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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A luta continua

Icon written by the Rev'd Dr. Ellen Poisson, OSH
Today's liturgical calendar marks the 68th Anniversary of the ordination of Florence Li-Tim Oi, 李添嬡 , the first woman ordained priest in the Anglican Communion.

Meanwhile, back in the Church of England, the Bishops are busily preparing for a Synod in February in which the issue will be discussed concerning whatever is to be done with these "troublesome" women clerics who feel called to the episcopacy.

The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York have whipped up a batch of what The Guardian's Andrew Brown describes as a "breathtaking" fudge.
The archbishops envisage that the Church of England, once it has female bishops, will continue ordaining men who do not accept these women, finding them jobs they will deign to accept, and promoting some of them to be bishops who will work to ensure the continued supply of male priests who refuse to accept female clergy. In fact, the church will pay three bishops (the formerly "flying" sees of Ebbsfleet, Richborough, and Beverley) to work full time against their female colleagues, and to nourish the resistance.
Of course, the good bishops' proposal will run amok of English employment laws but they are, after all, bishops - nay, verily Archbishops - in the State Religion. And, they are, after all, men who know what is best for the church.

Meanwhile, The Rt Rev’d Wallace Benn, the Suffragan Bishop of Lewes on the south coast of England, has written a recommendation for a book supporting the legalisation of marital rape and accusing the Queen of breaking her Coronation Oath.

I am not making this up.

You can read about it here, but let me give you a taste of this ancient porridge of misogyny.
The book in question, Britain in Sin by well-known fundamentalist Stephen Green of ‘Christian Voice’, accuses the Queen of breaking her Coronation Oath by signing into law 57 pieces of what Green describes as ‘unrighteous legislation’ which he claims offend Biblical principles. These include the Criminal Justice Act 1994, which introduced the offence of marital rape. ...... Green claims that “the marriage service of the Book of Common Prayer” establishes “a binding consent to sexual intercourse” and a married woman therefore has no right to refuse unwanted sexual advances from her husband. The book also criticises the 1970 decision to abolish a man’s right to petition a court for “the restoration of conjugal rights”.

Green also supports the economic exploitation of women, describing the Equal Pay Act 1970 and Sex Discrimination Acts 1975 & 1986 as unbiblical. Concering women in the workplace, Green says in Britain in Sin “[t]hat mothers should deprive their men-folk of work is a national scandal.”

Benn recommended Green’s book in glowing terms, saying, “This makes interesting and disturbing reading. We desparately need to understand, as a nation, that our Creator knows what is best for us, and to return to His way as the best way to live.”
If I didn't know better, I'd say that someone from Monty Python's Flying Circus has written an episode of Downton Abbey for Lambeth Palace.

Can't you just hear the Archbishop of Canterbury saying one of the Dowager Countess' lines: "Don't they know that no one wants to kiss a girl in black"?

To which the Archbishop of York will respond, "When she marries, her husband will tell her what to think."

The Bishop of Lewes will sigh deeply and say, rather wistfully, "In moments like these it might be good to send her abroad. One can always find an Italian that isn't too picky".

Canon Kenneth Kearon, never too far from the forces of power and authority but never possessing either himself, will appear distressed and, shielding his eyes whilst glancing up to the chandelier, say, “I couldn’t have electricity in my house, I wouldn’t sleep a wink. All those vapors floating about.”

Li-Tim Oi must be rolling in her grave.

Please allow me to share with you some of Li-Tim Oi's story.

Florence Li-Tim Oi was born on May 7, 1907 in Hong Kong, China. At the turn of the century, China was on the brink of dramatic change that would lead, unpredictably, to a highly-charged political revolution.

In the fishing village of Aberdeen, Hong Kong, however, the old way of life persisted as it had for centuries. At that time - as it is today and continues in many countries - baby boys were highly prized. Not so were girls. A bowl of ash could be at hand to smother unwanted new-born girls.

Not so with Li Tim-Oi's father. He gave his infant the name Tim-Oi, “another much beloved girl.”

Mr. Li also did not have any of his daughters’ feet bound like other girls of the educated and landed class, who, for centuries, had their feet bandaged from a very young age to keep the feet small and delicate, and to mark their station in society, as well as to confine and restrict their lives.

He also provided education for his daughters. Tim Oi completed her primary schooling at 14, but pursuing her studies was out of the question.

Her father had to provide for two wives, five sons and three daughters. And while Tim-Oi was a much beloved daughter, the boys had priority when it came to secondary education.

Tim Oi remained dutiful but fervently prayed that she be afforded the same opportunity as her brothers. She reminisced: “I used to pray to my heavenly father: if my father can afford to educate my brothers, perhaps at the end I could go to continue my education as well.”

Her prayers were apparently heard. After all her brothers finished their studies, her father relented. Tim Oi was sent to Hong Kong for secondary schooling at age 21.

Tim Oi and other students from Union Theological College 

While a student she joined an Anglican church of Saint Paul. She was also baptized and took the Christian name Florence, because her birth-month, May, is a month of flowers, and for Florence Nightingale whom she admired.

Responding to a call to ordination after she heard a sermon in which the preacher asked, “Here today we have an English lady … who is willing to sacrifice herself for the Chinese church? Is there a Chinese girl who would be willing to the do the same?", she was awarded a scholarship by the Anglican Church and took a four-year course at the Union Theological College in Canton.

During her third year, peace was shattered by war with Japan.

Along with her fellow students, she served the thousands who were wounded and displaced by the incessant Japanese air raids. Li-Tim Oi experienced the horrors of war.

In response to the great need at the time, she was made deacon in 1941, and was given charge of an Anglican congregation in the Portuguese colony of Macao, which was overflowing with refugees from war-torn China.

When a priest could no longer travel from Japanese-occupied territory to preside for her at the Eucharist, Bishop Ronald Hall of Hong Kong asked her to meet him in Free China, where on January 25, 1944 he ordained her a priest in God's one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.

In his mind, Bishop Hall was merely confirming what he and many others witnessed - that Tim-Oi had the gift of priestly ministry.

After World War II, Tim Oi tried to diffuse the controversy surrounding her ordination by surrendering her priest's license, but not her Holy Orders, the knowledge of which carried her through Maoist persecution.

Diaconal ordination with Bishop Mok and her parents
She suffered from the Red Guards who made her cut up her vestments with scissors and humiliated her in many other ways.

The life and work and ministry and witness of Florence Li-Tim-Oi stands as rebuke of the good Archbishops and Bishops and churchmen of the Church of England and institutionalized sexism and misogyny everywhere.

Vocation is something which is heard by an individual, witnessed in her life and validated by the community of faith.

It begins with the individual but ends with an ever-deepening, self-sacrificial journey into the mystery and intimacy of community.

To turn a blind eye to the witness of the Spirit moving and acting in the life of another speaks more to the spiritual and corporal arrogance of those in power than it does of the validity of the person's vocation.

I have to believe there are consequences for the continued practices of injustice in the church and in the world.

Would that every man were like Li-Tim Oi's father and might be able to see the birth of each infant girl-child as a "Tim Oi" - "another much beloved girl" - capable of hearing the call of God to take on the mantle of servant leadership in the church as well as her place in the councils and corridors of institutional power.

A luta continua - "the struggle continues". May we be inspired by the life and witness of Florence Li-Tim Oi as we continue the work of justice for all God's children in the church and in the world.

I hear another conversation between the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, one that mirrors a conversation in one episode of Downton Abbey between Lady Cora and the Lady Grantham:

ABC: “I might send her over to visit my aunt. She could get to know New York.”

ABY: “Oh, I don’t think things are quite that desperate.”

Then again, gentlemen, considering the remarks of the Suffragan Bishop of Lewes, perhaps they are. Perhaps they are.

The story is far from over.

The struggle continues.

Stay tuned.


IT said...

Re the Bishop Benn story: sometimes it's good to know exactly what They think of women and gay people. It explains so much... and makes one sick to the stomach. This is appalling. Thank you for salving the injury with the inspiring story of Florence Li Tim-Oi.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

You know, I discovered when living in seminary housing that, when I went into the kitchen in the middle of the night and flipped on the light, all the cockroaches scattered.

I think Tim Oi's light continues to shine brightly enough to scatter the cockroaches of misogyny and sexism.

JCF said...

Wonderful, Lizbeth.

Holy Florence Li Tim-Oi, pray for us!

Muthah+ said...

I have finally reached the same place that many of us have with regards to the ABC and ABY. Cockroaches have been around so long that we are used to them. But you are right. Those of us who follow in Mother Li Tim Oi's path will shed the light. Keep spreading the light, dear friend.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

JCF - Thank you.

And, amen

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Muthah+ - The ABC and ABY's leadership - such as it is - allows the cockroaches to flourish.

Mother Li-Tim Oi's light helps us find our way in the darkness of persistent misogyny and sexism.

Brother David said...

Rather than turning over in her grave, shall we envision her dancing in the truth!

Perhaps she will be there to welcome the Bishop of Lewes and Stephen Green when they depart this life, to hear their confessions and brush away the tears as they each learn how truly damaging his words have been in the cause of Christ!

Thanks be to God for the life of the Revd. Florence Li Tim-Oi.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Well said, Brother David. Well said. Thank you