Rachel Mann https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/17019/all cached version 14/06/2018 02:32:21 en Did the Great War leave God “hanging on the old barbed wire”? https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/rachel-mann/did-great-war-leave-god-hanging-on-old-barbed-wire <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The patriarchal deity died in the trenches of the Somme, but the churches will not let him go.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/RachelMann3.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">The Fire Window in the Regiment Chapel of Manchester Cathedral. Credit:&nbsp;© Copyright&nbsp;<a title="View profile" href="http://www.geograph.org.uk/profile/43729">David Dixon</a>&nbsp;and licensed for&nbsp;<a href="http://www.geograph.org.uk/reuse.php?id=4279581">reuse</a>&nbsp;under this&nbsp;<a title="Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Licence" href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/">Creative Commons Licence</a>.</p> <p>In the north-east corner of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manchester_Cathedral">Manchester Cathedral</a> there is a large rectangular chapel. The focal point is a stained-glass window in the east wall, a vast arch of red, orange and yellow glass that suggests flames and destruction. On the altar frontal beneath it and completing the fire motif is a phoenix. In the Manchester Blitz of 1940 the cathedral was bombed and burned. The Fire Window commemorates both the long nights of destruction and the city’s resurrection out of the flames.</p> <p>The <a href="http://www.manchestercathedral.org/community/regimental-chapel">Regiment Chapel</a> as it is known commemorates, remembers and celebrates the service of The Duke of Lancaster Regiment and its precursors, including the Manchester Regiment. From the walls hang flags and battle honours, heavy with the conflicts of the twentieth century including <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Mons">Mons</a>, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ypres">Ypres</a>, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Somme">the Somme</a> and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Cambrai_(1917)">Cambrai</a>. Along the north edge are sturdy wooden display cases full of weighty books of remembrance, packed with the names of the fallen. On alternate Wednesdays there is a simple service called ‘The Turning of the Leaves,’ when the pages of the books are turned over. These are pages thick with memory, ritualized into manageable remembrance.</p> <p>It is troubling to think about how the <a href="https://www.churchofengland.org/">Church of England</a> has been complicit in the ways in which war has been prosecuted. <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89lie_Hal%C3%A9vy">Elie Halévy</a> notes how in the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_I">Great War of 1914-18</a>, for example, state control of thought took two forms: the negative, aimed at suppressing opinions deemed contrary to the national interest; and the positive, appropriately termed “the organization of enthusiasm.” The Church of England was very much part of the latter. Indeed, until the formation of a government Department of Information in 1917, propaganda was very much the business of private initiative.</p> <p>As <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Last-Crusade-Church-England-First/dp/0822302985">Albert Marrin, who argues that the Great War was the last European holy war, has written</a>:</p> <blockquote><p>“Convinced of the righteousness of England’s cause, and believing that Christianity was concerned as much with the discharge of civic responsibilities as with the religious life, patriotic clergymen resolved to do their ‘bit’ for King and Country.”</p></blockquote> <p>The consistent refrain of diocesan conferences and parish meetings at the time was that the Church had a dual role as a servant of God and the servant of the state. As a servant of god, it provided huge amounts of practical humanitarian support to both needy soldiers at the front and their families at home, as well as supplying chaplains and distributing mind-bogglingly large number of Bibles and religious tracts.</p> <p>In terms of service to the state, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Winnington-Ingram">Arthur Winnington-Ingram</a>, the Bishop of London, remains the most notorious figure among the clergy who were active as recruiters for the war, yet there was no shortage of other clerics willing to preach for the patriotic cause. Rev. Richard Huggard, Vicar of St. John's Barnsley claimed to have personally enlisted two thousand men. The Rev. A.W. Gough, Vicar of Brompton and Prebendary of St. Paul's suggested that every Englishman worthy of the name should don the khaki uniform with pride, “the festal garment which God is offering us today, which he is insisting that we put on.”</p> <p>Winnington-Ingram—a man who loved to throw on a uniform and hang around recruiting rallies—boasted of having been thanked officially by the War Office for adding ten thousand men to the fighting forces of the crown. Soon after, a grateful king appointed him a <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Victorian_Order">K.C.V.O</a>.</p> <p>For whom was the God proclaimed by the Church, and what account of suffering was it able to provide? The writer <a href="https://books.google.com/books/about/The_Church_of_England_and_the_First_Worl.html?id=MaUABAAAQBAJ">Alan Wilkinson suggests that</a> “God speaks to the Church through the world, as well as to the world through the Church...In this period, that Word emerged more authentically from the prose and poetry of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siegfried_Sassoon">Siegfried Sassoon</a> and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilfred_Owen">Wilfred Owen</a> than it did, say, from the sermons of Winnington-Ingram.”</p> <p>More than any other, Owen’s poetry determines how most British people see the Great War in particular and war in general. He was a 2nd Lieutenant in the 2nd Manchester’s and was gazetted for the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_Cross">Military Cross</a>. Owen was not a religious poet; his subject, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/War-Poems-Wilfred-Owen/dp/0701161264">as he famously put it</a>, was “War and the pity of War. The poetry is in the pity.” Yet his poetry and letters play with and push against biblical images and theological concepts; he is profoundly aware of God and Christ, but his wrestling with God is imbued with rich irony and ambivalence. It is as if he is trying to make sense of an abridged or compromised God for times of abridged hope, a God who can make some kind of home in an ironic world.</p> <p>Owen discovers a God both greater and lesser than he imagined. In <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Collected-Letters-Wilfred-Owen/dp/0192111809">one of his letters</a>, he suggests that:</p> <blockquote><p>“Christ is literally in no man’s land. There men often hear His voice: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life—for a friend. Is it only spoken in English and French? I do not believe so. Thus you see how pure Christianity will not fit in with pure patriotism…Christians have deliberately cut some of the main teaching of their code.”</p></blockquote> <p>Owen found himself drawn close to Christ in his passion, though he expresses this closeness with irony:</p> <blockquote><p>“For 14 hours yesterday I was at work—teaching Christ to lift his cross by numbers, and how to adjust his crown; and not to imagine he thirsts until after the last halt; I attended his Supper to see that there were no complaints; and inspected his feet to see that they should be worthy of the nails. I see to it that he is dumb and stands to attention before his accusers. With a piece of silver I buy him every day, and with maps I make him familiar with the topography of Golgotha.”</p></blockquote> <p>The contrast with the God/Christ of the Anglican churchmen <em>cum</em> recruiting sergeants is striking. Theirs typically reflects the muscularity and presumed masculinity of their class. As <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Rites-Spring-Great-Birth-Modern/dp/0395937582">Modris Eksteins strikingly puts it</a> in his book <em>Rites of Spring</em>, “Clergymen dressed Jesus in khaki and had him firing machine-guns.” Their God is one that echoes through the martial fair-play of the poetry of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Newbolt">Sir Henry Newbolt</a> in his most famous poem, <em><a href="https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/vita-lampada/">Vitai Lampada</a></em>, which imagines a soldier bringing the virtues of his school and sport (specifically cricket) onto the battlefield:</p> <blockquote><p>“The river of death has brimmed his banks,</p><p>And England's far, and Honour a name,</p><p>But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks:</p><p>‘Play up! play up! and play the game!’”</p></blockquote> <p>Newbolt was a lifelong friend of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Douglas_Haig,_1st_Earl_Haig">Douglas Haig</a>, the British army commander from 1916 until the end of the war. They had met at <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clifton_College">Clifton College</a>, whose cricket field provides the location for the first stanza of <em>Vitai</em>. As <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Great-War-Modern-Memory/dp/0195133323">the writer Paul Fussell makes clear</a>, “Much later Newbolt wrote, ‘When I looked into Douglas Haig I saw what is really great—perfect acceptance, which means perfect faith.”’ The Establishment, of which the Church of England was a part, celebrated what <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Great-War-Modern-Memory/dp/0195133323/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;s=books&amp;qid=1225811381&amp;sr=1-1">Patrick Howarth has called&nbsp;<em>Homo Newboltiensis</em>:</a> the man who is stoic, honourable, brave, loyal and not a little unimaginative.</p> <p>The God of the Anglican recruiting sergeants is the patriarchal God, made in their own image and inherited from decades of English imperial confidence, shaped in public schools. The Episcopal and clerical recruiting sergeants of 1914 were part of a class and culture that comprehended the old truth that son inherited from father in the fullness of time if the son was faithful to his elder. For the elder was, ultimately, to be trusted. The evidence for this lay in one hundred years of relative peace in which England’s power had grown to its zenith.</p> <p>If the Church of England continued to articulate a patriarchal God throughout the war (and perhaps still does to this day), Owen offers glimpses of something else. In his lesser-known poem ‘<a href="https://www.amazon.com/War-Poems-Wilfred-Owen/dp/0701161264">The Parable of the Old Man and the Young’</a> (a retelling of the Abraham and Isaac myth), Owen signifies the death of patriarchal society and the god to which it is beholden.</p> <p>Beginning on familiar territory (“So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,/And took the fire with him, and knife”), the poem unfolds into a nightmarish trench-based scene: “Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,/And builded parapets and trenches there,/And stretched forth the knife to slay his son”). As in the Biblical story, an Angel intervenes and invites Abram to “Lay not thy hand upon the lad” and sacrifice “the Ram of Pride instead.” The conclusion of the poem is devastating in its simple condemnation of the ‘Good Father’ principle: “But the old man would not so, but slew his son,/And half the seed of Europe, one by one.”</p> <p>Arguably, the patriarchal God died on <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Somme">the Somme</a>, at <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ypres">Ypres</a> and at <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Passchendaele">Passchendaele</a>. He—like so many—was left “hangin’ on the old barbed wire” as the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanging_on_the_Old_Barbed_Wire">famous World War I song</a> put it. Unlike the poor lads on both sides who went over the top, perhaps he hangs there still. The Churches will not let him go. What is for sure is that in our time the traditional churches are in crisis.</p> <p>I do not know if this is because churches like my own, the Church of England, have yet to move on from this dead, male-centric God. I suspect it may be one reason among many. The reasons why the masses no longer go to church (if they ever did) are complex and multiform. What is clear is that the patriarchal God could not—in the light of years of slaughter—hold the weight of expectations. Ultimately, it proved to be an unreliable and hapless idol.</p> <p class="image-caption">Rachel Mann’s new book is <em><a href="http://dltbooks.com/titles/2186-9780232532784-fierce-imaginings">Fierce Imaginings: The Great War, Ritual, Memory and God</a>.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/rachel-mann/im-woman-but-im-glad-i-used-to-be-man">I&#039;m a woman, but I&#039;m glad I used to be a man</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/david-edwards/face-to-faith">Face to faith</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/will-left-ever-get-religion">Will the left ever get religion?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation religion and social transformation Rachel Mann Love and Spirituality Sun, 16 Jul 2017 11:42:09 +0000 Rachel Mann 112289 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Rachel Mann https://www.opendemocracy.net/content/rachel-mann <div class="field field-au-term"> <div class="field-label">Author:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Rachel Mann </div> </div> </div> <p>Rachel Mann is an Anglican priest and the author of the spiritual memoir <a href="http://www.ionabooks.com/dazzling-darkness.html" target="_blank"><em>Dazzling Darkness</em></a>. Her new book is <em><a href="http://dltbooks.com/titles/2186-9780232532784-fierce-imaginings">Fierce Imaginings: The Great War, Ritual, Memory and God</a>.</em></p><div class="field field-au-shortbio"> <div class="field-label">One-Line Biography:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Rachel Mann is an Anglican priest and the author of the spiritual memoir Dazzling Darkness. </div> </div> </div> Rachel Mann Mon, 09 Jun 2014 09:39:54 +0000 Rachel Mann 83555 at https://www.opendemocracy.net I'm a woman, but I'm glad I used to be a man https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/rachel-mann/im-woman-but-im-glad-i-used-to-be-man <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p style="margin-bottom: 20px;">I was the kind of trans* person who, upon coming out, sought to destroy all references to my male social and legal identity in the most ruthless manner.&nbsp;Part of Transformation's<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/freeform-tags/liberation-series" target="_blank"> liberation series</a>.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/541222/Rachel Mann Transformation Dazzling Darkness.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="I&#039;m a woman but I&#039;m glad I used to be a man"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/541222/Rachel Mann Transformation Dazzling Darkness.jpg" alt="It is out of woundedness and brokenness themselves that new life, ‘shalom’, and creation come. Credit: Demotix/Sallie Pisch." title="I&#039;m a woman but I&#039;m glad I used to be a man" width="460" height="310" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>It is out of woundedness and brokenness themselves that new life, ‘shalom’, and creation come. Credit: Demotix/Sallie Pisch.</span></span></span></p><p>“<em>I am a woman, but for the first time I can begin to say that I am glad that I</em><em>&nbsp;</em><em>was a man.”</em></p> <p>When I transitioned from male to female twenty plus years ago I could not have imagined that one day I’d be able to write that line.&nbsp;</p> <p>One of the dynamics in many trans* people’s narratives – diverse as they are – is a powerful and understandable desire to forget, move on from and, in some cases, to annihilate references to a painful pre-transition life.&nbsp;</p> <p>In an age where tabloid journalism is still too often obsessed with pre-transition names and gender identification, the desire for privacy is not only understandable, but often a matter of safety and respect.</p> <p>I was precisely the kind of trans* person who, upon coming out, sought to destroy all references to my male social and legal identity in the most ruthless manner. </p><p>For me that was necessary and liberating.&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet having now lived over half my life as a woman, negotiating the complex social and theological realities of being trans*, a Christian, disabled and an Anglican priest, I have begun to discover another liberation: liberation as reconciliation.&nbsp;</p> <p>When I went through the challenging and often exhausting process of transitioning from (for want of a better term) ‘male to female’, I experienced one kind of liberation.&nbsp;</p> <p>As a boy and man I felt forever trapped in an empty, if skillful, performance of masculinity.</p> <p>In becoming a woman I was liberated into myself, a self that was hard-won and fought for; a self that learnt to play with gender roles, practices and began to discover moments of peace. Willingness to be reconciled with the fractures and lack of simplicity in myself was crucial to that process.&nbsp;</p> <p>Reflecting upon ‘self’ and ‘identity’, the notion of ‘The Other’ becomes striking, potent and undeniable. Even if one is suspicious of psychological concepts, ‘The Other’ resonates powerfully in human experience.</p> <p>The most familiar examples lie in ‘external targets’. History is littered with examples of racism, sexism, misogyny, class fear and homo- and transphobia in which various groups – on the basis of skin colour, race, gender and sexuality – have been readily turned into ‘The Other’ by the dominant and normative power group.</p> <p>As someone fascinated by our desire for liberation and reconciliation, I am intrigued about how the notion of ‘The Other’ plays out within our own selves.</p> <p>As an internal concept ‘The Other’ refers to those aspects and dimensions of our selves are afraid of or wish to bury, or destroy.</p> <p>In my teen years, my desire to be a girl was precisely the kind of dimension of myself I wanted to wipe away, bury and destroy; yet no matter what strategy I adopted it seemed to come back stronger and more cunning.</p> <p>It was a part of me that sickened me because it seemed abnormal, ‘Other’. It made me different. It was ‘wrong’. It needed be excised so that I could fit in.</p> <p>The journey into womanhood was a journey into reconciliation. Yet what if reconciliation goes deeper than me merely accepting myself as a woman, as a lesbian and so on? What if it means re-embracing and loving that within me that once was male?</p> <p>Sometimes, when I spend a considerable amount of time in the company of cis women I become conscious of certain ways I have of talking and ways I behave – ways that strike me not simply as ‘mannish’ or ‘tom-boyish’ but actually ‘blokey’. These things are very hard to pin down and feel almost indefinable, but still they are there.</p> <p>Given how successful I’ve become at passing as a cis-woman, I don’t want them to ‘out’ me. If I want to tell someone I’m trans I want to do it on my terms and in my time. But sometimes I fear there is blokish-ness within me threatening to out me unexpectedly.</p> <p>To open myself up to those things about me that I consider ‘male’ or ‘mannish’ has been akin to walking among the dead. It has been a journey into so many things I’d rather forget. It has been a walk into darkness. It has been like the work of a cold case pathologist – someone who searches for long dead bodies carefully hidden in unexpected places and then disinters them, dismantles them, trying to unlock their secrets.&nbsp;</p> <p>This process of reverse reconciliation has been a long time coming. After the experiments of my twenties, when I tried to be as conventionally girly and as womanly as I could, I have found my way back to myself.&nbsp;</p> <p>Like most grown women, I have reached a point where I know what I like but also know what works for me clothes wise. And that means avoiding, as much as other women, certain styles of dress. I have come to terms with the fact that my music and cinema taste is – if one were to stereotype – a little more male than most women of my age.&nbsp;</p> <p>But I have only really just begun to be unafraid of the fact that not only was I raised as a boy, but that that past was genuinely good.</p> <p>At the same time, I am a divided self. It has taken me many years of honest and authentic self-reflection and living with God to become at peace with the simple unavoidable fact that some aspects of my past life are dissonant with where and who I am now.</p> <p>For me, the immense and joyous good news is that such dissonance and inconsistency is creative, thrilling and risky in the best sense of the word. The ‘shalom’ in myself is not of a comforting and easily resolved kind. It is the creative dissonance of (to borrow a phrase of Gillian Rose) ‘The Broken Middle’.&nbsp;</p> <p>And broken? Yes, but it would be lazy to assume that I take this word in a negative way. I, like all human beings, am broken. Perhaps I am more broken than most; I do not know. But I know also that my brokenness, which includes some aspects of my gender dysphoria, but is most certainly not defined by it, is also a place of creativity, hope and healing.</p> <p>This creativity is, I sense, an emergent property of forging wholeness out of pain and confusion, but crucially is a reflection of an essential and defining truth of the Christian faith: that it is out of woundedness and brokenness themselves that new life, ‘shalom’, and creation come. But this no shalom <em>in stasis</em> but the shalom in journey and transformation.&nbsp;</p> <p>One of the great fantasies of our religious selves is that there is such a thing as ‘home’ – that there is a ‘place’ in our selves or in ‘heaven’ or on ‘earth’ where human life could feel complete or healed. I’m inclined to say that one of the lessons of postmodern thought, in the hands of Lacan or Foucault or whoever, is that there is no place of complete resolution. We are born into exile.&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, in the provisional situations we all inhabit, we can find ‘shalom’ – not as a static identity but in our understanding of the temporary, but still real liberations on offer. For me, one of those places lies in my very self.</p> <p>To become a woman was a step away from power and status and, yet, I am glad beyond words that I am a woman. But, though it is still very difficult to acknowledge, I am surprised to discover that I’m also glad that I was a man.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/isabelle-nastasia/what-if-lgbtq-movement-fought-for-prison-abolition-instead-of-same-">What if the LGBTQ movement fought for prison abolition instead of same sex marriage?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/yasmin-gunaratnam/stephen-sutton-and-politics-of-deathbed-smile">Stephen Sutton and the politics of the deathbed smile</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/huma-munshi/good-thing-about-having-disability">The good thing about having a disability</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/anne-philpott/to-stop-hiv-lets-bring-sexy-back">To stop HIV, let&#039;s bring sexy back</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/caroline-walters/ballet-without-body-fascism">Ballet without the body fascism</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/ray-filar/liberation-in-age-of-hashtag-activist">Liberation in the age of the hashtag activist</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Creative Commons </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation The Liberation Series Trans* Narratives Christianity Transforming Ourselves Transforming Society Rachel Mann Liberation Mon, 09 Jun 2014 09:37:45 +0000 Rachel Mann 83554 at https://www.opendemocracy.net