Today in church: women and frogs

Today’s Gospel reading, for those of you who care about these things, was the tale of the Syrophoenecian woman, from Mark 7:24-end. The sermon drew out some interesting aspects of this story.

Firstly, having just come back from a spiritual retreat on the nature of women in Christianity, the curate emphasised that it’s sometimes necessary to read the New Testament with a suspicious eye. The Gospels were written by men in a time when the genders were most certainly not equal. So this makes the story of the¬†Syrophoenecian woman even more incredible. That a woman from a very lowly part of society could draw up the courage to speak to Jesus, and even to answer him back when she doesn’t get the answer she wants.

Secondly, this is a story about persistence. A sort of “if at first you don’t succeed, try try again,” if you like. She finds strength and courage in her faith. And good things happen to her.

Thirdly, we must accept that Jesus is really pretty mean to her. He basically compares her people to dogs, and initially won’t help her. But, thanks to her persistence, he changes his mind. This is intriguing when compared to the concept of an all-seeing and all-knowing God. For us lesser mortals, it’s heartening to see that even Jesus sometimes has to go through a thought process. It’s sometimes okay that we don’t get the right answer first time, so long as we continue to be responsive to the situation.

As for the frogs, we were fortunate enough to have Messiaen’s wonderful O Sacrum Convivium as the communion anthem. I remember singing this for the first time and, as we sight-read through it, finding myself drowning in its overlapping dissonances and resolutions. And, at the end of the service, the organist played Cesar Franck’s Chorale No. 3 in A. Youtube links for both are below.

I’m so sorry

First it was Diane Abbott, and her idiotic comments about white people.

And now it’s David Cameron, with similarly ill-advised comments about Ed Balls and Tourette’s syndrome. Cameron has since ‘apologised‘; I put that word in inverted commas because he didn’t actually apologise at all:

Downing Street later put out an apology saying the remark was made “off the cuff”. A spokesman said: “The Prime Minister would not have meant to offend anyone. He apologises if any offence has been caused.”

That’s not an apology. It’s the worst form of mealy-mouthed political formulation you can imagine. Perhaps it’s true that Cameron didn’t mean to offend anyone. But his words, even if off-the-cuff, are offensive to people who don’t suffer just from Tourette’s but must also face the constant misunderstanding of what their condition means. Cameron’s clumsy use of their condition to score cheap political points is incredibly damaging to sufferers’ attempts to have their condition better understood by society.

Secondly, the form of words is utterly inappropriate. You can’t be sorry if someone else is offended. You’re either sorry or you’re not. Placing conditions on your own apology serves to show only that you never intended to give it. It’s not my fault I’m offended by your inappropriate language. It’s your fault for saying it.

So Cameron needs to try again. Yet if he can properly apologise then we should forgive him. As Luke tells us:

If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.

It’s to the eternal shame of our politicians that they don’t seem able to apologise properly.