Saturday, 11 August 2018


If Jeremy Corbyn had written a newspaper article promoting interfaith understanding which included joke comparisons about the kippa (skullcaps) and ringlets worn by some Jewish men, or if Vince Cable had written one promoting a multi-ethnic society and recording what he thought was a  witty remark about what a Sikh turban brings to a schoolboy’s mind, would anyone be defending either of them?

Meanwhile, the pictures are of the two most striking memorials at Harwarden church, taken when I was next door at Gladstone's Library last week.

Monday, 6 August 2018

The flood begins

The unsustainability of local authority budgets is not fresh news. 

During my first months and year here I have sought briefings from local organisations and individuals and have had many casual conversations – and local authority finances have come up more than one might expect.   

Again and again, I’ve found myself reporting what the then Chief Executive of North East Lincolnshire Council said to a gathering of local clergy there perhaps five years ago.  He said that it looked as if in about five years time – that is to say, about now – the Council might not be able to afford to meet in full all its statutory obligations.  What that would mean was, when all its income was needed to meet the cost of what it was legally obliged to do, there would be no money at all to spend on anything further - however good and however much it would want to do those things.

So just over a year ago, as I moved, the headlines and comments in the Grimsby Telegraph were about the closure of public toilets in Cleethorpes and local astonishment that the local authority was withdrawing from a vital service in a tourist area, and the headlines and comments in the Keighley News turned out to say exactly that same things about the public toilets in Haworth.

And just over a year on, last week, the national news is about the first County Council to announce that it was near technical bankruptcy and would be reconfiguring services to make a ‘core offer’ to meet only its minimum legal obligations.

A junior Government minister then appeared on the Radio 4.  He said that this was only a single Council – without reference to the sort of thing I’ve typed above or about other Councils now close to making the same announcement.  He mentioned millions of pounds in one new Government funding stream – without reference to how little this is in comparison to the actual reduction in local authority funding over the last few years.  He praised specific local authorities elsewhere for their creative approach to making savings – without reference to the way the particular local authority was the first to exhaust all such options ahead of its announcement.

I wondered whether he was genuinely ignorant or being wilfully deceitful – and how anyone so ignorant or deceitful is kept in post.  My guess is that he was neither - that he so focussed on his own policy commitment (to austerity and small local Government), and so habituated into channelling only the briefing notes he had, that he genuinely doesn’t see what is really going on.

(And I’m not really pointing a finger here.  We have reached the point in the Church of England at which it is quite possible for national and regional statements to be about our agreed strategies, talked up with positive indications, so that the bigger picture and seriousness of the situations we face are not mentioned at all.)

I’ve looked back and found that it was actually only just over four years ago that I posted something about cuts in youth provision, clearly building on what I must have heard from the Chief Executive perhaps at about that time:

The level of cuts required... means that it isn’t possible to take a small slice out of every department, nor to make large cuts in departments which deliver services required by law, so swingeing cuts take place in departments which deliver services which, however desirable, are not required by law.  And this will go on.  Further equally sharp reductions in budget will follow...  It is difficult to conceive of desirable but not legally required services surviving at all.  The whole profile of a local authority will change.  Present protests on this and other issues predicated on the local authority continuing to play its present role will come to be seen as almost literally antediluvian.  

So this is about much more than the loss of public toilets (or libraries or youth centres, or of responsibility for some of them being transferred to Parish Councils or voluntary groups).  It is not even simply about the most vulnerable being endangered or impoverished by minimal social provision.  It is about the effective removal of a whole layer of (literally) civic society.  And junior Government ministers will continue to appear on Radio 4 and say ‘move on, there is nothing to see here’ as it is being removed.

The picture is the centre of the cross behind the altar in the chapel at Gladstone’s Library, just over the Welsh border near Chester.  I spent a couple of days there last week partly in retreat and partly engaged in some study.       

Sunday, 29 July 2018

A basket case

I had recently enjoyed spotting that synergy and cooperation are basically the same word - Greek and Latin version of working (ergos which gives us ergonomics, operatio which gives us operating) together (syn- as in synchronise, co- as in co-locate).

So I have been pleased to spot that the same is true of synagogue and congregation - simply a bringing or collecting together, with Greek route ago for bringing and Latin route gregare for collecting.

It also made me riff this morning on John’s use of a related word - synagagete - as the verb when he reports Jesus as saying ‘gather up the fragments’ after the feeding of the multitude.  I asked myself whether at one level it could be us he is talking about – our congregation as the product of a litter sweep.

On one hand there is God’s hugely extravagant grace always producing excess: the ‘deus omnipotens’ whose inexhaustible potential is ever creative; the cup running over; the never failing cruse of oil (we had a neighbouring Old Testament reading); twelve baskets full from the handful of barley loaves with dried fish relish which satisfying the multitude; trees bearing fruit in each of twelve months (in the vision shared by Ezekiel and Revelation).

And on the other hand there are the people bringing the leftovers of all that grace encountered since they were last synagogued, congregated and gathered - baskets of things broken and things discarded as exceeding our need, of what we have missed and of insights given, of damage done and healing experienced.

The Jesus who says in verse 12 that this gathering up should be done ‘that nothing may be lost’ is the one who says in verse 39 that it is the Father’s will he should lose nothing of all he  has been given – and that certainly is meant to be us.

Meanwhile, the photograph is a further one from our brief stay in Edinburgh last week.

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

The Royal Mile

Towards the Castle at sunset

From near the Castle in daytime

Love God above all and your neighbour

Blessed is he that nicely doth the poor man's case consider

Adam Smith

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Either end of the parish

Another Cross Roads' Gala picture, this time one of some fancy dress competition winners ('fish and chips'), a picture which appears in village social media and the local newspaper.

And a much more distant view towards (Haworth and) Cross Roads from the western end of the parish: after thirteen months, having family visitors who wanted to tackle the walk, I finally reached Top Withins from where the picture is taken.

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Japanese Heights

We recently had a young Japanese tourist in tears at the back of St Michael’s, overwhelmed to be at the site at which Emily Brontë is buried.  A local Blue Badge guide reminded me yesterday of how equally upset such a visitor might be to find they had come at a season when the heather on the moors is not in flower.  A resident of a hamlet on those moors told me a few weeks ago about periodically rescuing such inappropriately dressed tourists in bad weather near her home.  The paths between here and there are mainly marked with signs in Japanese as well as English in an attempt to prevent this happening too often.

After a year here, I get ever keener to find a way of understanding how Wuthering Heights in particular captures the imagination of those from a Japanese culture, all the time wary of too easy a stereotype simply asserting that there is something about the combination of romance and tragedy which is the hook.  Those in tears, with a heather laden fantasy or simply lost do appear to be among those who have been compelled by something ever since their first often adolescent reading of the book as a set text.

Emily’s 200th birthday at the end of this month has prompted the Brontë Society to put on some local events which have hinted at how much more there is to understand about this.  One alluded to Japanese “kaidan” (haunted tales) as a tradition to which parts of Wuthering Heights might coincidentally appear to belong.

The critic Damian Flanigan spoke of the huge impact of Edmund Blunden’s identification in A Wanderer in Japan of the three most important English works (apparently such lists of three have a particular impact in Japan) as King Lear, Moby Dick and Wuthering Heights.  He noted, alongside their variety, their dealing with descent into tragedy.  He named the tensions between stoical endurance and unfettered imagination, between conformity and the wish to tear off the mask of falsehood, as possible features of Japanese culture to which Wuthering Heights speaks.

One of my father's aunts was a high church missionary in Japan before the First World War and I once read some of her reports home in SPG's archive held at Rhodes House in Oxford; I spent a fruitless hour earlier in the week trying to locate my notes.  She'd been taught to play music by Elgar (an unremarkable fact since his early career included much basic teaching around Worcester where she was sent to school) and I do remember her mentioning teaching Japanese girls in her turn; being taught at one remove from Elgar makes quite a contrasting cultural experience.

Meanwhile, the pictures come from the very English Cross Roads Gala today (at which I unwisely undertook the dangerous task of judging the fancy dress competition).

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Scarlet cord in the window

The ordination at West Lane Baptist Church of its Student Assistant Minister on Saturday, and the church's generous hospitality at a barbecue in a neighbouring field afterwards, was all special in much more than the obvious ways.

He had spotted a while ago that an unlikely combination of football results could place a Quarter Final match in which England might just participate at exactly the same time, and so it turned out.  At the beginning of the service, those in the packed church made a shared commitment to pray rather than consult their phones, but, with the windows wide open because of the heat, the repeated sounds of huge celebrations from the pub a short distance away kept us pretty up-to-date with the progress of the developing score line.

And one of his College tutors preached intriguingly on the story of Rahab, the Canaanite harlot who is able to speak to the Hebrew spies about their God in Joshua 2 and who then becomes the great-grandmother of King David and thus an ancestor of Jesus.  He said that, given the ancestry, Jesus consorting with prostitutes and being willing to be taught theology by a Canaanite women in Matthew 15 wasn't actually that remarkable.  He encouraged the newly ordained Minister to continue 'the family tradition' - engaging with those most likely to be excluded, their needs and what they have to teach us.

Meanwhile, the Haworth mural is in the Car Park nearest the church.  It has everything from the elusive early Hovis advert (top left) to the Fair Trade logo on the steam train (bottom right).  Machu Picchu (top right) might be the biggest surprise - there is in fact a twinning relationship.