections on a brilliant two part documentary on BBC2 I managed to catch most of: The trouble with working women. Managed to pull off the neat trick of wading into hugely controversial waters, remaining light and entertaining, and raising really important thought-provoking issues, even if ultimately I’m not sure they were the ones the programme makers thought they were raising. It turns out that the trouble is less with working women, and more with working mothers. To conclude, as they did, by reflecting on whether women can ‘have it all’ and concluding it was all about women multi-tasking where men focused just on career seemed a step back from the level of reflection they’d actually achieved during the documentary, where one of the most acute questions posed was why female surgeons seemed to rise to the top of their profession at the expense of a family life, whereas the top male surgeon they interviewed spoke candidly about the anti-social hours he worked yet had a large family. The unspoken answer to the question seemed to be ‘yes, you can have it all, as long as your wife is prepared to run around like a headless chicken keeping all the balls in the air while you do it’.

The whole thing was full of suprising convention-challenging moments. The things that stayed with me were one of the founders of Spare Rib noting that they got it badly wrong because none of them had children; the suprisingly reactionary founder of the women’s refuge movement asking why we’re obsessed with senior executive posts when trying to evaluate whether we have equality in society or not; and the female executive of a small business stating tat she wouldn’t hire women of childbearing age because they’re inherently risky- likely to disappear on maternity leave, and that business would fight paternity leave provision tooth and nail because they need men of that age to continue to be predictable at being in work irrespective of having a family.

I was left wondering if the real issue was parenthood and why it is that women are socially conditioned to be the ones left holding the baby when the music stops. Can things change? Yes, with enlightened employers like the one they showcased, which basically takes the line that their staff are their prime resource and selling point to the customer, so staff retention is a high priority. On that basis they offer 9 months paid maternity leave, encourage flexible working, reduction of hours to work around childcare commitments, and do all of this with no negative impact on promotion prospects. The female executive they spoke to said when she was promoted to her current post she was pregnant and working part-time. Now if only we could encourage the church to put it’s money where it’s mouth is and follow best industry practice…

And as with the fight for equality for women within the church, I suspect focusing on top jobs and glass ceilings really misses the point. The issues that effect most women are bullying and harrasment and institutional issues connected with maternity leave and childcare. Counting how many women bishops there aren’t misses the point.


Turning over a new leaf?

Well, Leah has finally bitten the bullet and started running, so I thought I ought to try and blog a bit more. And here’s my first offering: my first sermon in Heath Hayes, preached on Sunday, reproduced here by popular demand (well, Rosie asked for it anyway).
A couple of explanatory notes first:

I preach from headings rather than full text, so I’m not going to attempt to give a full text version here. I’ll hopefully expand the headings enough that it makes sense what I was saying. It also means that what goes down here is not necessarily exactly what anyone in church on Sunday heard. My sermons tend to evolve a bit depending on the setting.

And I’m experimenting with a new style here. For a while now I’ve been intruiged by the sort of structure used in stand up comedy, in particular Eddie Izzard’s routines, which I love to bits. He uses a structure where he appears to have no obvious progression of thought and be continually lurching off into bizarre and unanticipated flights of fancy yet the same characters or thoughts or ideas get woven into them. And each time a thought gets re-introduced into a new context, enabling it to be seen in a new light, it gets a bigger laugh. I wanted to try this sort of thing in a sermon: building the structure not around a logical progression of thought (as I normally do) but around a single idea, placed in different contexts. This sort of structure is well suited to John anyway, because he thinks like that, and I try to preach in a way that gives integrity to what’s there.

So, without further ado, on to the sermon: John 15:9-17 – Abiding in Jesus’ love.

A story (probably apocryphal): there was once a minister somewhere in scotland who had the habit, when he visited his parishoners, of sitting and listening to them, doing all the normal things you’d expect. But at the door on his way out, he’d turn and quote a verse of scripture at them. And then he’d say “Stick that under yer tongue and suck it like a sweetie”.
John’s gospel takes a bit of time to get your heard around, because John doesn’t think in straight lines. He thinks in spirals. He circles round and round ideas, seeing them from different angles. It’s like sucking on a sweet, a hard-boiled one, that you keep in your mouth and let it move around and around, tasting as more of the flavour emerges.
I think what John is saying in this passage is all about abiding in Jesus’ love. He’s circling around these words of Jesus “abide in my love”, seeing them from different angles. Abide, live in it, make your home in it. And I think what he’s saying about it is this: to abide is to obey, to obey is to love, to love is to abide.

To abide is to obey
The places we live shape us in different ways. My parents house is a semi with thin walls. So I learnt to play music quietly. My mother was a librarian. So I learnt to mark my place with a bookmark. My abiding had a shape. It’s not that there were a set of ‘house rules’ I had to follow or I’d be chucked out. Rather, I became a certain sort of person because of the place I lived. Abiding in Jesus’ love makes us Jesus’ love-shaped. Not ‘now you’re a Christian you’d better behave’ but ‘you’re a Christian, and that will shape you and your behaviour, like it or not’.
To abide is to love, to love is to obey, to obey is to abide.

To obey is to love
Very easy to hear John’s words ‘love your friends’ and think he’s got it wrong. We’re used to hearing about the challenge to love our neighbours, our enemies, to go beyond just loving our friends (don’t even the pagans do this? as Jesus asks in another gospel). But in some ways, loving our friends is harder than loving our enemies. Our friends, the people we have lived with, know us too well. They know the things we don’t like people to know about us. We know the things they don’t like people to know about them. Intimacy is a great challenge to love. There’s a saying ‘familiarity breeds contempt’. There’s a lot of contempt in families. There’s a lot of contempt in churches. Love your friends. There’s a challenge. Not a challenge to have a love that is wide enough to reach out to the stranger, but a challenge to have a love that is deep enough to go beyond our contempt. Abiding in Jesus’ love creates a family, people committed to loving each other despite themselves, self-sacrificially.
To abide is to obey, to obey is to love, to love is to abide.

To love is to abide
We are more used to the idea of living with people than we are to the idea of living with ideas. But we do, we live with ideas, we let them feed our hopes and dreams, eventually our thoughts and actions, and finally they come to birth – they bring change in the world around us. When Barak Obama was elected president, the first Black president of the United States, many people looked back to Martin Luther King and his speech ‘I have a dream’. That was an idea people lived with, a dream people lived with, that changed them, and changed the world. Jesus says we are his friends, not his servants, because he shares his plans with us. He doesn’t want blind obedience from us, he wants us to share his hopes, share his dreams, share in the idea of the Kingdom of God. To live with that idea until it changes us and changes the world.
As far as John is concerned, love is the very essence of that idea. We may struggle with the idea that love is what being a Christian is all about – we probably know many people who are genuinely loving yet would not describe themselves as Christian – but for John, love is so central to what God’s plans are about that he would likely tell us that love is love, and if you truly love you may not live at the address you think you do. John says love is the idea that Jesus calls us to abide in – live with it, inhabit it, let it change you and change the world around you.
To abide is to obey, to obey is to love, to love is to abide.

Jesus says ‘abide in my love’.
John says ‘to abide is to obey, to obey is to love, to love is to abide’.
The Scottish minister says ‘Stick it under your tongue and suck it like a sweetie’.