Saturday, 25 June 2016

A second mo(u)rning

I can’t orientate myself around what has happened. 

Of course, at one level, I do get it.  A sliver more than half those who voted (38% of the electorate, which is indeed impressively more than the 24% which I’ve noted before voted for the present Government) have chosen the option to leave the EU, and, as a result, the first domino has been pushed and all the predicted economic, political and social consequences (including much the Vote Leave campaign successfully dubbed ‘Project Fear’) are beginning to fall over in turn, beginning with the fall in value of markets on the first night and the promise of a shift to a more right-wing Prime Minister on the first morning.

My disorientation is probably simply that I live in a world in which greater consensus is demanded before radical change takes place.  The Church of England doesn’t move unless more than two thirds of the Bishops, clergy and laity in the General Synod voting separately say it should.  The Government itself has been legislating to insist that industrial action is not taken if it isn’t explicitly supported by more than half the workers entitled to vote.  I see a protest that a threshold of a majority of more than 60% on a turnout of more than 75% had been set for this sort of political change, although that level of turnout is probably unachievable across any national poll. 

Or it may be my disbelief is how few are saying that the UK has bought a false prospectus.  The Vote Leave leaflet which arrived here the day before voting was still leading with the claim that an imaginary large number of billions will become available to spend on the NHS and other UK priorities, when we all know that that money simply doesn’t exist and the initial market ‘instability’ and any longer term even slight international marginalisation of London as a financial centre will actually make the grip of ‘austerity’ much tighter.     

Perhaps my discomfort is particularly that I live and minister in an area which has voted most eurosceptically – 47% of the electorate in North East Lincolnshire turned out and voted Leave (and down the coast 58% did so in Boston, where turnout impressively did exceed 75%) at least in part in the belief which I cannot share that things like the historic decline of the fishing industry and the current dependence of labour intensive harvesting on migrant labour would somehow all have been avoidable had the EU not existed.

And all the things I’d love to have explored instead being regarded as marginal, eccentric, irrelevant and over intellectual: the fact that the ‘British values’ the Government now requires promoting in schools (democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance) are ones we share with all our EU partners and many others, and that the tap roots of our culture are in the shared soil of Europe and of the Jewish and Arabian cultures within and  neighbouring it.

Perhaps this will all seem normal  in a few months time, as the majority of those under 45 across the UK who voting Remain watch their elders slowly negotiate the way out for them.

The picture comes from the church at Deddington in Oxfordshire where we passed by recently.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Judges 9

Far away in the East, things were growing in great profusion and confusion.  The trees were worried.  They thought this should be better organised.  They weren’t sure what that would mean, but they thought it nonetheless.  They decided they needed someone to be in charge.  Everything would be better that way.

So they went to the olive tree and said ‘Please be King over us’.  ‘No,’ said the olive tree, ‘I’ve got quite enough to do producing the oil people need to burn in their lamps and lubricate their cooking pots.  Anyway, why do you need a tree taller than other trees?  Where there is light, what need is there for another King?’

So they went to the fig tree and said ‘Please be King over us’.  ‘No,’ said the fig tree, ‘I’ve got quite enough to do producing the fruit people need to have flavour in their months and sustenance in their stomachs.  Anyway, why do you need a tree taller than other trees?  Where there is sweetness, what need is there for another King?’  

So they went to the vine and said ‘Please be King over us’.  ‘No,’ said the vine, ‘I’ve got quite enough to do producing the wine which people need to brings laughter to their tables and conviviality to their meetings.  Anyway, why do you need a tree taller than other trees?  Where there is joy, what need is there for another King?’

So they went to the bramble and said ‘Please be King over us’.  ‘Yes,’ said the bramble ‘that was my plan all along.  Come, dear ones, I will grow more than any of you; rest in my protection and in my shadow’. 

He began to entangle their branches, until their orchards grew dark.  He began to thread around their hedges, until anyone who tried to come in went away bitterly pierced.  He began to smother their paths until nobody could skip along and they grew sorrowful.  In the end, it was all bramble.  And bramble it would remain until the next wildfire comes. 

But the smothered olive tree did not forget the light.  It dreamt of a day its fresh shoots would reach out of the ash for the sun.  The entwined fig tree did not forget sweetness.  It dreamt of the day its new roots would reach down beneath the ash into ground refreshed by the rain.  The overgrown vine did not forget joy.  It dreamt of the day its fragile stalks would grow above the ash and dance in the wind.  And each the same height as each other.

The piece appears in today's Cleethorpes Chronicle.  The pictures of a local tree were taken recently.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

At Sabeel again

On Saturday, for a third year since our return from our Sabbatical in Israel and Palestine at the end of 2013, we were at the annual Conference in Oxford of the Friends of Sabeel UK, following through our interest in the Palestinian Liberation Theology centre which begun in work at the Anglican Cathedral in Jerusalem when it was clear that Palestinian Christians needed to articulate what it felt like to be Christians under an occupation which many read as being God’s purpose.

Once again we heard an impressive Palestinian advocate of non-violence; this time it was Sami Awad, who we had wanted to hear again ever since we came across his profound reflection on the Beatitudes.  It was, of course, a significant week in which to hear such a person; the Mayor of Tel Aviv had responded to Palestinian deadly shootings there by saying, without condoning or justifying violence in any way, that the occupation must be a factor.

At the end of the day, a questioner asked him what single thing we could do – a Friends organisation is always caught between the dangers of doing too little or even nothing and doing what might be the wrong thing or even something for the sake of it.  His answer came at the question slant: ‘we are sorrowful at the silence of the church’.  In the small bubbles in which I live, the word is always about the danger and even perceived bias of going on about all this too much – but I have touched before on the way that the need to oppose genuine anti-Semitism can have the side effect of keeping the church hierarchy quiet and Palestinian Christians feeling abandoned.

Actually the most striking recent comments have had a British governmental origin and these shed a light on some of the thinking behind things like the restrictions on local government rights to engage in any boycott movement in their procurement or investment policies.  Michael Gove gave a speech in March in which he said

...worse than libelling the state of Israel, the BDS [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions] campaign, by calling for the deliberate boycott of goods manufactured by Jewish people, by calling for the shunning of the Jewish state, and the rejection of Jewish commerce and Jewish thought, actually commits a crime worse than apartheid – it reintroduces into our world and into our society a prejudice against Jews collectively that should have vanished from the earth generations ago...

It is important to note that this isn’t the leader of an extreme settler group speaking but the British Justice Minister.  Most of those who advocate or oppose boycotts as a non-violent option could join together in recognising that many of the goods involved are manufactured by Palestinians in the West Bank, some of those advocating the boycott are Jewish themselves, and almost all in their domestic life would not think to enquire whether other goods they purchase were associated with manufacturers who happen to be Jewish (anymore than whether they happen to be Arab, black, Christian, disabled, European, foreign or gay, to name just the historic prejudices at the beginning of the alphabet).  That the British Justice Minister so strongly elides in his own mind boycotting the occupation with anti-Jewish agitation and prejudice may be really very significant.

And it will therefore be interesting to learn what tone his Government proposes for the announced British celebrations of the centenary of the Balfour Declaration – the 1917 policy statement that

His Majesty's government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.

David Cameron’s address to the Knesset may have spoken out against the promoters of boycotts and  of UN resolutions, but it did also support both a halt to settlement activity and the creation of a Palestinian state.

Is there a “dual narrative” which can exhibit awareness at the same time of ‘the moment when the State of Israel went from a dream to a plan - Britain has played a proud and vital role in helping to secure Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people’ (David Cameron’s characterisation of the Balfour Declaration in his Knesset speech) and ‘perhaps the only country in the world holding another nation under occupation without civil rights’ (the Mayor of Tel Aviv’s characterisation of the situation in the West Bank, for which 2017 will also be the fiftieth anniversary)? 

If not, we are lost.  Sami Awad’s line has always been ‘Please don’t just pick a side but join the peace-loving people on both sides and help us make peace’ - any boycotts should be boycotts of the support of occupation allied with proactive investment.

Meanwhile, I took the picture the previous day as a continued part of our fascination with the tiny fossils which can be seen in ordinary ironstone walls.

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Salt and Somme

Our second dip into the Wolds Walking Festival this morning was blustery and a little wet, but we enjoyed being introduced to the succession of sea banks at Marshchapel and to the salt making which went on between them.  These gentle hillocks are not what one would expect on coastal marsh and not what one finds on flatter landscape immediately inland of the village.  They are actually a form of ‘post-industrial’ landscape, albeit the industry was mediaeval.  Once the shore had been scrapped and the takings filtered to produce the concentrated brine needed for salt making, the remaining sand and soil accumulated in piles which became hillocks like this.  The village hall has a full scale reproduction of a detailed map from the 1590s, and this indicated that Christopher Hildyard was involved in the process in its last days.

Meanwhile, the other ‘local history’ activity was a visit last week to the Research Room at the Imperial War Museum to read some of the the letters sent home by Lt Col Kyme Cordeaux, the Great Coates man who made his home at Brackenborough and who was commanding the ‘Grimsby Chums’ Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment on the first day of the Somme.  My most striking personal discovery (military historians may well already be aware of this) was that the failure of the bombardment to damage the German defences ahead of the assault far from being a surprise on 1st July was something he’d actually forseen when writing to his wife the previous week.  I’m lined up to do a talk at St Nicolas’ on the evening of 28th June which will be partly based on this material.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Claxby Ironstone Mine

We greatly appreciated the heritage walk yesterday which brought us to this point and helped us understand it.  The metal posts in the hollow are all that remain of the wheels from which wire ropes ran out on a straight line ahead on which trucks full of ore would have run up and down on lost lines of rail down the slope to the the equally lost railway sidings at the bottom.

Here is the ironstone itself - still outcropping close by in a disused quarry which predates the mine itself.  The ironstone used to build St Michael's (and many similar churches) must have come out of similar quarries centuries earlier.  Thanks to both the Society for Lincolnshire History and Archaeology and to the landowner.

And here is the view from Claxby Top at the end of the day.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Fortunate disillusionment

This is what a real Football League ground looks like this week.  Grimsby Town is going back up after six years - but nobody locally has ever thought of Blundell Park as being a ‘Conference’ standard ground during that time anyway (however much supporters would like to develop a new venue).

So instead, rather begin with - this is what Blundell Park looks like when it allows a bereaved family to hold a charity match to raise money for the Teenage Cancer Trust yesterday.  It looks empty but there were lots of people there in the one open stand behind me.  A wonderful tribute to a lovely young man.

Meanwhile, to go somewhere quite different, a single quotation from Dietrich Bonhoeffer came up as the non-scriptural reading at Matins one day in the week and is feeding me still.  I find that I ought to have paid as much attention to Living Together as to the more famous The Cost of Discipleship and Letters and Papers from Prison.

The serious Christian
set down for the first time in a Christian community,
is likely to bring with him or her
a very definite idea of what Christian life should be
and try to realise it.

But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams.

Just as surely as God desires to lead us
to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship,
so surely must we be overwhelmed
by a great general disillusionment
with others,
with Christianity in general,
and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.

By sheer grace God will not permit us to live
even for a brief period
in a dream world.

He does not abandon us
to those rapturous experiences and lofty moods
that come over us like a dream.

God is not a God of the emotions
but the God of truth.

To be clear, perfectionism is actually a heresy and judgementalism is specifically condemned by the Lord - and, since I'm as prone to both as any other Christian, it is only this fortunate disillusionment with myself which stands a chance of setting me free to pray for those who can't cope with the compromised nature of our churches and of our ways of being Christian community.

Mind you, this is almost where this Blog started and where it has continued to be quite recently.