(Above: yes, hop into your DeLoeran DMC-12, we're heading back to the 1950s future with the Sydney Anglicans)
What has got into Anglicans? The cover of this month’s Sydney Anglican magazine, Southern Cross, shows a scarcely clad female in black lycra. Headless and hairless, she kneels full frontal; naked thighs, leather finger-gloves, red nails and, centre page, the coveted "box gap". The graphic focus, where all lines converge in swelling cruciform, is her barely concealed crotch.
Naturally the pond was wildly titillated and immediately went in search of the offending, offensive image.
By golly it sounded good and interesting:
Say what? Anglicanism is usually double vanilla. This cover is flavoured somewhere between X-treme workout and SandM. The blood-red headline, stamped across the woman’s ovaries, graphically reinforces this message. But the text tells a different story. The phrase "knee workout" offers its slender pretext for the faux porn: a story on the art of prayer.
And that makes it weirder. Instead of some gold-leaf icon or smoky Gethsemane, some bruised Goya or stark, textual McCahon to lend reverence, we have depersonalised pseudo bondage. Dumbing down is one thing, but seriously? This?
Yet church is about symbolism, right? So what does she mean, this headless chick? Possible readings abound. Perhaps, at the pragmatic level, Anglicanism is just so desperate for congregation and coffer-fill that its cover strategy is reduced to whatever it takes. Desperate times, desperate measures.
Yet for all the indignation delivered by Elizabeth Farrelly in Sydney Anglicans reject the sacred feminine, it's a sad measure of the complete irrelevance of Sydney Anglicans these days, that nobody much cared.
The image had been scrubbed clean, erased. This was the Anglican graphic du jour:
This was the new front cover:
By golly, no knee trembler there, no shock horror, that's not double vanilla, that's triple vanilla with a virginal cherry on top.
Naturally the pond did a cursory look to see if someone had bothered to upload the offending image to the full to overflowing intent.
Sadly it's a measure of the complete irrelevance of the Sydney Anglicans these days that no one seemed to care enough to bother.
No one could even care enough to take what seems like a easy pot shot at the god botherers.
Instead all that could be found was the craven apology and that eraser image as Russell Powell hastily scribbled a wholehearted and unreserved apology in When we get it wrong.
Powell simpered and fawned in ways that the pond wholeheartedly and unreservedly found offensive:
First, the fact that some people had such a visceral reaction to it and some saw no problem indicates to me that the issue needs further exploration. Our beloved Anglican educators and those who work with youth have much to teach us about the pressure young men and women are under. We must explore this further.
Second, the graciousness and godliness of Sydney Anglicans has moved me more than I can adequately express. I read with tears the eloquent and godly letter of one of our 17 year old Christian women. She was a woman of prayer and as we corresponded, I could tell she was a young woman of great spiritual zeal and maturity beyond her years. I thank God for her and for the many others whose wisdom and grace informed their concern.
We Sydney Anglicans minister to Sydney in the broad daylight, often in the glare of secular publicity. All we do and say and are, including our mistakes, is open to the public every day.
Open to the public every day?
No it's not you goose, you took it down, you hid your shame, you self-censored the publication, you ducked and weaved and ran for cover.
How can we explore the issue further if we can't see the cover?
The pond would love to go on a journey with the Sydney Anglicans discussing an issue which clearly needs further exploration.
Naturally Farrelly took the chance to give the Sydney Anglicans a decent serve and a hard whack. Yes ma'am give me another, yes ma'am give me another:
This interpretation is supported, for instance, by the attempted sale of Bishopscourt, at well over market value; a small sod in the massive hole left by the diocese’s avid stockmarket overreach (driven, in turn, by a mad evangelical craving for world domination).
Or perhaps the SandM cover invites women to leave their heads (and clothes?) at the door, abandoning mind and identity both, bringing to church only their generic, sanitised sexual self – and that for subjugation.
The Sydney diocese’s proud stance against both women and gays supports this construction. While world Anglicans have moved on to debate female bishops, Sydney’s lot – leaders in backwardness – join with Africa in staunchly refusing women even as priests.
But consider also April’s cover, featuring two people, man and woman, wrapped in cling film. "Bound," declares the headline. "Same-sex attraction, human frailty and God’s love."
The feature depicts homosexuality as "brokenness", a kind of malaise or captivity (hence the cling film) from which "every human being can be rescued ... in Christ".
The unsuspecting, unthinking Anglicans still thad that up on the web:
Oh yes, that's fully sick and weird. Rolf de Heer's Bad Boy Bubby anyone? It shows where this plastic wrap fetish can lead ...
That's the way with people who've deeply sublimated their sexuality but fail to understand the power of images.
Yes, wrap a cat and your mum, and next thing you know you can be bothering god with your music.
Of course being wrapped, taped or encased, women getting wrapped in mummy-like poses (men too), is part of the hard core bondage scene.
Now this being a vanilla site, the pond can't provide links to or images of the phenomenon, but rest assured, with your safety filter off, you can find a huge number of examples in a nanosecond.
Now the pond doesn't have any problems with fetishism of this kind. Whatever lights your wick, floats your boat, provided it's consenting between consenting adults and no physical or mental abuse is involved. Just because the pond avoids hot wax like it avoids bee stings doesn't make that a rule for others ...
The trouble comes when you're a Puritan of the old school, and you can't even begin to grasp why your fascination for some images is indicative of troubled and conflicted minds.
In seeking to do down gays, the silly old Sydney Anglicans shot themselves in the foot. And so Elizabeth Farrelly ground her heel into the wound:
It's bad to be gay, goes the argument, but acceptable (whew!) to love someone "struggling" with homosexuality, providing there’s genuine self-hatred. "Same-sex attraction," the piece insists, is in no way inherent but, rather, a "lifestyle". A choice, being chosen, can be unchosen.
Allowing that "Jesus doesn’t explicitly speak about homosexuality in the gospels at all", the magazine nevertheless insists Jesus condemned homosexuality "by implication". (Then again, if everything Jesus did not endorse – bicycles, flu shots, cheese souffle – were thus condemned the world would be bleak indeed.)
Southern Cross tells of "Tom", an "active part of Sydney’s gay scene" before "stumbling across a Christian website". It took five years of church before Tom was finally attracted to a woman but he is now "happily married". My heart sinks.
Never mind the Church’s willingness to condemn Tom’s "habitual sin" of pornography while circulating its own sexualised, headless object. Never mind that, as Muriel Porter points out in The Sydney Experiment, even St Paul’s ban on homosexuality probably related only to lustful, predatory or violent sex, which was also sinful among straights. A third possible reading of the headless-female imagery is still more bizarre: the Church’s hardline rejection of anything historical, cultural or beautiful; anything not rooted, that is, in demotic populism.
Oh yes, it's fun to see Farrelly have a go at the wretched Anglicans. Regularly, routinely, they run an insidious line against gays and women.
Yet Farrelly herself gets tangled in knots:
Enlightenment culture betrayed beauty, persuading us that it was merely subjective, superficial, luxurious and dispensable. Modernity has left us stranded in psychologist Ken Wilber’s positivist "flatland" – mundane, uninflected, unengaging. Our response is (ineffectually) to self-medicate with materialism, appetite and ego. Never have we needed beauty more.
Yet Sydney Anglicanism, far from resisting this dangerous push, intensifies it; banning the cathedral choir from evensong, putting the altar on wheels, replacing carved pews with padded vinyl, letting massive flatscreens obscure entire chancels, using carved marble fonts as birdbaths.
Well yes, but the problem with punishing puritans for their dull petty minds is that they retreat even more deeply into dull, conservative, withdrawn puritanism of the most offensive kind.
It leads to this sort of jibber jabber:
If reading Scripture is not your daily habit, is it not time to revise your habits? (here)
What, all those old testament fairy stories used to support the persecution of gays and women, and never you mind what Christ didn't say, and what he did?
There's more to life and art than beauty, and there's more to women than blathering on about the sacred feminine and sacred beauty and all the other fluffy nonsense where Farrelly ends up...
It seems to the pond that what motivates the Sydney Anglicans is deep fear ... and deep yearning.
These folk want to walk on the wild side with Lou, they have a deep kinkiness coursing through their veins, but they lack the courage to indulge.
Every so often, it bursts from the unconscious like a rampaging id, like the monsters in the Forbidden Planet, or the covers on the Southern Cross.
Yes that's exactly the sort of image that is likely to beguile your hardened Sydney Anglican, fresh from the 1950s and the deep unconscious.
Truth to tell, if they could just break free, Sydney Anglicans could do an Alexander Downer, put on those stockings, don a little gleaming black lycra, discover the joys of being gay, discover that life with wild and wicked women can be fun.
Instead once more they've ended up guilt-laden and triple vanilla.
Who knows, once they'd freed themselves of saucy doubts and shibboleths, learned to love the wrapping and the lycra, they could become famous international artists.
Don't hold your breath. It's easier and simpler to be afraid, and to be guilt-laden, and to cultivate the sense of the wicked and the sinful, and indulge in Uriah Heep-like contrition, and form alliances with the most backward and repressive attitudes and forces at work in Africa ...
But look, the pond is always willing to help out. How about Allen Jones providing the next Sydney Anglican cover? Jones is famous, or infamous, for Hatstand, Table and Chair, and it would bring the Sydney Anglicans right up to 1970.
And now, trumpets sound and angels sing, and with profound thanks to Brian and Peter Wotton facebooking away here, the actual image. Fly my pretty, fly out there into the world:
Now fully armed, the pond would love to go on that journey with the Sydney Anglicans, discussing an issue which clearly needs further exploration.
And as a bonus, the pond can now completely ignore the actual contents of the Southern Cross magazine, available in pdf form at the Sydney Anglican website. As some wag said, an image can stand in for a thousand words ...