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Date: 12 October, 2012
There has always been a bit of mystery about Richard Holloway. The media’s continual misunderstanding and/ or distortion of a bishop who spoke his mind about gender has not helped.
To finally put the pieces together and make a little more sense of the one Bishop who made me want to go to church has been a treat.
Richard Holloway has always been an icon of mine. When he was Bishop of Edinburgh he was a rare person in power who dared to speak out against his institution.
For a man disagreeing so much with the Church, he stayed in post for a surprisingly long time.
Hence his ecclesiastical trajectory has fascinated me. He has written many powerful books on what seems a very human faith, i.e. full of doubt and questions about what morality is really about. This book is a welcome addition to my library.
Holloway’s upbringing amongst poverty in and out of Glasgow is striking. More so that he never forgot his roots and stood in solidarity with the poor in so many different ways.
He details how as a teenager he went to Kelham, which seems rather like a preschool for the brotherhood.
He was desperately attracted to the monastic life and when that didn’t work out, the ecclesiastical life, yet was continually disappointed that it never quite worked for him despite him being seemingly good at it. However the former Bishop’s honesty is somewhat sobering.
He acknowledges that, “What I was actually good at was looking the part, staying in the chapel longer than others and self- consciously cultivating what I imagined to be the unself- conscious demeanour of a saint.”
In reality, there was a continual tension between his love of the aesthetic, prayerful life and his need to be in the world and of it. It is his continual confession of sexual thoughts (that one assumes is normal for a young man) that led to his inability to become a brother.
When Holloway finally started working in the world, amongst the poor of Glasgow, he found some form of fulfilment. However he concedes to a “constant tug of disappointment” due to not being the type of Christian he thought worthy of God.
Holloway is often presented as an apostate bishop, yet it is clear that he has always had time for God and his writing about Jesus is persuasive. The problem seems to be that his understanding of Jesus, God, Faith etc doesn’t quite fit in with that of most of the Church.
For him “Jesus was the rebel taking up arms against the night of the world, a night in which the poor mourned and cursed the darkness.” “God was no longer on this supernatural throne. The place to find him was among the dispossessed, among the wretched of the earth. . . .”
No doubt it is this understanding of Jesus that led to his problems with the institution of the Church. Holloway was asking for better treatment of women and all sexualities way before it became the preoccupation of the Anglican Communion. Indeed it was Holloway’s continual statements on these areas that kept my ties with the church.
It has to be said that the consequences of such statements – often off the cuff – were not always thought through. He reflects honestly on how he dealt with the press and his ability to stir strong feelings.
Indeed the publication of this book at a time of wrangling over women bishops seems somewhat prescient.
As part of an eloquent polemic against church conservatives he compares the concessions made to those struggling with women priests to South Africa building racist enclaves to allow racists continuation of segregation.
It is rare to read a book that is uplifting and heart-breaking at the same time. Uplifting, because it is primarily a book about love, honesty and justice.
Heart-breaking, because it seems impossible for Holloway to live the life he desired.