Monday 30 June 2014

Gifts of Sexuality and Gender Day

Over the last five years or so, there has been a growing movement in the US for a day in which the Churches celebrate the gifts that different genders and different sexualities bring to the life of faith. The designated day is the 29th June (not sure why?) so we decided to broaden that call to the rest of the world. and celebrated the day with a talk and discussion at our church meeting (SPACE, Sunderland Peace And Christianity Explored)

What is clear, is that there is a disparity between a ground swell with in the church to eliminate homophobia, challenging inequality, and the actions of the Church of England hierarchy regarding LGBT clergy.

In our churches, the CofE is being asked to be more aware and accepting of Gay Christians, but clergy who are Gay are told that they must be non-practicing. Indeed, if they are to even attempt to legally get married, they face disciplinary procedures with in the Church of England, as has already occurred to the first Gay clergyman who was married in May. Worse still, the church still refuses to endorse an official blessing service for Gay Christians who are in a civil partnership or who legally marry.

The strain of these injustices is already beginning to tell. Clergy clearly cannot defend an indefensible position, so have to admit when questioned that the Church of England is discriminating against Gay clergy and LGBT Christians - it is undoubtedly behaving in a homophobic way.

What a mess. In our church, on the 29th June 2014, the mood was defiant. We intend to publically and demonstrably show our support for equality in the Church, and celebrate the lives of all LGBT people of faith. We decided to have an inclusive stall at the next Sunderland Pride, and will not shirk from encouraging the Church to remember that the call to 'love our neighbours as we love ourselves' includes the LGBT community.

Saturday 7 June 2014

All War is Hell. The Day after D-Day, part 2

The 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings will always stand out in my memories. I was on my way to a Church event, and I was to be given a lift by the Church Warden of the place, who I had not met before. I was surprised that when the car that pulled up, it was driven by a very sprightly, but clearly very elderly man. D-Day 'celebrations' were everywhere, and as we drove I asked him if he had any memories from that time. The chatty man suddenly became quite emotional, and pulled up the car in a lay by, with tears in his eyes.

He then told me his story. He had not been on the beaches, but had been on a boat just off the Normandy Coast. He was a young medical officer and his job was to have been one of the most horrific of any on the day after D-Day.

The ship was there to take wounded, but not just anyone from the invasion. They were brought wounded German officers. The task was not to treat them, but to interrogate and torture them, mostly using the injuries that the officers had sustained.

It was important to know as much information about the German positions as possible, and this was one of the ways of doing so. But for a young medical officer in the army, a committed Christian and someone trained to heal, it was to leave painful scars for a lifetime.

'I can't take part in the celebrations,' said the man 'I've never been able to talk to others about what we did and I've only recently been able to honestly admit to myself my role in operation Overlord. Perhaps we did the right thing, perhaps because of what we did - we saved lives. But all I can remember is the screams of the German officers as we used their wounds to torture them'.

The lesson I learnt about war on that anniversary was very clear. Never try to dress it up, never pretend to 'celebrate' it. All war is hell.

The Day after D-Day

Its been impossible to ignore the D-Day 'Celebrations' over the last few weeks, and quite rightly so, and incredible feat of human endeavour and the beginning of the end of Fascism on the Western battle front.

But, as always, I have my issues with the way war is remembered, and only half of the story I told. I have seen no end of interviews with plucky 90 year olds, rightly proud and rightly moved by the memories. But I've yet to see a single interview with a German soldier.

They were there too. They too were mostly conscripts, they too watched as tens of thousands of their friends were killed.

I went to see the film, 'Saving Private Ryan' when it first came out, and I happened to take with me my German friend Uli. I came out, stirred, moved, shocked by the film - probably one of the most visceral exercises in capturing the horrors of the experience of D-Day ever made. My German friend was equally horrified and visually upset by the film. In the story, the Germans are just dots to be killed in the distance, the only one with any characterisation turns out to be a baddy. 'No wonder so many English don't like the Germans' said Uli 'Our Grandparents were just evil in your eyes, not fully human'.

Just as the Nazi leaders turned Jews into non-persons, and so allowed them to be exterminated as less than human - we must never turn our enemies into non-persons. Its a very dangerous game to play, especially during an age of increased nationalism and extremism. I would have loved to hear the voices of those Germans who face our troops on D-Day. They are people too. And 70 years on, that is perhaps the most important lesson that we need to learn from our shared history.