Tuesday, 1 April 2014


My family knows about vulnerability.  I cannot name the strange seam that runs through the rock we are made of – call it neurological disorder, call it mental illness, call it hypersensitivity, call it madness, call it artistic temperament, call it dysfunctional, call it what you like – it’s there, and we live with it.   It disadvantages us in the mainstream, though not in other respects.  We are perceptive, we are creative, we are talented – but truly we are not like “everybody else”; an unsatisfactory statement since by definition nobody is like everybody else, but it’s the nearest I can get to explaining it. 

Whether it’s my grandson with his waist-length hair (he is completely freaked out by the prospect of having it cut) and inability to draw a simple thing at four years old, his need to tear around wildly whenever something affects him deeply (like church worship for example – yes, oh dear); or my father who had to move out of his home with my mother after 49 years of marriage because his need to be alone got irresistible – I mean, he phoned her many times a day and they holidayed together and often ate together, he just had to be by himself.  Or my daughter who cannot tidy a room because she is unable to perceive categories without help, or my other daughter who as a teenager became so overwhelmed by the vibes in the home where she’d taken a Saturday job as a cleaner that she locked herself in the bathroom and couldn’t come out.  Or me in a church service holding tight to the Badger’s hand talking quietly to myself (“It’s okay, Ember; you’ll be okay – you can do it; calm down, you’ll be okay . . .”).   Regular employment is out of the question for nearly all of us – but like water we find our way through, find our way round the blocks.  And what we have learned is that we can make it if we stick together – help each other.  Even that isn’t always easy because the vulnerability of one makes it hard to look after one of the others when their vulnerability means they require help on entering a mainstream situation!  But we do our best, and we have got very canny and adept at survival.  Our strengths have got very strong because our weaknesses are massive.

I am telling you this to make clear that I understand vulnerability.

So when the World Vision fiasco happened, it affected me very profoundly. 

I heard Evangelical friends saying they would not stop supporting vulnerable kiddies in poor countries, they’d just pick a charity aligned with their ideology and support that one.  I heard them say that it’s tragic when we fight over this issue of homosexuality because it’s not a core issue – we should focus instead on the things that really matter.  I heard them say that it’s not unreasonable to withdraw support from a charity that makes a change misaligning its ideology with their own, because surely a person has the right to donate in line with their profoundly held beliefs.   And I watched as Evangelical friends (not in my personal sphere of acquaintance I mean, just “friends” in the sense of fellow human beings) pulled out of supporting the world’s poorest children then, when this achieved its effect and World Vision did a U-turn, asked for their sponsored child back or came back and picked a new one.

And I think today it has dawned on me why I have an issue with this and they don’t.

When I married the Badger, it involved my leaving the place where I lived and moving to a different town in a district far away.  This caused me acute anxiety.  I explained to him that I am not the type of person who can just transplant – find a new job in a new place. Because of The Family Oddity, it takes me two to three years to put down roots and figure out how to earn a living; I can’t fit in to the mainstream.  The Badger heard me say this and did not disbelieve me, but he is not himself that kind of person.  He can drive on motorways.  He can make phone-calls.  He can hold down a job and earn a living.  He is vulnerable as all human beings are vulnerable, but he is not Vulnerable if you see what I mean.  He can transplant.  It took him a few years of living with my family to get the hang of it – we are not lazy, not pampered, not failing to get a grip; different.  Now he understands, but he didn't get it at first.

I realized today that these people pulling their funding and then offering it again once their objective is achieved are probably not Vulnerable.  They are mainstream types (that’s why they have money).  They don’t get it.  They don’t appreciate the mayhem their actions cause, because they don’t live permanently on the edge.  I do; that’s why I can see the problem.

When, about ten or eleven years ago in the UK, our tax credit system launched, the fallout was terrible.  Our Inland Revenue assessed families as eligible for financial assistance – then on review decided they were not.  So people were given a new (apparently reliable) income source that allowed them to adjust family circumstances; and then it was pulled, leaving them with bills for essentials they could no longer meet.  If they’d been left alone in the first place they could have worked out a life strategy; but their circumstances collapsed because their life strategy was worked out to take account of a revenue source suddenly pulled (and the Revenue not only stopped the payments, they wanted repaying for the ones they’d already made).  It was a wrecking ball of significant size.

And bear in mind, Vulnerable people take longer to work out a new strategy.  That’s the implication of being Vulnerable.  That’s why they needed help in the first place.

The same applies (but plus plus) to these children in the poorest countries.  If you fund them then suddenly pull the funding, you leave them far worse off than if you never interfered.  You leave them up shit creek without a paddle. 

And here’s the crucial mistake.  If you are a person who moves easily in the mainstream, you tend to see both individuals and circumstances in terms of interchangeable units – lose one job, well then get another; fire one employee, get a new one.  If you are a Vulnerable person, that cannot work for you, because it takes much longer to adapt and find a new strategy.  So I think the people who pulled their funding, with the intention of relocating it with a different charity or putting it back once the ideological adjustment had been achieved, were probably mainstream types who failed to grasp the mayhem they would have caused.  Because the thing is, children are not just interchangeable units, are they?  If you cut off Billy’s schooling, food, medicine and clean water, it doesn’t help Billy if you supply it to Sammy instead.   Four thousand Billys, too.

Then there’s the matter of the LGBT people themselves.  I feel a bit queasy when people say let’s not fall out over that, let’s concentrate on the things that really matter – because I think, really matter to whom?

I mean, suppose Pat and Chris were a Christian homosexual couple working for a Christian charity, and their income depended on that and they had a big mortgage.  And suppose the charity then said they would no longer be employing homosexual people unless celibate.  Pat and Chris would suddenly have to choose between being parted as a couple or losing their home and incomes.  Well, that's not peripheral or unimportant, is it?  Not if you are them.  I do not know a single heterosexual couple who would not think this absolutely intolerable if it happened to them – yet they seem to think it’s okay to do it to a gay couple.

I have had a taste of exclusion in my own life.  For 24 years I was in a marriage within a tight-knit family group.  My children grew up knowing and loving the children of my first husband’s brother and sister and the children of his cousins.  From the age of nineteen I was part of a large, loving Christian family, included in all the family parties and events.  Then my husband left me.  And his family dropped me – just like that.   The weddings I would have been invited to, the milestone birthdays, the big celebrations, I have been left out of.  It has been as though I ceased to exist.  The invitations still come to our home, but my name is left off them.  Only in the last few days, an envelope came addressed to "The Wilcocks", so I opened it, and it was a wedding invitation; but on the invitation inside the envelope, the names were written of the other family members - but not me.   I cannot tell you how much this hurts – how I have mourned to be shut out of seeing those children grow up.  I know only what my own children report back from the parties they have been invited to and I have not. 

Same thinking, you see.  The man I was married to got a new wife.  Just like those sponsors got new children to support.  Interchangeable units.  Same thinking as is applied to the LGTB people: "Oh - not you."

And I want to say, it matters.  People matter.  They are not units.  Nobody is just “a wife” or “a sponsored child”, or a representative of an orientation type.  Each one is a person, and people have feelings.  They are not bargaining chips or pieces in a game.

Speaking from my life experience, I can tell you it is terrifying not to know how you will cope in changing circumstances and to know for sure that you do not have the characteristics that allow you to survive in the mainstream, and it is painful beyond belief to see the blessings of love and belonging taken out of your hands and put into someone else’s.  It is not a passing twinge, it scars you forever.

And something else I would want to say to those who advocate homosexual celibacy is – you try it.  If you think gay couples should live celibate lives – show them how.  You live without sex your whole life long to show them how it’s done.  If you think gay couples should be divided or lose their jobs and homes, you walk that walk before you dole out the advice.

“Do as you would be done by”, said Jesus.

I want also to say in passing that I know I have disappointed my LGTB friends by failing to stand up for them publicly in their struggles of the last twenty years or so for acceptance within the Church.  The reason I kept quiet was that my silence kept others safe too.  As a writer whose work is published in the Conservative Evangelical Christian market, I knew too well that it is a marketplace in which some customers would, without hesitation, take down a publishing house and all the writers whose work was involved with that, if they disagreed with the content or writer of one book; in just the same way as they would have taken down World Vision’s work.  As a published writer, I regard myself as part of a team with my publishers and the other writers whose work they carry.  So I kept quiet, and let my LGTB friends carry their struggle forward without my help.  I don’t know if I’m sorry I did that, but I know it made me sad then and still does now, and I am no longer willing to maintain that silence.

There’s a song that has come back again and again to my mind as I’ve watched the soul-destroying, heart-freezing grief of the story of World Vision unfold these last days.

For LGTB people, for children trapped in poverty, for people hurt by divorce and family fractures, for the Vulnerable people - for all of us, really; this song:


daisyanon said...

Great stuff Pen. I stopped supporting Christian charities a while ago because I got too disillusioned about how, under a very thin veneer, their charitable activities were influenced by doctrinal moral judgements irrelevant to the charitable purpose.

I think they do our Lord a great disservice.

Now I support charities that just do what it says on their tin.

Peter said...

I've been told (and agree) that I'm "Highly Sensitive" (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highly_sensitive_person) and it's become something of a joke at home, but the literature has helped me to understand more about myself. I wonder if it is what you mean by vulnerability here ?

As for the LGBT issue, when we're told that the church needs to stop talking about sex and move on to "important" things like mission, my response is that if we can't fully accept and celebrate the GLTB folk we have in our churches, then how are we ever going to make a positive difference to the world ?

Pen Wilcock said...

Interesting comments! Thanks, friends :0)

SuzyQ said...

Just love everything about this post!
Especially understand the being Vulnerable part.

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) xx

rebecca said...

I read this - hopefully with sensitivity. Not sure I've read the same information re. World Vision since the decision was reversed too quickly for children to have been "officially" dropped and reassigned, I think...It's definitely complicated. And I see that vulnerability exists at so many levels, to such differing degrees, and with much variety. I love you, Pen.

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) Thank you!
I have been mainly reading Rachel Held Evans' posts for information - as well as WV's own posts and a couple of others. xx

Pen Wilcock said...

Ah - I just followed the link on your name to check I have the right Rebecca - how are you doing, honey? You are in my thoughts and prayers - and I'm impressed with your husband's good care! xx

Nearly Martha said...

This is very moving actually. Thank you.

gretchen said...

bless you, pen, and thank you for saying!

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) Hi friends! Waving! xx

Gerry Snape said...

Ahh Pen...you have me crying at all the judgements we and I include myself...within the "Christian" church have made over the years...I watched this weeks "Rev" and cried as well for the tender way it portrayed the couple wanting to have God's blessing on their gay marriage...and sobbed when...albeit on a screen...the Rev in the end disobeyed the church laws and blessed them.We live in Penketh...this old english word "Pen" means Edge...we at The Potters House Penketh have lived physically and artistically on the edge now for 40 years...and like yourself I have at times been very confused over what is important...and in my older age find that love and acceptance have come to "rule"

San said...

So beautiful and such courage to share your own hurts and disappointments. Your post has made realise just how Vulnerable Benedict is and the fact that it is important for me to be extra patient with him. Not easy especially when I am so tired.

I am not homophobic but not sure where I stand especially as the bible speaks of such matters in a less than friendly light! I know the Holy Father spoke about loving the sinner but not the sin. I have friends who refuse to support CAFOD because the director is in an openly gay relationship but that means punishing folk in need, very similar to the world vision issue. Such a difficult area and one that you highlighted and shared with such compassion.

Hugs San xx

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Gerry - Where the Holy Spirit is, in the end good will come: it can be no other way. It's been wonderful to see how even such a dismal set of circumstances as this has been our teacher - waking us up, making us re-examine our priorities.
I didn't see that episode of Rev - must watch it on catch-up. xx

Hi San - I think for each of us personal holiness and sexual morality are very individual matters - for some women it feels brazen to have cut hair, shorts, a sleeveless top. There should be space for each to live according to their conscience without fear of brutal beatings, corrective rape, job loss or social exclusion. The problem is not the difference of outlook but the willingness to hurt others to achieve domination. xx

Pen Wilcock said...

A doubt was expressed in this thread whether significant loss in sponsorship could have occurred, given that World Vision reversed its decision so quickly.
They lost ten thousand sponsorships in two days.

Jenna said...

I suppose I'm going to take the unpopular view here. The World Vision thing was an unfortunate charade and train-wreck--just another "conversation" about that whole now-incessant homosexuality thing. Can I say I don't give a rat's behind about anyone's sexuality except my own--because my own is all I'll have to account for in that Great and Terrible Day. (Great for some, Terrible for others). I don't have to point out to homosexuals that their behavior (as well as many other sexual activities--such as bedding your neighbor's wife or cow) are an abomination. This whole "LGBT" conversation is merely pointing up the fact that mainstream Christianity has not read their Bibles; their doctrinal stances, because "the law has been done away with" are flimsy and will blow away. As in the days of Noah....

Thanks, Pen, for opening your chest some more about HST's.

Pen Wilcock said...

Thank you, Jenna; good to hear from you. My own thoughts, on the matter you raise, are that the Bible should not only be read, but also 'rightly divided' (see the link in my side-bar here to what the Bible does and doesn't say about homosexuality). I wholeheartedly agree with you that the only sexuality I have to account for is my own. Of course, the situation here is complicated by the interweaving of attitudes toward sexuality with other moral concerns. I guess we all, always, have a sliding scale of priorities when it comes to morality; beside one occurrence another may pale into insignificance. Life is complicated! Some of the other stories told in the LGBT section in my sidebar unpack some of the complications. xx

Rebecca said...

If it was my question about loss of sponsorship you were addressing in a follow-up comment, do you know how many of those were actually processed? My point was that in 2 days (or whatever), the actual state of the children was probably not compromised unless those 10,000 refused to resume sponsorship. I have no facts such as yours available. It was primarily (and continues to be) conjecture with me.

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Rebecca - hope you are doing okay and taking things easy.
This is what I read:

daisyanon said...

I think the following expresses the disquiet some feel that in withdrawing aid (which would have serious consequences if World Vision hadn't reversed their decision), the protestors aren't actually causing themselves any inconvenience in pursuit of their ideals and convictions.

Cheap grace for them.


Pen Wilcock said...

Interesting point - thanks, Daisy xx