Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Women writing hymns and songs

Why are so many of today's song-writers men?

Nothing against men, or against the great worship songs which help us to come into the presence of God, but I wonder why far more songs are written by men than by women?

Is it because it tends to be men who stand up to lead worship? Or men who are appointed as official leaders of worship?

But I was reminded recently that in addition to all the nineteenth century women taking the lead in philanthropy, and preaching at the time of the mid-century revival (following the examples of Phoebe Palmer and Catherine Booth), there was a whole strand of women hymn-writers in the nineteenth century.

Which names come most readily to mind? Christina Rosetti perhaps? Soon we will all be singing 'In the bleak mid-winter'. Or Mrs CF Alexander: 'Once in Royal David's City', 'There is a green hill', 'All things bright and beautiful'. Other names include Harriet Auber, Charlotte Elliott ('Just as I am'), Emily Elliott, Sarah Flower Adams, Jane Eliza Leeson, Caroline Noel ('At the name of Jesus'), Anna Letitia Waring, Dora Greenwell and Elizabeth Clephane.

Perhaps the best known of all was Frances Ridley Havergal (1839-1894). She wrote 60 hymns, including 'Take my life' and 'Who is on the Lord' side?' She said of her hymn writing: 'I can never set myself to write verse. I believe my king suggests a thought and whispers me a musical line or two and then I look up and thank him delighedly, and go on with it. That's how the hymns and poems come.'

Our age might stuggle with her understanding of a woman's submission (was this what God's spirit was saying, or what was expected of women in those days?), but there's no doubt about the addition made to Victorian spirituality by all these women.

I know there are a few women writing songs for the church today, but could there be more?

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Men and women: mixed messages

I long for a time when men and women are free to work together in ministry and leadership as I believe God intended.

But just when I think we are making progress in this direction, there's another step back.

Recently I've been thinking about and reading about this subject. I came across a great book, Becoming Colleagues. In the course of exploring the stories of various mixed-gender teams, and what we might learn from them, I came across a great section on 'mixed messages.'

It's compared to 'the creaking of an ancient, heavy door, slowly opening, with some pulling it open and some pushing it shut.'

On the one hand women are made welcome as leaders, but increasing invitations, by inclusion in previously all-male gatherings, by men who advocate for women.

But at the same time women are made unwelcome - by language that excludes, by hierarchical models, by an enduring fear of working with women.

I wonder if you've experienced these mixed messages:
'We want you here. We know you have something to contribute.' So far so good?
'If you are going to be here, we want you to act in a way that will be comfortable to us men.'
And 'This is the way things are, and you have to fit in' (meaning, it's fine so long as women are not too assertive or too powerful or too visible.)

Where do the mixed messages come from? I guess some assumptions about women are still deeply embedded in our culture, and the church. When women are viewed as wife, mother, virgin or whore, how is it possible to see women as leaders? But why is it that women are still 'the unknown other', when God made us equally in his image?

And back to the subject of men and women working together, women are cautious about working with men (often with good reason), and men are cautious about working with women. How do we create a church where men and women can work together as equal partners?

Thursday, 6 November 2008

High heels and hot tempers

I was fascinated by a programme on ITV on Monday evening, Violent Women.

Apparently the number of women arrested for violent crimes has doubled in the past 5 years, and scenes involving violent women are becoming commonplace in cities. Often women's violence is fueled by alcohol.

It was noted that some of the role models for women are not setting a great example, and the programme showed clips of Naomi Campbell and Bjork both in violent mood.

What do we make of it? I am not for one moment condoning women's violence. But I wonder if there is something positive in women emerging from being seen as the 'naturally nicer sex'.

You see, I've always thought that women are fallen, so capable of sin, which might include violence. When our society sees men as 'naturally' violent (or more prone to violence) that does damage too. Men are sometimes seen as not able to help it. That's not how it is in my theology either. It does men no favours.

If women are seen as 'naturally nicer', that makes nonesense of sin, and contributes to the difficulty people have in seeing women as anything other than caring, nurturing and 'nice'.

Why can't we get real? Men and women can be violent. We are all human - and fallen. The real question is what we do about it as a society.

The really depressing thing for me is not violent women, but that society is doing its best to marginalise Christianity, when the transformation Jesus Christ can make really is the only answer, the only person who might transform violent women - and men.