Monkeys On Typewriters

I've read Tim's amazing post and I don't think I can, or need to, better that as a discussion of the subject. So instead I'm going to try to describe the process of writing. Short pieces I've written before have seemed to appear from nowhere, so it's interesting (to me at least) to try to work out what I'm doing.

Strangely, considering the importance of this subject to many people and the far-reaching consequences this synod vote might have, I've found it difficult to find a drama, a story. A point of real enquiry - Something I don't know the answer to. Something that will have relevance for the audience on Sunday and give them a new perspective on this subject. I have spent Monday and Tuesday reading the stories and background and then attempting to write.

For me, particularly with a short piece like this, I have to find the form. Because it's only going to be ten mins the form IS the content. The form, the structure, of the piece is a large part of what it will convey; where the meaning is. So for this reason, I wrote (or started to write) four different plays about the subject, flailing around to find both something to say and a way to say it, as I think these two things will come together. This is the monkeys on typewriters approach. If I write enough, something might happen.
In an extremely embarassing way, I'll describe these poor ideas.

1 - a piece where god speaks to a gay couple as they kiss. (This only got half a page through before it became obvious just what a BAD idea this was)
2 - a gangster comes to a English Anglican minister to give him clear guidance. But due to the vagueness of the churches position, he finds this difficult, and the gangster presses him to do his job. (Hmmm)
3 - Dialogue made out of the relevant extracts of Leviticus and St Paul's letter to the corinthians.(interesting. But ultimately saying nothing you couldn't get from the Bible, and it just turned into a standard liberal "isn't the Bible stupid" piece.)
4- A gay man goes to a Anglican minister to be "cured", as he doesn't want to be gay, and the church is the last place in society that believes it is possible to change your sexuality like this.

This last idea was the best, as it did enable me to write against the position that the vast majority of the audience will hold. However, the form that it came with was a kind of orton-esque comic dialogue, which didn't take the characters seriously, and as it went on it felt weaker and weaker. I did get to the end of this piece - which at 8.00pm last night ran at fifteen pages and was sort of finished. It was clever and a bit funny and spoke about the subject. But it wasn't right. It didn't feel like it was speaking truthfully. It was too clever.

Then as I was about to give up and go to bed last night, I thought about the C of E church in Abingdon where I grew up, and about the attitudes that our parent's generation had towards homosexuality and the church. It seemed to me there was an interesting tension here, between the tradition and comforting ritual of going to church, the way things have always been done, having a family, sunday lunch, etc - and the new and quite specific challenge for that generation of not only having your children come out as gay, but neing forced by society to accept that as okay. To accept that their hopes of grandchildren are gone. Christmases with the other halves will be quite different. Their sons and daughters are engaged in an activity that when they were growing up was still very much illegal.

So the dramatic tension is in seeing four characters (two couples who are friends, meeting after church) existing in their comfortable, sunday, relaxed world, with a sermon, bit of god and sunday lunch, but coming to terms with the fact that this world cannot hold. Their children are gay, their doctor might be gay, and in this way their minister might be gay. And so these people have to accept that not everyone sees the world like them. That other people have different perspectives.

The language is one of an underlying and really unwanted homophobia that stems from ignorance and disappoint and sorrow - not so much from hate, but because things have become unknown. If the church provides moral, social and cultural stability, then openly gay children threaten this. Gayness, for them, is modern, dangerous and other . It highlights how things change and this is not what these people want.

This piece was then written very quickly - in about an hour and a half. Partly because I have known people like this all my life so the way they spoke was easy to find, and partly because the piece was not trying too hard. It had enough space to let the character just speak and find their way to the subject and drama.

So my concern now is whether this piece engages with the subject enough. Is this what present tense is about? Or should the play be more political? More engaged and specific?


'Seek' Versus 'Seek No Further'

On one level, the ructions within the Anglican church are none of my business - as a non-Christian with only a passing familiarity with the contents of the Bible, let alone the various, often conflicting exegeses that have appeared throughout history, my first response was: 'Well, my understanding is that sections of scripture pretty much unequivocally proscribe homosexuality - therefore, if you believe that the Bible is God's word, then it logically follows that you believe that God says homosexuality is a sin. If you buy into the Bible, you're buying into homophobia.' It seemed a bit presumptuous to launch an attack on the Religious Right when, as far as I understood it, their interpretation of the Bible on this point - with particular reference to Leviticus and the story of Lot - was far from fanciful.

I guess I was prejudiced by having encountered some particularly egrerious examples of 'woolly liberal thinking' in the past. Round a friend's house I found a copy of a toe-curling book called something like 'The Street Bible'. It was every Premillenial Dispensationalist's nightmare - the word of God 'translated' into a kind of faux jive-talk. Of course I turned straight to Leviticus, to find the entire book reduced to a short paragraph: (I paraphrase) 'Here, God gets real heated up about some things he doesn't want his children to do. He tells us how he wants us to behave and what will happen if we don't.' What?! Somehow I don't feel that a Christian Conservative would feel the spirit of the words had been represented.

Now, I don't have a problem with a group providing an explanatory gloss on sections of the Bible, as long as they retain the original text for comparison. I remember a Christian guy came to our school to teach us how Christianity was 'cool'. He was called Silas, he wore a black leather jacket and he once went to jail. Someone asked him a question about what Jesus thought about homosexuality and he deflected it with a joke about sheep-shagging. (which, incidentally, Leviticus also proscribes) Everybody laughed. I felt a bit cheated, and, in my own act of stupidity, judged Christian Liberalism in its entirety on the basis of one silly man with an earring.

But it was instances like this of Liberal Christians apparently brushing the issue under the carpet, rather than directly engaging with it, that led me to believe that there was no way to reconcile homosexuality and Christianity without pretending not to notice fairly prominent sections of the Bible. It's the 'pretending not to notice' part that I'd now take issue with - Liberal Christianity
can and has reconcile the core teachings of Jesus Christ and the appointment of openly homosexual bishops; what one can't reconcile is a belief in the doctrine of Biblical Infallibility and a belief that a homosexual relationship can be a moral, loving event.
In the interests of full disclosure, I consider myself Buddhist. Listening to a dharma talk recently, the speaker, Gil Fronsdal from the Insight Meditation Centre in LA, described the difference between a 'progressive' approach to religion and a 'fundamentalist' approach thusly: (again, I may paraphrase)

'The message of all major religious enquiry is: "Seek." The message of fundamentalist religious thought is: "Seek no further."'

I like the characterisation of liberal religion as a question and fundamentalist religion as an answer because I feel they're labels that both sides might feel comfortable with. I can understand the attraction of a credo that purports to offer all the answers in some absolute, immutable form. Liberal Christianity takes the position (I generalise, of course - neither 'side' is a monolith) that the Bible is a divinely-inspired document of unparalleled importance that, nonetheless, consists of writings by fallible humans and is therefore corrigible and open to interpretation. As a historical narrative, later edicts supersede or repudiate earlier ones (most notably the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ) and so no one section can be taken as absolute without putting it into its proper context. (who said it, when, to whom, and for what purpose)

The Fundamentalist position typically encompasses a combination of the doctrines of Biblical Infallibility (the Bible is the Word of God and is totally correct on issues of faith and practice) and Biblical Inerrancy. (in edition to being correct on faith and practice, the Bible is factual accurate and does not rely on metaphor - ie the world was literally created in seven days) If one accepted these doctrines as true, then it's not hard to see why the Liberal position would feel like such a threat. It doesn't require a loathing for homosexual acts per se - although I don't doubt that such repugnance exists amongst many in the Christian Right - it's the fact that, if we make an exception for one element of scripture, we are accepting the Liberal position of Biblical Fallibility, and consequently the Bible is no longer the 'absolute answer' promised by Conservative preachers.

So how to respond to this artistically? Umm... I'm hoping to be divinely inspired.

links, links, links

here are a load of links to stories about our topic...

Bishops urged not to give way on gays debate
Sunday Telegraph, 25 Feb

Stand up, Archbishop, and tell the gay bashers where to go
AA Gill, Sunday Times, 25 Feb

Church of England beliefs on sex and morality
Times, 23 February

African bishop optimistic on unity
The Mirror, 22 February

Anglican primates struggle for consensus
Telegraph, 21 February

Gay ultimatum for Anglicans in the US
BBC News, 20 February

Anglican leaders: US church must bar gay bishops
Independent, 20 February

Anglican leaders struggle to unite
BBC News, 20 February

Would an Anglican split have mattered?'
The Observer, 18 February

Primates consider 'parallel' church
Telegraph, 18 February

Archbishop faces church split
Telegraph, 15 February

The big question: why is the Anglican Church facing a schism, and can it be

Independent, 13 February

Bishops more political than in 80s
Sky News, 11 February

Decline, ordination of women, homosexuality
BBC Religion & Ethics

General Synod of the Church of England

and the topic is..

After much debate over a stack of newsprint in the upstairs room of a Soho pub last night, the present : tense artists decided the most important story on the news agenda was...

the forthcoming General Synod vote on homosexuality in the Anglican church

They now have one week...