Sunday, October 31, 2010

The possibility of God

I spend some of my time serving as a priest-chaplain to visitors in a local cathedral. It is the only part of my life that can be regarded as official or representative, the aspects of ministry I have always found most problematic. A friend asked me how I reconcile this role with my total uncertainty about life, the universe and everything, including religion and faith. What, he wondered, do I suppose I am doing when I stand there wearing my dog-collar and sporting my chaplain’s badge.

Good question. Tentative answer.

The basis of all conversations I have as a priest is the possibility of God. I mean this in at least two senses. First, that God might be a possibility, and that life might be lived in the light (or shadow) of that possibility. Secondly, that God might actually be possibility. To quote Kierkegaard: ‘God is that all things are possible, and all things are possible is God.’ To see the world ‘in God’ is to see the world as open, unpredictable, undetermined, totally uncertain.

One possibility I have yet to reckon with - the possibility that I am fooling myself into believing that this kind of uncertainty is consistent with my priestly profession. I may never be sure.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Son rising

When I worked in a classroom with eight year old children one of my strategies was to reverse roles and concede power to the child. It was playful and often disingenuous on my part. I would get things wrong on purpose so that the child had the experience of correcting and even chiding me.

When I was little my father, whose middle name was Victor, invariably put himself in the position of loser when we boxed and wrestled on the hearth-rug. He so wanted me to have the victory over him, to excel him in strength. It was as if he knew from the start that I would never use my power against him, that I would never knowingly and avoidably give him pain. I never did. What is more our loving kindness was entirely mutual.

I was reminded of this truly filial relationship during a recent visit to the Octagon Theatre in Bolton. In the play Rafta Rafta a father and his soon to be married son seek to humiliate each other through an arm-wrestling contest. Such a contest between me and my father would have been excruciating. And it never would have worked. We should each have been trying too hard to let the other win.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Down South

As I watched last month a senior Anglican dignitary welcome His Holiness The Pope on a historic visit with quite dazzling publicity, I was reminded how in the 1990s this same clergyman had applied to be Vicar of a less celebrated parish church in the North of England and had been turned down because a majority of the interviewing panel did not want a gay priest. A confusing mixture of dishonesty, denial - and yes, progress.


After spending my life ministering to people along the lines of - accept your limitations, be happy with your life as it is, don’t try too hard to succeed, come to terms with mortality, learn to love transience, cling to the void, practice compassion because we’re all in this together - I now find myself facing the harsher truth that I don’t want to get old, ill, frail, that I don’t want to die or suffer the privations of staying alive. Nor do I want to be told not to worry about it, that it doesn’t matter, that all will be well, that it’s no big deal. It feels like a big deal - to me at least.

Monday, October 04, 2010


He told me that he was joining a club for young people who think they might be gay.

He is 15.

I asked him whether it was what he really wanted.

He said Yes. He wanted to meet people who are like him.

I told him I have never met anyone quite like me.

I am 67.