Tuesday 29 December 2015

New Year fears and hopes

2016 begins with more voluntary groups which add value to local life coming under pressure, a pattern reflected here in 2012 and again in 2014.

Abbey Walk Gallery, the one independent arts venue in North East Lincolnshire, is to close, with the loss of exhibition space, artists’ studios and small retail outlet (one of the few carrying my own book of poems).   It was never making money (it only appears to have survived because the two dynamic people running it never took any money out of it for themselves) and exhibition space continues to be used at the National Fishing Heritage Centre – but Grimsby will be much poorer without it.  North Lincolnshire seems to manage this all slightly better with both the large 20-21 Visual Arts Centre at the top of the main shopping street in Scunthorpe and the Rope Walk on the waterfront at Barton, although we were told a short while ago that the latter is mainly financed by its very successful restaurant.

Green Futures, the community business in this parish which operates the former Council nursery and supplies our weekly veg box, is appealing for the £15 000 it needs to keep going through the last weeks of this financial year.  Among its great strengths is the way it involves some of those who find (re)entering employment difficult, so forebodings about what it would then be able to continue to do in the financial year 2016-7 are serious.  It is a fragile and rare symbol of fresh possibilities (both ‘green’ and human) which it would be impoverishing to lose.

Shoreline, the not-for-profit organisation which owns the former Council Houses in North East Lincolnshire, is having to make cuts and redundancies which include ending grants to the local Citizens’ Advice Bureau and a major Credit Union.  The loss of these grants repeats a pattern which has worried me for some time – the major austerity moves removing lifelines from precisely the small voluntary groups which people imagined would take up some of the strain.  Shoreline’s decision here is probably inevitable (its money needs to be invested in its core purpose) but one can’t help feeling that the loss of robust advice and credit management support for its less able tenants could in fact result in higher levels of arrears, evictions and homelessness, all of which would cause misery and cost Government more in the long run.

My 'new year resolution' is to seek ways in which our over stretched churches can do more in these sorts of areas of human flourishing in 2016, but I've failed to follow through so many existing 'priorities' in 2015 that I think success is doubtful.

Meanwhile, the three Bishops in this diocese sent out a Christmas card which is a photograph of themselves, and my picture above is the play of light in Lincoln Cathedral noticed when I was there to preach at Evensong on the Sunday before Christmas.

Wednesday 23 December 2015

Anglicanism divides (continued)

People are joining our churches all the time – but the congregations never seem to get bigger because others either die or fall away.  And all this starting and stopping seems to happen quite independently of any conscious mission strategies which we adopt and try to implement, which I take to be one of God’s jokes. 

I found something sad in speaking to two of those who had simply stopped coming to one of our churches over the last year to find that one objected to a liberal approach to homosexuality in one sermon while another couldn’t stand the Anglican Communion’s failure to be totally inclusive - it seems almost unfair on a relatively small church in which I hadn’t ever heard the issue mentioned to find itself two good members down in this contradictory way.

I did name this situation in sermons at each church recently, reminding people that I had once (but actually a very long time ago) undertaken an exercise intended to help all of us understand where those we disagree with on either side of this issue are coming from, and offering to do so again.

I’ve been following two quite different expressions of the two points of view this week.

First, Michael Gove interviewed the Archbishop of Canterbury for The Spectator and wrote this:

If one of his own children were to be gay and fell in love with another person of the same sex, and asked his blessing, how would he react?  ‘Would I pray for them together? You bet I would, absolutely.  Would I pray with them together?  If they wanted me to.  If they had a civil service of marriage, would I attend?  Of course I would.’  But, I challenged him, conscious of what many evangelicals believe, wouldn’t you say to them that while you love them, their relationship was sinful or inappropriate?  ‘I would say, “I will always love you, full stop. End of sentence, end of paragraph.” Whatever they say, I will say I always love them.’

Which led one liberal Christian commentator (Bosco Peters in New Zealand) to respond with this:

If God as a loving father, loving parent, is a primary (some will say God-given) image, is that not what we would expect from God?  From Jesus?  If we ask God, if we ask Jesus, questions like “If one of your own children were to be gay and fell in love with another person of the same sex, and asked your blessing, how would he react? Would you pray for them together?  Would you pray with them together?  If they had a service of marriage, would you be present?”, do you think the Archbishop of Canterbury is more loving than God, than Jesus?

Meanwhile, Chris Sugden (probably the most articulate, influential and prominent spokesman for what he sees as the ‘mainstream’ conservative point of view) appeared again on Radio 4’s Sunday programme and managed to claim both that homosexuality is a ‘lifestyle choice’ and that his own extensive research in Africa revealed that those who support the criminalisation of homosexual activity do so mainly to protect young people from grooming.

If you start from the point of view that homosexuality is not an inherent disposition for some, and then you appear to conflate it with paedophilia and skip over the mammoth issue of heterosexual grooming of girls and exploitation of young women, then I can see that you wouldn’t end up taking a liberal position, but I can’t think he has done the conservative position any favours. 

Meanwhile, spring shoots are coming up in St Nicolas’ churchyard.

Wednesday 16 December 2015

One word for it

I thought I’d read the very short set Epistle for last Sunday (Philippians 4.4-7) with attention.  I noticed the opening words because we sing them: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say Rejoice...’.  I looked at the Greek of the last words which we pray ‘The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep...’; it turns out that ‘surpasses’ is close to ‘outranks’ and ‘keep’ is ‘guard’, so we may have something closer to ‘God’s peace has more authority than your anxiety’ (which sits with the ‘do not worry’ in the text) than ‘God’s peace is beyond your understanding’.  I noticed the Advent theme (‘The Lord is near’) and the pedagogical theme (pray and give thanks).

Then, at the new Bishop of Grantham’s welcome service in the Cathedral on the Sunday evening, I heard him use almost the only other words in the passage as his text: ‘Let your gentleness be known to everyone’ (4.5a).  He championed gentleness as an underrated virtue and said Jesus had also taught it saying ‘Blessed are the gentle for they shall inherit the earth’ (at least the last bit of which turns out to be an exegetical sleight of hand – there is a quite different Greek word at Philippians 4.5a than at Matthew 5.5).

But, as you see, he had sent me back to the Greek text again to find that Paul was using another of the epi- words which it turns out are difficult to capture in English, in this case epi-eikes,  Epi- is sometimes ‘over’ and eikos is sometimes‘fair’, so the word inhabits territory such as ‘beyond reasonable’.  Neither ‘lenient’ nor ‘conciliatory’ does the job, but they are in the right area.  Aristotle, it turns out, names the territory as ‘better than justice’.  There is almost an element of 'positive discrimination' about it.  I'm reminded of the original sense of buxom with the right amount of both strength and flexibility ‘like an archer’s bow’.

Modern English doesn’t have a single word for this.  I worked through fourteen translations of the New Testament from Tyndale’s ‘softenes’ to the New Living Translation’s ‘considerate’ (which seem to work if the opposites are hard and inflexible, thoughtless and unsympathetic).  ‘Gentleness’ does appear in three, but it is ‘forbearance’ which wins by appearing in four.  Moderation (King James), magnanimity (New English) and tolerance (Jerusalem) also appear, which covers quite a range.  None seem to capture the essential sense of not allowing the letter of the law to deny real justice – although The Message tries hard with ‘Make it as clear as you can that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them’.

So perhaps not so much ‘let people be impressed by how sensitive you are’ as ‘let people find it very odd how sympathetic your judgement is’.  Touches of ‘the woman taken in adultery’ and ‘the prodigal son’ – of course.  ‘The Lord is near’ are the words which follow next in the text so they provide the important context rather than just the next thought – my natural tendency to be judgemental or insist on my entitlements is less easy to sustain when aware of that.  It strikes me that the whole themes of forgiveness and release from debt may all actually flow from epieikes, which makes it all the more astonishing that I haven’t noticed it before, even when studying the relevant verses.

We noticed the carving above the door of the French Protestant Church in Soho Square when we were in London last week and it does seem to link with all this as well.

Monday 14 December 2015

Ai Weiwei

To describe something is to change how it is valued.  To depict it or to pray for it is do much the same thing. 

It is a simple insight I found mentioned again earlier this month.  It is one I find I was thinking about seven years ago, remembering then Irina Ratushinskaya finding a fellow prisoner’s urgent pleasure in discovering that she was a writer and thus someone able to name their situation. 

We found ourselves in Ai Weiwei’s exhibition at the Royal Academy on Saturday and I hadn’t expected it to make anything like the impact it did.  He shares some of her experiences beginning with a childhood as the son of a poet internally exiled during the Cultural Revolution.

He had recovered the metal from collapsed reinforced concrete following an earthquake in which the disproportionately high number of children killed appeared to reflect the corruption which had resulted in sub-standard school building.  These strands of metal were stacked in a huge hall like an undulating landscape with fractured cliffs along it and with the otherwise concealed and forgotten names of the children listed in their hundreds on the walls around.

He had emerged from a period of detention about which he was forbidden to speak or paint but during which he had memorised every detail of his cell.  These memories were reconstructed at half size in closed boxes set out across another room into which one could peer either through the only high level windows or through openings above the shower and toilet sharing the intrusion of the guards who continued to watch him there.

There was much else, including two copies of an encyclopaedia of artists, the English edition open at a double page spread which includes a page about him, the Chinese edition open at the same pair of pages identical on one side but with a page about a western artist replacing the page about him on the other side.

I’m sorry not to have a camera with me to add illustrations to these few words about the exhibition.  There is something about the sheer scale of these pieces and those constructed as a forest of marble grass or stacked wood rescued from derelict temples.  

Instead, the hundred year old postbox (from the reign of Edward VII 1901-10) on Grimsby’s Pelham Road just happens to be the most recent photograph I’ve taken.

Monday 7 December 2015

Maps again

I’m back to maps and place names again, itching at the weekend to share with the young people at our monthly alternative evening worship the way they could view the world differently if the map spread out before them was upside down, divided across the Altantic rather than the Pacific, and set out on an ‘equal area’ projection, a world in which we lived tucked away in a remote corner and, instead of us, it is disappearing islands in the middle of the Pacific, once thought of as being at a safe distance from anywhere for nuclear tests, which take centre stage. 

It wasn’t my turn.  I ought to dig out for next month my battered copies of the resource material I developed from copies of Christian Aid’s Peter’s Projection in the 1980s and continued to use with clergy through the 1990s.

In fact I’ve been reading The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion by Kei Miller, a poet with Jamaican and Rastafarian roots, published last year.  It includes repeated exchanges of points of view between a cartographer and a rastaman, the latter saying On this island things fidget, even history - the landscape does not sit willingly as if behind an easel and Draw me a map of what you see, then I will draw a map of what you never see, and guess me whose map will be bigger than whose? and His work is to make thin and crushable all that is big and real as ourselves

There is a circuitous road on Jamacia which still follows the route a Miss Musgrave took on her carriage so that she did not have to view native homes on her way to the Hall - and to think such spite should pass down to the present generation.

Brief quotations don’t carry the impact of the twists and illustrations in my initial two favourite poems which have the cartographer ask How much have we not seen or felt or heard because there is no word for it – at least no word we know? and the rastaman warn My bredda you cannot plot your way to Zion.

It also includes expositions of many Jamacian place names, which sent me back to Brian Friel who died in October.  One of the first academic directions we were given when beginning to study at the Irish School of Ecumenics approaching thirty years ago was: if we wanted to understand the Irish situation a tiny bit better, read Brian Friel. 

Obituaries highlighted above anything else his 1980 play Translations.  I haven’t forgotten the way it has the English ordnance survey in 1833 fixing alien Irish place names with easy to handle English equivalents, the immediate use of which enabled them to direct military operations and oppression efficiently.  Or the one map-making soldier finding the only language he had in common with an Irish girl was a tentatively exchange of Irish place names, which is how we leave them until she artlessly reveals that the process has continued as she tells her mother the names of all the north Norfolk villages around his home.

Meanwhile, this weekend our garden doesn’t know whether it is late autumn (the shrub on the left still has its final leaves to lose) or early spring (the one of the right is already in blossom), and there are other examples of the same confusion along the streets near-by.  The partial job done by our categories, labels and maps is essential to carry our love and our understanding - but it is not enough, and it is dangerous when we think it is where we find our whole truth. 

Tuesday 1 December 2015

Our War Zone

The Pope has visited the war-torn Central African Republic and the ubiquity of the ludicrous headline ‘The first Pope to enter an active war zone’ (which I’ve found at the BBC, in the religious press and internationally) must, I suppose, mean it was a clever ‘attention grabbing’ line from a Vatican Press Release which has initially been uncritically bought into by most reporters, although a quick search a few days later shows that most have toned this down with something like ‘in living memory’.  

My second thought was that the truth is that, from the barbarians working their way down Italy repeatedly to sack Rome in the fifth century to the Allied troops working their way up Italy to liberate Europe one and a half thousand years later, it is as often the war zone which has come to a Pope as a Pope who has gone to a war zone.  

But my present obvious thought is that he and we all live in a war zone now, not because terrorism continues to brings the consequences of war to European capital cities, but because everything from drones (many ‘driven’, as it happens, from Lincolnshire air bases) to the present on-line lobbying of MPs ahead of their vote on bombing Syria means war no longer happens elsewhere for anybody.

Friday 27 November 2015

Thy kingdom come

One in five Moslems in this country (or rather, one in five of 1000 particular practicing and non-practicing Moslems responding on the spot to a particular set of loaded questions) agree with the statement “Western liberal society could never be compatible with Islam”.
I am as shocked as everyone else in the country by this. 

Why is the percentage so small?  How can 80% of Moslems possibly think that Western liberal society is compatible with Islam?

Are there any Christians out there at all, for that matter, who think that the consumerist, individualistic and exploitative assumptions all around us (however often unconsciously absorbed by us) could ever really be compatible with Christianity? 

Why do we bother praying “thy kingdom come” if any of us think that the Western liberal society is the standard by which we want the will of God for our lives and world to be measured?

Friday 20 November 2015

Bell story background

I’ve done a bit of fresh work on the names related to the 1833 bell at St George’s, Bradley.

I’m glad because it made me find a 1799 land tax record for the parish which I’m sure I hadn’t seen before.  This record shows, as expected, that Sir John Nelthorpe owned most of the land, although small portions were owner by Mrs Spendlove, --- Heneage Esq and Mrs Scott.  It is their tenants who are taxed, almost all of the tax falling on two of them who must, I assume, have been the largest farmers.  John Nicholson paid £35 and Jas. Phillipson £24 but the five others paid less than £5 between them.

In passing, I notice the Heneage tenant was Nathaniel Kirk (who paid a few shillings).  I assume he was the one whose gravestone (from 1831) was posted here and who has descendants still in farmhouses in the parish today.  I also notice how the surnames largely overlap with those I already knew were the five farmers in the parish in 1841 when the earliest surviving census was taken - then William Phillipson had most land, Samuel Gooseman lived at the Manor, and there was Robert Richardson and both a John Kirk and a Thomas Kirk.

But it is the Nicholson name which stands out in 1799 as the likely father of the man at whose wedding the church bell was damaged.  I suppose it is possible that it was he who lived at the Manor at the time.  There is a gravestone of a Jane Nicholson also from 1831; she was 33 and married to John’s son George, so it might even have been their wedding that the bell was damaged (although I discover George had a number of brothers).

I’ve also easily tracked down the Samuel White of Waltham who recast the bell in 1833 and put his initials on it.  A Waltham man of that name lived 1790-1876.  He is listed as a blacksmith there in a directory entry in 1826.  He is a blacksmith in Kirkgate consistently through the census returns from 1841 to 1871.

Meanwhile, the picture illustrates something quite different, and was taken in St Michael’s on Thursday when the firm which installed the heating system nearly fifteen years ago tracked down to this point and repaired for us the underground leak which had led to system malfunctioning a couple of weeks ago. 

It is the only unpaved bit of the floor; the concrete covers a gap revealed when the 'return stalls' next to the chancel screen were removed ten years ago and was never an aesthetically good idea nor, if it damaged or has put pressure on the pipe, a good idea in any other way.  The repaving of this whole area (where other paved sections of the floor have been damaged by water ingress when the roof leaked) was already on our list of priorities. 

Tuesday 10 November 2015

The Bells

North East Lincolnshire Council’s archivist has contacted me because he wants to go up our church towers.  

His e-mail gives me more details than I remember having before, and solves a puzzle for me about the initials on the bell at Bradley which I once photographed.

According to 'The Church Bells of Lincolnshire' from 1882, Great Coates should have three bells all recast in 1807 from bells taken from Beelsby by James Harrison of Middle Rasen who also made the bell frame (the book says it is actually a rebuild of an earlier frame as it also carries an inscription to the curate and churchwardens, 1739).

Bradley is best described by the book itself which says: "In 1553 there were here 'iii gret belles and one Sanctus bell.'  The ancient cage for these three bells still remains, but sometime prior to 1833, two bells had disappeared: the remaining bell was cracked by three men endeavouring to imitate a peal upon it with three hammers on the occasion of the wedding of a farmer named Nicholson.  It was then melted down and recast by a blacksmith of Waltham (a neighbouring village) named Samuel White, who placed upon it his own initials, and that of his dwelling place.”

Sunday 1 November 2015

An earlier Hagia Sophia

The famous sixth century building actually replaced two earlier churches on the site.  Those bits of its immediate predecessor (which was burnt down by rioters) which have been dug up not that long ago look quite new and sharp having escaped exposure to the weather.  It would have looked much more like a classical temple and one would have walked in beneath a frieze which included the sheep, which represent the apostles.

Saturday 31 October 2015

The Resurrection

The significance of this icon - which western art sees as 'the harrowing of hell' (the Lord drawing out Adam and Eve while Satan lies bound beneath) but which the eastern church sees as the primary representation of the resurrection - has been explored in this Blog before, and some of its development in western art in Florence has been explored more recently.  So discovering this fourteenth century mosaic icon of it (roughly contemporary with the Florence art) at the church which is now called Chora Museum was worth coming to Istanbul for.

We were almost equally struck by this unusual representation of the entry of the saved into heaven close by.  On the left (in darkness) they come along, led by Peter who is putting his key into the door.  The door is guarded by a six winged seraph, just as the gate to the Garden of Eden was guarded by an angel.  On the right (in the light), the good thief (carrying his cross) has got there first and gestures them foward towards Mary - it looks as if she is enthroned between two angels almost as the Queen of the garden-like Heaven which they have reached.

Friday 30 October 2015

During our "Dark Ages"

I keep reminding myself that the sixth century is the gap in our own history - we have no monumental or written records between the departure of the Romans in the middle of the fifth century and the emergence of the first evidence of the earliest "English" culture in the middle of the seventh century.  Meanwhile, in the middle of exactly this period, here the Emperor Justinian was building what was then the largest church in the world and what is still one of the largest (albeit no longer used as a church) at the Hagia Sophia (pictured a few days ago) and other notable churches such as the next door Hagia Eirene (pictured above).

Thursday 29 October 2015

The Presentation

This appears to be the only pre-eighth century mosaic with a religious theme in Constantinople to have survived the iconoclasm (destruction of icons) period of eastern Christianity.  It was difficult to photograph at all, let alone head on, because of the glass in front of it.  It has continuity with many of the features of later painted icons of the Prensentation of Christ in the Temple combined with a natural flow and eagerness of old Simeon reaching out to hold the Christ child.  Iconocalsm means that we do not have much sense of the appearance of the fifth century churches here whose magnificent mosaic icons all date from several centuries after they were built.

Wednesday 28 October 2015

Three inscriptions

In the space of about ten minutes, we found ourselves walking past three stones we already knew all about from our time in Jerusalem in 2013.  I had simply missed the fact that, since Jerusalem was part of the Ottoman Empire during the nineteenth century so many of the things discovered then would have ended up in Istanbul - much as the British Museum is full of things looted from our own sphere of influence at about the same period.  This is one of the earliest examples of Hebrew writing, an exercise piece about the prgress of the agricultural year, a reproduction of which we saw at the place from which it comes at Tel Gezer.  It is much smaller than we imagined.

Here is one example of the much more famous warning signs from the Jerusalem Temple, alerting outsiders that they put their lives at risk by intruding beyond them.

And here is the record of the digging of Hezehiah's tunnel found on site there which we were told all about when we walked through it.  We remembered that the account told of those digging from either side hearing the sounds of axes and voices from the other side as they came to close to breaking through to each other.

The 'trade' worked the other way, from the treasures illustrated as now being in Venice as a result of the Crusaders passing through (systematically wrecking) to the sad sign at a tomb outside the Hagia Sophia giving the catalogue numbers in the Louvre for the tiles sent to Paris for restoration in the nineteenth century.

Tuesday 27 October 2015

Thursday 22 October 2015

Saturday 17 October 2015

First to the Lord

The diocese of Lincoln would like our parish to be paying into the diocese’s Common Fund by 2018 at about 225% the rate it managed in 2014; an increase of about £5.80 each week from each ‘usual Sunday attender’.  Notwithstanding our low level of contribution when compared with what similar parishes in most other dioceses are managing, I’m not sure that is a realistic expectation, to put the point no more strongly.

There has been careful work to agree a new formula for Parish Share.  At earlier stages in ‘road testing’ this, I had heard it recognised that the formula (in common with any possible formula) would produce unrealistic or even rogue results for some 10% of parishes, and the refreshing suggestion that individual negotiations would take place with those parishes.

But in the end, the new calculation was simply presented to our parish with the suggestion that we could always appeal.  I’m sorry those involved didn’t recognise how different the dynamic is between ‘this looks odd to us, so let us talk about it’ and ‘here it is, but you could appeal’.

There is a suggestion that the diocese could offer ‘support’ to those parishes which are facing an up-hill struggle responding to the new levels of Parish Share assessement, and it is certainly true that we ought to reassess our approach to what has long been called our financial ‘stewardship’, but I am wary having heard one of the diocesan ‘Discipleship Development Advisers’ more than once commend a 10% tithe of income directed exclusively to the financing of the church.

Talking it all through, I know that my wariness dates back to being a member of the General Synod in about 1999/2000 when a ‘stewardship’ report called First to the Lord was debated.  The title was drawn from 2 Corinthians 8.5 where Paul was commending (and further encouraging) the spontaneous generosity of the Macedonian churches towards the extreme needs of Christians in Jerusalem.

My real problem was that this text isn’t actually about financing the institutional needs of the church at all, and eliding our giving of ourselves and our money ‘first to the Lord’ with meeting the needs of the church seemed to be a sleight of hand at the best.   I seem to remember something like ‘If we loved God as much as we do our grandchildren, the church would have no problem’ was one slightly creepy way this was expressed.

I remember that the problem was all the more acute because at the previous meeting we had debated a report Called to New Life which had explicitly warned against allowing only things done for the church to constitute our understanding of Christian discipleship – and that almost nobody I spoke to at the Synod recognised that there might be a contradiction here.

I need to practice and provoke sacrificial generosity much more than I do – and exploring a 10% tithe of income might well be the best way to reference this financially – but I remain convinced that this generosity is quite as much about those in extreme need and those closest to us as it is about the church - and that identifying giving to the last of these as being ‘first to the Lord’ or the appropriate destination for our whole tithe is a sect-like manipulation.

But at least I recognise what in my past makes my reaction so extreme before I begin to think how we might at least begin to see how we might respond better to the need of the diocese’s (our own) Common Fund.

Saturday 10 October 2015


Our economic well being is tied into the injustice of the world and there is even less we can do about it this autumn than before. 

The perfect illustration was the Archbishop of Canterbury being tripped up by Wonga.  He spoke out against its exploitation of those driven to depend on its loans and then had the embarrassment of the revelation that the Church of England owned a little bit of it via a small holding held by an investment fund.  Part of my pension was being secured by Wonga’s profiting from the vulnerable.

From the international level (the preservation of our nation’s share of global resources by the protection of our borders from mass migration) to the tiny details of my clothing (the slave-like conditions in which much cotton thread is produced), I keep getting reminded this month that my economic well being is tied into the injustice of the world.

Of course, at an individual level, there are ethical funds which try to help investors steer clear of whole areas of investment from pay-day lenders to the arms trade, and there are personal boycott and Fair Trade decisions which individuals can seek to make to avoid some of the most obvious compromises, but the net of Wonga-like ambiguities and complexities still manages to enmesh us all.

But at the local level, I am helpless in making some ethical choices if the local authority doesn’t make these particular ones for me.  So this month’s government adjustments to things like local authority’s discretion in procurement and investments (that is - the outlawing of local authority’s previous ability to chose to avoid contracts or investments on ethical grounds - those who are involved in anything from the arms trade to settlements in Palestine are the cited examples) is fundamentally disabling.  Reminding people about the impact of boycotts of South African goods in the past doesn’t make any difference.

And at the national level, I am helpless in making some ethical choices if the government doesn’t make these particular ones for me.   So this month’s admission to the Common’s Foreign Affairs Committee by the Foreign Office's Permanent Secretary that increasing exports (our economic well being) is now a greater priority and that protecting human rights (the tackling of global injustice) has less of the ‘profile it did in the past’ is equally  disabling.   Holding up a placard saying ‘Not in my name’ hardly makes a difference either.

Having a Conservative government for the first time in eighteen years was always going to make a legitimate difference to our political landscape, but I hadn’t expected it so quickly to make a difference to my ability to balance my economic self interest against my ethical choices.  And for it all to happen just as, in one of the cited areas, violence in Israel and Palestine opens up again self reinforcing each sides’ justification for its action is heart breaking.

Sunday 4 October 2015

Desire and caritas

Professor Mona Siddiqui will be giving the Gifford Lectures next year.  I know how dense this annual series of Lecture’s can be: I’ve read carefully at least the first third of Rowan Williams’ 2013 ones on the nature of language and got a huge amount out of the portion which I understood. 

Anyway, she came to the Lincoln Theological Society to give a taste of the theme she has in mind for the Lectures, although she says she has not yet written them.  It took some concentration keeping up with her.

Faith as ‘struggle’ is for her a positive and, importantly, hope-ful approach (in contrast to ‘suffering’ which appears to be more negative and often simply about enduring).  It is closely tied up with the implication of our desires – positive (this is where hope comes in), inevitable (unavoidably part of the human condition) and negative (able to skew our appetite, expectation and satisfaction).

It was sad that the questions which came after the lecture mainly asked her to comment on the presenting issues of Islam to casual western observers (the first question asked was why she had not tackled the theme of jihad and the last asked her why she didn’t wear a veil) and thus rarely engaged with her theme at all.

If I can get Rowan Williams’ ones on language read and understood by the end of 2016 it might be just in time to buy Mona Siddiqui’s on struggle and desire and start the round again.

It was my second trip to Lincoln in a week, and on the earlier occasion I had gone to see someone in the County Hospital where I took the two photographs of things preserved from an earlier building.

The statue is that of Caritas (the embodiment of the virtue of loving care).  The bed endowment plaque – one of a whole row – reminded me that the origins of First World War tanks lay in the development of more easily movable agricultural machinery in Lincoln.

Monday 28 September 2015

To an ageing congregation

The first thing John Bell of the Iona Community tackled at a diocesan gathering in the Cathedral on Saturday was the excuse of not seeing a future because “we are an ageing congregation here”.  It is interesting in itself that (either as a result of a briefing about those who were expected to come to this particular event or perhaps simply his current habit when speaking to a Church of England gathering?) this is where he chose to begin.

First, he used an obvious starting point in scripture - Sarah laughing when she overheard the promise that she would be a mother (“now that I am past the age of child-bearing and my husband is an old man”) and that God’s new possibilities and covenant would descend from her.  In due time her son is given a name which meant laughter and she says “God has given me cause to laugh; all those who hear it will laugh with me”.

But secondly, he had a simple take on scripture which was new to me (and which I may well borrow!).  People say that Christmas is a “time for children” he said, but had we noticed how the story revolves around older people? 

Indeed it does.

The story begins with the promise to Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth will be the mother of John the Baptist.  Zechariah does not laugh, he disputes – “How can I be sure of this?  I am an old man and my wife is getting on”.  When the annunciation promise comes to Mary six months later it is validated by the knowledge that “your kinswoman Elizabeth has in her old age conceived... for nothing is impossible for God”.

The story ends with Mary and Joseph bringing the new born Jesus to the Temple where God’s new possibilities in him are hailed by Simeon (“it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death he had set eyes on the Christ”) and Anna (“eighty-four years old”).

John Bell also touched on how old he imagined Joseph, the shepherds and the magi would have been in the bits of the story in between.

Meanwhile, simply pointing an ordinary camera at a bright moon at 2.35 a.m. this morning was never going to capture a great picture of the eclipse, but it was a pleasure that I was awake, that the sky was so clear, and that the picture catches a hint of the red involved.

Sunday 20 September 2015

Elections again

Will the about-to-be-elected new General Synod reflect the views of its electors or be skewed in favour of those understandably active in manoeuvring behind the scenes on behalf of the more extreme catholic, evangelical and liberal approaches?

This week’s additional reason for feeling mildly depressed is that I’ve read the dozen ‘election addresses’ by the clergy candidates in this diocese.  The really remarkable things is that few candidates actually say where they stand on specific issues at all – ecology, ministerial development, the mission crisis, the inclusion of lesbian and gay people in ordained ministry.

Mainly they tell me what committed and experienced ministers they are, and suggest that I should trust them.  One carries a picture of the candidate in front of a large warplane, text about himself and not a single reference to his position on any issue at all.  Two tell me about their pets.
One manages to say that homosexuality is a particular interest of hers without indicating whether this interest has led her to tend towards a more conservative or a more liberal view.  Another (a friend) doesn't mention his membership Forward in Faith but does print a picture of himself smiling at a female priest (although his information about others issues is actually much more helpfully substantial than most of the others).

Two do label themselves with Inclusive Church, but a third who I know is evangelically committed to a biblically literalist position on homosexuality only hints obliquely at this long after he makes 'Inclusive Mission' his first bold heading.

I suspect that many of those who vote will end up being quite surprised by the way those we elect vote on key issues.

Meanwhile, we did have a nice walk in the Lincolnshire Wolds the other day.