Archive for April, 2010

Fay Weldon, Country Churches, and Easter: 1 April

April 1, 2010

Last week was Fay Weldon week. Fay agreed to be interviewed for Christianity magazine (www.christianitymagazine.co.uk ). Easily the most exciting event of the year! I read four of her books in eight days.

The Life and Loves of a She Devil is more moral and sophisticated than I expected, albeit not exactly Christian either. A betrayed, goaded, wife takes intelligent extreme revenge, which ends up taking over her life. The book warns against both unfaithfulness and revenge, along with an engaging tour of modern society, somewhere between Britain and America. The people sketches, from a single mother on benefits to a High Court judge, via a couple of ladies in an old people’s home and a Catholic priest, are vivid and rounded, written with sharp sympathy.

Big Women is a personal history of feminism, and of one feisty, harsh, gaggle of feminists in particular. Fay starts with the 1960’s ‘A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle’ and ends in the 1990’s concluding that women do indeed need men, even for running a feminist publishing company. But the effort to live without men was worthwhile and they all made a lot of money!

Chalcot Crescent, the latest novel, is strangely unpleasant and ungodly. An old lady, described as Fay’s sister, towards the end of a life remarkably like Fay’s, lives in a collapsed, Soviet-like London. Her two marriages have produced a complicated family, which turns out to be even more complicated than she had thought. Among her offspring and in-laws are both the President-in-grooming and the national leader of the Resistance! This old lady writer, obsessed with her own life, spoiling her grandsons while ignoring her granddaughters, oblivious to the criticisms of others, seems to prefer the stultifying status quo to any hope of a freer life.

What Makes Women Happy is Fay’s advice to younger women: Food and chocolate have two separate entries. ‘Be good and you’ll be happy. Be happy and you’ll be good,’ is the repeated message. I’m not sure about the second half of the motto. Can you aim for happiness and attain goodness by the way? Or does it mean to be happy and count your blessings, rather than resentful and grumpy at life’s inevitable blows?

Fay says it’s OK to sin in moderation. Have a little sex outside marriage, especially if you’re having trouble conceiving, as long as you don’t make a habit of it. ‘Just remember, twelve pairs of shoes are fine, but twenty-four are pushing it.’.

Fay’s strong on nurturing the soul, while saying nothing about the Holy Spirit. ‘Pursue a fit shelter for the soul and the body will look itself.’ She advises prayer, but describes it as wishful thinking in the context of eternity, rather than making specific requests to a personal God. She recommends high culture, and church, not ‘with bongo drums, jungle music, social worker vicar and counselling after the service,’ but one ‘in the old-fashioned language, which you can only half-understand, but in the half-understanding, catch a glimpse of something mysterious and infinitely desirable and definitely there.’

Fay herself is charming, independent minded, open to God. The interview should be published in August to coincide with Fay’s next novel.

This week another job interview, for Vicar of three country churches. The other candidate was preferred for their experience and understanding of rural ministry. I said I didn’t think villages and towns were very different. What they have in common, a culture which is well on its way out of Christendom, is more significant. Some of the interview panel disagreed, looking for special pleading for country folk. From what I heard, I see this as meaning that they think the new culture is confined to the towns. They can still, especially in their churches, live and worship as they did when they were children, regardless of how the world around has moved significantly on. But we all watch the same TV…

I was asked about their stated aim ‘to put the church in the centre of the community.’ It is good to want to be in friendly touch with as many people as possible, but the church needs to beware of fitting into the mould the community has for it. ‘Be there for us to turn to, to care for us at times, but don’t tell us what to do.’ That’s the typical English mould for the Anglican Church. Was Jesus at the centre of the community? Were the first Christians? As we leave Christendom we have to model ourselves more on the pre-Christendom Church. Paul could certainly not be described as at the centre of the wider community.

Easter is now, rightly, a Christian celebration, not much for society at large, despite chocolate eggs and hot cross buns. My barber talked at some length about life and faith since his wife died eighteen months ago. He prays now more than ever, for God is his only hope of seeing his wife again. I assured him that his hope was not wishful thinking, but based on the historical reality of Jesus dying and walking out of his own tomb. It did indeed happen. Jesus gives us all hope.

Have a lively celebration!

Roger Harper