Tradition & women: Phoebe



First let me thank two men: Rob, for his incredibly helpful book, and then C451 who, despite (or because?) of his own views on the subject, gave me his collection of books on women and their ordination (it may explain the dates of some of what I quote from) as well as some guidance which was offered with characteristic generosity of spirit.

Second, an apology because I know that at times I have let vent in ways which while they show my feelings, offer, as C451 put to me, “more heat than light, which never helps with illumination.” As Neo said to be, “we’re all human,” which while true and a good explanation, isn’t an excuse, any more than responding in kind, is an excuse. I hope that the last few posts have, to a large extent, rectified that failure on my part, but a general apology is hereby offered.

Third, an explanation of what I am trying to do might be in order, since some comments suggest that I have not been as clear as I thought. In my own Church the matter of women’s ordination is a done deal, and as C451 has, again with a generosity of spirit that shames me, it may be that other churches will find in it lessons and an example. I know C well enough to have spotted the coded caveat of “for good or ill”! What I am trying to do is to explain how someone who considers herself a high Anglican in the Anglo-Catholic tradition, can possibly have ended up supporting the ordination of women.

I want to begin with Phoebe, as a way of illustrating the wider context. We are told that Phoebe is a “helper” or a “servant”, and that is, of course, a translation of the Greek diakonos. Paul uses the same word to describe his own monistry in his letters to the Corinthians and Galatians, but in a purely English version of the New Testament you might be hard put to see their roles as parallel. It is hard to escape the conclusion that circular reasoning is at work here. We know that when the word is applied to Paul it represents what he does, which invests even the word “servant” with a halo. When it is applied to Phoebe, there is no halo. The Douay-Rheims is an honourable exception translating it as “in ministry”. The choice of the words “servant” or “helper” are, I fear, gendered. It goes thus: we know women were helpers in the Church, therefore we translate diakonos as helper. Then, when asked what the role of women was in the early church, we are told they were “helpers” and pointed to the NT as evidence, where, helpfully, that is indeed the word used – QED. Except, of course, for the circular reasoning. Now if we found the same translation of the word applied consistently to men as well as women, my point would fall away; but we don’t, so it doesn’t.

If we look at the Greek, Paul describes Phoebe as “being” (the participle ousan) “of the church is Cenchrae” which is why the DR uses “ministry” – it is clear from the context that Phoebe was in ministry in the church, and that is the sense in which she was a “helper” or “servant”. In other words, absent the gendered assumptions and no-one would have any reason to question that Phoebe was a “minister.” We can discuss what that means, but I hope this explains why I can’t avoid the issue of gendered assumptions.

While on the subject of Phoebe, it might be worth saying that when Paul says she is delivering the letter, that does not mean she was just the postman. The likelihood was that she would have been reading it out and answering questions about it – so she would have been in Paul’s confidence and had an idea of what he meant – something generations of scholars have wished for! This, of course, involved a public teaching role.

Paul also calls her a “prostasis”, another Greek word often translated in her case as “helper.” This is a difficult one because the word in that form is found only in Paul, but its masculine form, “prostasis” always denotes a form of authority, which of course may be why it is not often applied to Phoebe, if we are back to the cricular logic we have already identified. The majority of translations translate the word as “helper” or a synonym, you have to get to contemporary ones before the word “leader” is used. So again, we see how unconscious bias downplays the role of Phoebe. If she’s been a “he” called “Philip” I wonder how many translations would have used the word “helper”?

This has taken me further than I thought, and means that I shall need another post to say something about how it all maps onto leadership in the Church. Let me say though, in parting, that it is for each Church which inherits tradition to interpret it as it does. The Roman Catholic Church has a high doctrine of the magisterium, and therefore, whatever an Anglican might say about tradition does not apply to the way that Church views things. This is not an argument to be seen in a Roman Catholic context, though some in the communion will be challenged and are challenged by such arguments, it is, however, an argument to seen in a catholic context to explain how a high Anglican can not only accept, but welcome and celebrate the ordination of women who have been called (lucky things!).

Changing places


Recent comments prompted by Jessica’s reflections on the Anglican tradition and women as priests, included the reflection that my own journey into communion with Rome had been prompted, in part, by the decision of the Church of England to ordain women. As Evelyn Waugh might have put it: “up to a point Lord Copper.” Which, is, of course, English understatement meaning “not quite the whole story.”

Nonetheless, cross the Tiber I did. But, as some elsewhere have pointed out, that does not make me the same as a cradle Catholic, which statement, whilst true to the point of being a truism, omits more than it says. Cradle Catholics come in a variety of forms, after all, and the same is true of converts and reverts. A very common feature of the latter is what some have called “convertitis” – that is to say becoming almost more Catholic than the Pope (here I shall insert a mental pause for people to add what they will mentally).

I never thought to cease being an Anglican, and in very many ways not only can I not cease being influenced by that inheritance, I would not want to be. It was not that I did not understand the arguments being used to justify the ordination of women, or that I did not appreciate the decision to allow those of us who could not, in good conscience accept it, it was that it seemed to me that the Church of England was on a journey on which I should have been an unwilling passenger. I firmly believed, yes and truly, that the Church of England was part of the universal Church, but as I looked around me, I could see only that it had, unilaterally, taken a decision that cut across decades of ecumenism.

Had I been a Protestant, I daresay that would have been fine, but I am not. I was a High Anglican, and stood where Newman stood in the 1830s, but also where Pusey stood all his life. I admire Pusey greatly, and he had kept me steady – but the Church moved beyond where it was in his day, and so I did what other High Anglicans did, which was to refer to their own history, remember the admiration the Caroline Divines had for the Orthodox, and went in that direction.

Like Pusey, I had the view that the Catholic Church in the Latin Rite had added things to the faith once received, which might, or might not be warranted, but which only an Ecumenical Council could prescribe; there being none, and the Papal claims being exaggerated, the Orders of the Orthodox Church were the ark of refuge. There I found great holiness, great prayer, great love for God, and a liturgy the angels in Heaven participated in envy of man’s gift. But, but, and but, something was not right.

Part of that was cultural. Orthodoxy’s history has tended to make it very much a cultural phenomenon, and whilst some quite liked turning themselves into Russians (I know one Englishman who ended up speaking with a foreign accent!), that was not me. But it was more than that. Was I right about the Pope and the additions? How far was that the Anglican in me?

That was Newman. Before ever Newman was even declared Blessed, I had a devotion to him, and I asked for his help, that being the sort of thing a High Anglican/Orthodox might do. I thought I’d understood what he was saying about development of doctrine, but I hadn’t – not with my heart. I stopped reading and prayed about it.

As I did, the clearer it became that what I, and the Orthodox, said were ‘additions’ were true developments. If there was a ‘eureka!’ moment, it was the one Newman had had long before me: Peter was the Rock, the Pope was Peter’s successor, not being in communion with Rome was to be in schism and, most likely, heresy!

But I did not want to be a Roman Catholic; tough, if I wanted to be in Christ’s Church, that was what had to happen. Now, were I fortunate, I might have a branch of the Ordinariate nearby, and life would be easier in that respect. But this was before all of that, and so it was necessary to go through the whole process. It was a curious one, not least since most of it was more than familiar to me, and there was a great deal less veneration of Our Lady than my Anglican background had given me. But there it was, and I could do no other.

All of this was not a search for Christianity, it was a search for the right place in which to be a Christian. I remain grateful for the Anglican spirit which allows me not to rush to judgement on my fellow Christians. If a fellow is doing his best by the lights given to him, it really is not my job to throw stones at him, but rather to talk with him, or her, on the way, and swap notes and stories, as pilgrims do. It isn’t about turning myself into the best Catholic, it is about being in the place where my long journey with God is best placed.

On the Meaning of Isaiah 66:24

This is an interesting article from another writer. Readers at AATW will know that I am futurist, premillennial, pre-wrath in my eschatology.

Biblical Pursuits: Commentary on Scriptural Topics

I wanted to ask a question on the ending of the book of Isaiah in chapter 66, particularly in verse 24 where it says: “And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” (ESV)

Jesus quotes this inMark 9:44, and in the next verse associates it with Gehenna (γέενναν; commonly translated as “hell”) in vs. 45. I want to read Isaiah as literally as possible in its original context, so that I do not import modern notions of what hell will be like into the text, and I have to grapple with the very vivid, earthy imagery there. If anything I want to get more literal, and less abstract and metaphorical with this imagery of a…

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A stone sarcophagus front from the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, circa A.D. 430, at the Instanbul Archaeological Museum, showing a male and a female figure standing on either side of the altar. (Courtesy of Ally Kateusz/Wijngaards Institute of Catholic Research)

“Time present and time past /Are both perhaps present in time future”

Thus T.S. Eliot in my favourite poem, Little Gidding and thus, I think, tradition in the Church. If we hold the same faith as our ancestors, that has to be the case, but we know that the Spirit moves in the Church, he did not stop moving at some point in the past, and so, as Newman among others pointed out, we also have change, or if you like, development occurs. If we are the same Church, then what the Apostles said in Acts remains true: “it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” In short, tradition cannot be just conserving what was done in the past. If that were so there would be twelve bishops, all Jewish and all men – when there are more than twelve bishops, few of them Jewish and, at least in some traditions such as my own, not all of them men. It’s easy (which is why it happens so often) to attribute this to reckless modernists wanting to change because society has changed. It may be the case that some people fit that bill, but what about those of us who in many senses consider ourselves on the conservative and sacramental wing of our tradition? This is what I want to examine here, and that involves trying to say something about tradition first.

My own Church, and I think all others I know, agree on a starting point, which is that Scripture comes first, nothing which on the other parts of the tripod rest, that is tradition and reason, can stand if it contradicts Scripture, but we have to be careful that tradition does not become an excuse for giving our own reason extra weight. As anyone who has engaged in discussions in this area knows, there is an awful lot of what passes for tradition that gets quoted out of context. We must always be careful both to give tradition its place, but to beware the temptation to take the existing church in our time and its teachings as the whole of tradition. As Hans Kung put it:

At Trent tradition ousted Scripture, at vatican I real historical tradition was in turn ousted by the present magisterium of the church. Trent said that tradition shows what Scripture teaches; Vatican I said that the Church teaches what tradition is. The ‘teaching of the Church’, understood in this way, and hence the Church itself was made identical with the tradition of Christ. [Kung, The Church, 1967]

This view has not been accepted by any other Christian tradition because to them it seems to give too much weight to the Church. Anglicans take a more measured view. “We cannot separate the the Bible from the Church which recognised it and preserved it. The Divine Book and the Divine Society are the two factors of the one Revelation – each checking the other.” [H.P. Liddon, quoted in H.R MacAdoo, Anglicans and Tradition, 1997] The Church has the right to change things as long as nothing is done that contradicts Scripture. According to Article XXXIV

IT is not necessary that Traditions and Ceremonies be in all places one, and utterly like; for at all times they have been divers, and may be changed according to the diversities of countries, times, and men’s manners, so that nothing be ordained against God’s Word.

As Archbishop Laud, who is more usually remembered for his matryrdom than for his theological contributions, put it: “the ancient Fathers relied upon the Scriptures” and made the Creed “the rule of faith” and the Church of England is happy with that position. Scripture is central.

But Scripture does not exist in a vacuum outside the context of the Church and tradition. With the rare exception of a person who chooses not to ask questions, we will all use the light of our reason to interpret Scripture, and as the current reality of most of our churches is that there is a great deal of contestation (in some cases even about whether a Pope is a Pope), the witness of the ancient undivided Church via the Fathers is critical. For Anglicans this gives us a certain economy in terms of doctrine, and as Article XXXIV sgows, a liberality in non-essentials. In Laud’s words:

Catholicity is not a narrow conclave … but lays open those wider gates of the Catholic Church, confined to no age, time, or place; not knowing any bounds but the faith which was once (and but once for all) delivered to the saints. [McAdoo, pp. 13-14].

For Anglicans the teachings of the Fathers and the witness of an ancient church matter a great deal. In the words of the great Bishop Andrewes: “On canon … two testaments, five centuries and the series of Fathers in that period … determine the boundaries of our faith.”

It can be seen from this brief, and naturally rather simplified summary, that for Anglicans the appeal to antiquity is in terms of doctrine, and not other aspects of tradition. There are some things, the Creed for example, which must be believed, but there are other, non-doctrinal traditions, which are received from our ancestors which may, at the determination of the Holy Spirit, change within the life of the Church as it is lived down the ages. No one has ever suggested that all the successors to the Apostles should be Jews, even though all the first Apostles were Jews. Paul himself challenged Peter when he resiled over the dietary rules which the first Christians followed as Jews always had. Tradition in this, non-doctrinal sense, has always been subject to change.

All of which is by way of an introduction to what I had hoped to deal with in three posts, but which will take more, and that is how a high Anglican such as myself, with a high doctrine of the sacraments, can accept that women can be ordained. More soon …




In Acts 1:24 when a successor to Judas is being mooted, Peter talks about those who accompanied Jesus during his earthly ministry. We know that included among those were many women from what Luke tells us, and that some of these women actually provided the funds to enable Jesus and his followers to live while ministering. That tells us something about the relationship and the role played by women. In that sense they fulfilled one of the requirements to be an Apostle – that is they had been part of the ministry. But they did not, and could not, fulfil the requirement to be a replacement for Judas. The “twelve” represented the twelve tribes of Israel, and only men were allowed to do that, indeed, only Jewish men were allowed to do that. While, in the early Church, the requirement to be Jewish would be gradually abandoned, the requirement to be male was not.

Did that mean that women were not “Apostles” or does it mean that there is more than one sense in which that word could be defined? If we take Luke’s stricter sense, that is being eligible to succeed Judas, the answer is clear enough. But that is not the only sense in which the word is used, not least by the man who often gets a bad rap from feminists, Paul. In his first letter to the Corinthians, in which he claims the title for himself, he defines the role as one who spreads the Gospel of Christ, and we know from Luke, and from Paul himself that women did this. Indeed, rather more than that in some cases, as we know that the very first witness of the risen Lord was one of the women Luke mentions as helping support Jesus and his ministry. It is often asssumed that the seventy two who get sent out were all men, but there is no actual warant for that except the (male) assumption that they must have been men. Yes, the Greek word leads us to that conclusion, but the Greek language has an adrocentric bias, and there is no reason not to read “men” as in some English phrases where “men includes women.”

Paul clearly regards being an Apostle as important, he stresses it often enough for us to be clear that it cannot be read loosely. It involves encountering the risen Christ and receiving the commission to spread the gospel, with all the sufferings that involved. It was certified, so to speak, by signs and mighty works. Junia, as an Apostle, must be said to fit this description, and given what Luke and Paul says about the role women play in the early church, the only occasion for surprise is that this has been ignored and, yes, suppressed for so long.

That last may seem harsh, but how else to characterise an historic position which, when the name was “Junias” and therefore male, accepted that “he” was an apostle, but when it was established that the name was female, argued that she was just “known to the Apostles”? There is, for those who want the detail, an extensive discussion of this in Epps’ book on Junia cited by C451, and also in Richard Bauckham’s excellent and scholarly (i.e. too deep for me in many parts) “Gospel Women” (2002) which goes into an extensive discussion of the koine Greek by experts in the use of the language.

In short, with Junia we are back to church tradition – ironically. It is later commentators, not the Church Fathers usually cited by those defending tradition, on which those defending “Junias” rest; they might ask whether there is any other case in which they’d prefer a twenth century source to a Church Father, and if not, why they feel the need to do so here. Chrysostom wrote:

To be an apostle is something great, but to be outstanding among the apostles – just think what a wonderful song of praise that is! They were outstanding on the basis of their works and virtuous actions. Indeed, how great the wisdom of this woman must have been that she was worthy of the title of apostle.

There is, of course, a possible reason why some modern fathers prefer, for once, to ignore the Church Fathers, and that seems to be to do with the arguments for the ordination of women. For me, and for many others, that argument does not depend upon Junia, but on what one means by “tradition” and whether one thinks of it as static or whether one believes that the Holy Spirit is at work still guiding the Church. If the former is the case, then there’s no argument, although one might well ask how and why the requirement for the twelve to be Jewish was dropped, but the requirement to be men was retained; tradition either develops or it doesn’t. But these are arguments to which I shall hope to return.

In the meantime, we might consider imitating Chrysostom and marvelling at what Junia must have done to have been considered an apostle – and ponder in humility how it could be that she has been almost forgotten and often denied.

A new creation?

Paul realised the revolutionary nature of the Christian life. The world into which he was born had, as all societies do, its established hierarchies. In Judea a male Jewish rabbi held a position of more privilege than another man, whist men held more privileged positions than women, although social class was also a differentiation. Gentiles were not allowed to eat with Jews, and Samaritans were to be shunned. Into this world came the message of the Messiah. Paul is clear about the significance of this.

To the Gentiles he proclaims: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” He criticises the Corinthians for the way they have been discriminating against the poor. He makes it clear to Philemon that Onesimus, his slave, is his equall when worshipping God and needs to be treated as such. He could not have put it plainer to the Galatians:

26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

And so we are. The poor God will, we are told, exalt, and the mighty shall be put down from their high positions; the first shall be last and the last shall be first. It was no wonder that Jesus was crucified by the authorities. If this had been a secular message it would have been seen now as communism, but it is not a secular message, it is a call to hope and redemption to us all.

But as part of that, it seems plain that one of the things that was supposed to mark Christian communities was a want of hierarchical differentiation. Grace is free, it cannot be merited and you and I cannot earn it. If we are “good” that is the outworking of Grace and the hope that is in us, it is not because somehow we are earning salvation. Yes, we run the race, as Paul did, because each and every day we wrestle with sin and with our fallen natures. But there is nothing we can do to win Grace.

The twelve Apostles were all Jewish men, and that was to be expected. Thy represented the twelve tribes of Israel. But long ago the Church decided there could be more than twelve bishops and that they did not need to be Jews. Why then, in this revolutionary new life in Christ did they need to be men?

It seems clear from Scripture that they were not all men. Despite centuries of men (interestingly usually from the Reformed traditions) claiming that there was a man called “Junias” who was an Apostle, it is clear that there was no such man, rather there was a woman of that name. As C451 has written on this I will say no more, except to wonder why, even now, men are at such pains to mansplain that the word “Apostle” does not, here, mean what it usually means. It’s a wonderful example of circular logic and goes like this: “we (men) know that all Apostles of the sort of Apostle that Peter was, are men, so, given we have to accept that Paul called this woman an apostle, that word cannot mean here, what it usually means.” Honestly, you could not make it up – except of course, they have. Oddly, when “Junias” was the preferred reading, no one thought anything other than that “he” was an apostle of the usual sort.

What cannot be disputed is that women prophesied in the early Church: Philip had four virgin daughters who prophesied; women in Corinth prophesied (albeit that some didn’t wear head coverings, an issue to which I will return in a later post); and we know that prophesy in the early church had an educational function. We see from Acts, as my next post will outline, how truly the early Church lived up to the revolutionary idea that all were equal in Christ, and I will leave to a third post further reflections on the role of female “Apostles” in Paul’s church, and the issue of how, by concentrating on a particular interpretation of a few verses, that revolutionary insight was watered down by later generations. But for now, I’ll stop here.



I think I must have noticed this before, but never thought about it. In some translations Luke 1:48 has Our Lady calling herself “handmaid” or “maidservant”, others, however, use the word “servant” because they don’t like the overtones of the gender-related noun. As someone who worked as a chambermaid in university holidays, I get where they are coming from, but oddly, those who in other contexts are most hostile to the use of gender-neutral language, have nothing to say (that I have been able to find) on the matter. As one who has no real beef with such language, I want to comment on it, because, well, I guess I find it offensive – the losing of the female element.

I know that it means when we say the Magnificat at Matins or Evensong, we can all join in, but as a woman I want to make a plea for keeping the older translation because the newer one, well-meaning though it is, actually erases the woman’s voice. I bet it was a man who decided that one!

What do I mean?

The Magnificat comes in the only passage of the Bible where we get no “male gaze”; no men were involved in the dialogue, and the unborn men are only witnesses. I don’t want (here and now) to stray into the delicate and difficult issue of gender in Scripture, but one thing is so obvious that we can miss it. The Bible is written by men and as such largely encapsulates things in terms of the ways men view the world. Nothing wrong in that, men and women often view the world in the same ways, you might say, and I might well nod and agree. But I would add that that’s not the same thing as capturing a purely “female gaze.” Some things are seen differently by the sexes – and nowhere is this more true than pregnancy and child-birth.

I have not had the good fortune to realise my childhood dream of being a mother, and I lost my own at a very early age and have few unmediated memories of her (I find it hard at times to know whether what I think I “remember” was real or simply half-recalling something my father told me), but I have friends and relatives who have been through the experience recently, and as a real and honorary “aunt” I have had the privilege of being part of conversations with them – and it is those female-only spaces which the Visitation recalls to me.

In this context “maidservant” is in no way, to my mind, demeaning. In calling herself this, Mary is expressing one of the virtues that show she is full of Grace and which has made her beloved by all subsequent generations – her humility. In the face of the awesome fact that you are going to be bringing another life into this world, I have noted friends often showing the same humility; it is literally, to be awestruck. How much more was Our Blessed Lady struck with awe, and what better way of expressing her humility than to call herself the handmaid of the Lord? Paul uses the masculine equivalent of the word in Romans 1:1 – δοῦλος there as opposed to δούλης.

Any of us, all of us, are servants of the Living God, but only a woman can be a handmaid in the way Our Lady was, and I want to reclaim that word for women – it is, if you like “servant plus” – and there’s a part of me doesn’t want to share that with men. Is that wrong of me?

I love the intimacy of the female space to which Luke gives us access. I know there are various theories as to the origin of the Magnificat, but there is a large part of me which knows it comes from Luke recording accurately what Our Lady told him. It’s a long time since I read literature at University, but I can spot a female “voice” when I hear it.

The image of the baby “leaping” in the womb moves our hearts, and is just what a woman would note – and the sheer joy, a word repeated several times – overwhelms us. As I say my Rosary I imagine it and am filled with joy myself. There is a very female acceptance of the will of God. Where Zacharias cannot believe that Elizabeth can get pregnant, and where even the wonderful and righteous Joseph (surely one of the most underrated men in history?) is minded to put his pregnant fiancée to one side quietly, Elizabeth knows who is in Mary’s womb, and Mary accepts the will of God with a willingness which can blind us to what she was accepting.

Mary was, after all, a young woman betrothed to Joseph. If we accept, as I and many do, that those called the “brothers and sisters” of Jesus were the progeny of Joseph by a previous marriage, then it is likely that he was much, much older than his betrothed. Twelve and a half was the minimum age at which a girl could be betrothed, and it was not uncommon for a marriage to follow as much as a year later, so she could have been as young as twelve or thirteen at the time of the Annunciation. She would have been aware that becoming pregnant might bring disaster on her. We know that the early enemies of Christianity spread the slander that she had become pregnant by a Roman soldier, and we know from Scripture that Joseph thought it necessary to put her aside before the Angel intervened. But the young Mary, she expressed no doubt, no hesitation, she cooperated with the will of God in a situation where doing so could have exposed her to extreme harm. It is easy to forget how wonderful her trust in God was.

We see something else too in her song of joy. We see traces of what the Kingdom of God will be like. Her lowliness will exalt her, and she who was last will be first. Those who are proud and wealthy, they who are first in their own estimation and that of the world will be humbled and will be last. We see here, for the first, but not the last time, how dangerous for the soul wealth and the pride it can engender can be.

The Visitation is a precious moment of female intimacy where we glimpse something so often missing from a book compiled by men. Please don’t see this as a criticism of men, I wouldn’t expect them to be familiar with female spaces any more than I am with male ones. But I do reclaim that “handmaiden” translation. If, as many believe, there is something special in men because of Jesus which means only they can serve the Lord as priests and bishops, then there is, equally, something special in women, as only they can serve the Lord through pregnancy.

Saturday Thoughts

I enjoyed Jess’ post yesterday and the comments following. Everyone had something interesting and insightful to say. I suppose not everything that was said can be reconciled – people were not in agreement – but here are my own thoughts.

I’m always interested in what NEO has to say on business as he has a wealth of experience to draw upon (Scoop’s comments about the different types of work he has done are also interesting). I suspect that NEO doesn’t comment in this vein more often because it would be a busman’s holiday for him – and I don’t blame him. For my part, after a long day of drafting defences, trying to negotiate settlements, updating the client, and compiling trial bundles, I’d rather not do anything too reminiscent of that.

As part of the various mailing lists from Knowledge Management, I receive daily bulletins about developments in litigation and the financial services sector. I am also signed up to lists on private client / private wealth and other topics that sometimes play into work as a banking litigator.

These days I tend to skim the bulletins as my energy flags and chargeable and administrative work beckons. Jess’ point about working from home being just as tiring (or more) than working in the office is apt. Some of that, however, may be non-related reasons, such as working on a particularly demanding project.

I don’t miss the commute, though. Losing around 2 hours or so each day, stuck on the crowded bus, was not fun; so eliminating that part of the day has been a blessing. I’m not in a hurry to go back to the office as such, but I wish that otherwise we could get back to normal socialising. One of the hardest things about all of this is not being able to hold my niece or hug my sister or brother-in-law. My niece is too young to properly understand what is going on, but I imagine she picks up on things in that mysterious way young children do.

Things are not easy and we all feel ground down by this year. Many of us started out with a feeling of optimism, that the government would be able to start making reforms, fresh from the December election with a clear, ostensibly solid majority in the Commons. Weary of the Rump Parliament, we had hopes that the Prime Minister would bring a fresh energy and zeal to our troubled land.

That may yet happen. While this year has mostly been wasted from a legislative perspective, I do believe that God has been quietly working behind the scenes. If we are to have any hope of transformation, it must come from both the top and the bottom. We must have laws that are fit for purpose, but we must have a society of conscience that will treat people well, whether or not the law compels them to do so.


Space and time

One thing that the current situation has given some of us is time and space we lacked. Conscious as I am of those who have less of either, I haven’t wanted to blog on it. It’s all too easy to sit in a comfortable home with space, and to have time to think, and forget those who have neither and yet without whom we’d be worse off. We get pretty regular deliveries, partly because of my book-buying habit, but also other things because it’s easier than going to supermarkets, and I am struck by the quiet heroism of those who drive the white vans than keep me supplied. We used to do a good deal of clapping for NHS workers, but I sometimes feel I’d like to applaud the van drivers and the shop assistants who, literally, keep us supplied with our daily wants.

None of us has any idea when or how this will end. But if at the end of it we simply have the old normal back, I am not sure that would be progress. I’m no economist, but I can’t see how it can be right for those working in Amazon warehouses to be on low wages when Jeff Bezos is the world’s richest man. Even before the crisis it was clear that something had gone wrong with our economic and social system, and I hope we might be able to do somethings better after this – but the forces to resist it are strong ones.

AATW does not major on the climate change crisis, and even for those who, like me, think there is a crisis, some of the activities of the soi-disant “Extinction Rebellion” seem counter-productive; but that should not blind us to what is going on. We were given stewardship over the earth by God, not ownership. Pope Francis has written eloquently on this in Laudato Si, and if you take the trouble to read it, it’s pretty sensible stuff. We can’t just continue to “take” and give nothing back.

One effect of the crisis has been fewer cars on the road and fewer journeys. My other half has been working mostly from home for the last six months with no reduction on productivity, indeed quite the opposite. I know others in the same place, and life-work balance has, for some, improved. We don’t live to work, we work to live, but too often the economic system treats us as instruments not individuals. This is our modern version of what Jesus told the Pharisees about the Sabbath – and if we can claw back time and space it would be a good thing.

There are complex reasons why in the West we have a decline in births, and abortion and contraception are only two of them. We don’t have a culture of life, and one reason for that it that couples so often need two incomes to manage that having children, even for those open to it, can become a problem. How on earth did we get to this point? What is wrong with us? Again, complex answers, but it seems to me to boil down to our society forgetting why we are here. Secular society has no satisfactory answer to that fundamental question. Christianity does.

More time in prayer, more time with God, creating the silence so he can fill it, and above all, being open to his will. If we can use this crisis to do those sort of things, then other things will change too – us most of all.