This morning the new Bishops of Bradford and Huddersfield were consecrated (not ‘concentrated’, as someone put it in a prayer last week) at York Minster. The immediate reports and photos can be seen here.

This completes the episcopal team for the new Diocese of West Yorkshire & the Dales (not “Daleks’, as someone printed it recently). The new bishops, Toby Howarth and Jonathan Gibbs will start on 1 December, but might make appearances before then.wpid-Photo-20140709193123.jpg

This is the latest and very important step in shaping the new diocese. We face significant challenges, but fantastic opportunities. The new bishops will find a great openness in the diocese to new ways of doing things. They will also be able to put immediate energy into encouraging, nurturing, challenging and shaping. They will also need to learn the patch and the people – without buying in to all the myths that grow around the church and the way it does its business.

Of course, this is all happening against a backdrop of economic challenge at home and serious international challenge away. It is an exciting and demanding time to take on episcopal ministry and leadership.

Anyway, back to concentrating on the Daleks for this evening…

This is the text of an article published in the Yorkshire Post today:

Has British journalism really improved? Or was the Leveson Inquiry just something to entertain us until business returned to normal while no one was looking?

I guess we are about to find out. The Minister for Civil Society announced on the eve of the Conservative Party conference that he was resigning because a Sunday newspaper was about to publish allegations about his private life.

This had all the hallmarks of a sting, and I wondered what might be the public interest that would justify such an action on the part of a newspaper. We soon found out.

I imagine most observers are more embarrassed than hostile to the ex-Minister. Sending intimate pictures of yourself over the internet is naïve and shows poor judgement.

But the journalist who stung Brooks Newmark had been phishing, had invented a character, lied in e-conversation and illicitly used photos of other women to pretend to be the woman he was pretending to be.

If this doesn’t count as entrapment, then what does? And to have such a ploy used to uphold a purist moral stance is at least questionable.

The defence used in such cases – and which got a bit of exposure during the Leveson process – is that the information derived is somehow in the public interest.

Of course, this assumes that the public interest is being served… rather than the prurient interest of the public being entertained. How would society be the poorer for not knowing what we now know as a result of the sting?

Well, following the Leveson Report, the body that has replaced the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) now faces its first serious task.

By publishing the sting on Brooks Newmark, is Trinity Mirror in breach of the code agreed by the Press? The newly-established Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) is still run by the Press – one of the criticisms of its predecessor.

The Press continues to be judged by its own, and the ‘independence’ in its title does not yet convince sceptical observers or victims of press abuse. In the case before it, we will see how independent the new body really is.

The tragedy of all this is that the behaviours that led to the Leveson Inquiry being set up in the first place do not seem to have gone away.

The closure of the News of the World and the prosecution of prominent newspaper leaders seemed to offer an opportunity to clean out the stable. But, read Hack Attack – Nick Davies’s disturbing book on the phone hacking saga – and one questions whether drama and gesture actually changes behaviour and culture.

Set against this domestic business, however, is the crying need for good journalism in Britain. The bad cases hit the headlines (eventually), but we too easily take for granted the importance of excellent journalism.

We only know about what goes on in some parts of the world because journalists have the nerve to go to where the action is and report – in language and images that are comprehensible to the appropriate audience – what is going on. And many pay with their lives – 71 journalists have died as a result of reporting on the Syrian conflict alone over the last three years.

The sort of courage that compels individuals to risk their lives in pursuit of the real story (for example, potential genocide) is admirable and defies the comfortable cynicism of those who sit in armchairs complaining about the world.

Yet, this sort of reporting is not the norm, is it? We might want to ask where this sort of work sits in relation to the human interest gossip stuff that seems to sell newspapers and magazines at home.

Journalism cannot be identified solely in terms of foreign or crisis reporting – fast-moving, often dangerous, always provisional. Seen in this context, stinging an MP looks a bit cheap and easy.

It does, though, bring into sharp relief the need for good journalism at every level.

Social media allow immediate and unmediated reportage from everywhere. Except, of course, that all reportage – even images on Twitter from Tahrir Square – are mediated by the preferences, context, priorities and subjectivities of the person who posts it.

So, where is the place for intelligent and informed critical reflection on events? Contrary to popular assumption, not every opinion is valid. A good democracy needs a good, free Press.

The problem seems to be that the great British public prefers to read tittle-tattle about relative trivia, creating moral scapegoats that make the rest of us feel morally superior. We get the Press we pay for. If we want good journalism, we will have to pay for it.

Predigt, Berliner Dom, den 28en September 2014

Liebe Gemeinde,

Wir sind am Donnerstagmorgen in Berlin angekommen und wir fahren heute Nachmittag nach England zurück. Die Meißen Kommission, deren Co-Vorsitzender ich bin, hat sich in den letzten vier Tagen mit dem Thema „Kirche und Politik” beschäftigt. Wir fingen mit einem Treffen im Deutschen Bundestag an, und nahmen an einer Diskussion über die Ethik des militärischen Einsatzes von Drohnen teil. Und Dr. Margot Käßmann hat uns über die Pläne und Vorbereitungen des Reformationsjubiläums 2017 informiert.

Wie immer war die deutsche Gastfreundlichkeit großzügig und wunderbar. Und niemand hat über Schottland gelacht.

Im dem Jahr, wo wir uns an das Zusammenbrechen der Welt vor hundert Jahren in einem katastrophalen Weltkrieg erinnern, sollten wir es nicht gering schätzen, dass wir uns jetzt hier in Frieden als Freunde – als christliche Brüder und Schwestern treffen.

Wenn wir als Briten an solchen Diskussionen über Vorbereitungen des Reformationsjubiläums 2017 oder an einer Debatte über militärische Themen teilnehmen, müssen wir versuchen, die britischen Brillen vor unseren Augen wegzunehmen (das heißt, die Linsen, durch welche wir hinausschauen, um die Welt zu beobachten), und die Welt durch deutsche Augen zu sehen. Die deutsche Geschichte und kulturellen Entwicklungen sind anders als die englischen, und bestimmte Weltereignisse sehen durch deutsche Augen anders aus. Zum Beispiel: die Immigration und die Erfahrung mit Islam sind in Großbritannien mit dem Kolonialismus verbunden, aber in Deutschland mit wirtschaftlichen Entwicklungen. Dieser Unterschied ist wichtig, und formt die Sprache der Debatten. Wir müssen die Dinge durch eine andere Brille betrachten.

Der ehemalige Bundeskanzler Helmut Schmidt beobachtet in seinem Buch „Außer Dienst”, dass niemand sich als Kandidat für die Wahl zum Bundestag vorstellen sollte, wenn er nicht mindestens zwei Fremdsprachen spricht. Warum? Weil wir unsere eigene Kultur nur verstehen können, wenn wir durch die Augen einer anderen Kultur darauf schauen – und das können wir nur machen, wenn wir die Sprachen verstehen. Helmut Schmidt glaubt, dass wir bereit sein müssen, uns selbst in der politischen oder kulturellen Welt anzuschauen und unsere Sichtweisen, unsere Werte und Prioritäten und Voraussetzungen von außen prüfen zu lassen. Das heißt Perspektive und Wechsel der Perspektive – und es ist weder natürlich noch einfach zu tun.

Also lassen Sie mich eine kurze Geschichte erzählen, die illustriert, wie wir das machen könnten.

Ein Engländer, ein Ire und ein Schotte sind von einem riesengroßen Riese gefangen worden. Der enorme Riese sagte dem Engländer: “Sag mir eine Sache, die ich machen soll. Wenn ich es schaffe, dann fresse ich dich; wenn nicht, lasse ich dich frei.” Der Engländer überlegte einen Moment, dann antwortete er mit dem leisen britischen Humor: “Werft einen Stein auf den Mond, und, wenn der Stein zurückkommt, musst du ihn fangen.” Der Riese lachte (ho ho ho), warf einen Stein auf den Mond, und fing ihn, als er zurückkam. Er fraß den (ziemlich überraschten) Engländer. Der Ire sah das und überlegte weiter. “Lauf um die Welt zehn Mal in zehn Minuten herum”, sagte er mit dem Selbstvertrauen der Kelten. Der Riese lachte (ho ho ho), und spazierte in neun Minuten zehn Mal um die Welt herum … und fraß den verwirrten Iren. Dann kam der Schotte dran. Er lachte, kratzte seinen Kilt (Schottenrock), spuckte auf den Boden und sagte: “Schwimm darin!”

(Normalerweise kommt in solchen Witzen der Ire als dritter. Aber diesmal feiern wir gemeinsam die Entscheidung bei der Volksabstimmung der Schotten, britisch zu bleiben! Wenigstens bis zum nächsten Mal…)

Diese Herausforderung – alles anders und neu sehen zu lernen – gehört zum Wesen der Sache, was es bedeutet, Christ zu sein. Es ist so wichtig und so offensichtlich, dass wir dies oft vergessen. Jesus lädt seine Freunde und Gegner ein, eine neue Sicht auf Gott, auf die Welt, und sogar auf sich selbst zu nehmen … wie durch veränderten Augen hinauszuschauen. In meinem kleinen Buch Am Rande bemerkt fasste ich diese Idee so:

“Alle Menschen hätten eine Linse hinter den Augen … die nur selten oder gar nie herausgenommen und der kritischen Analyse ausgesetzt wird. Das ist die Linse, durch die ich Gott, die Welt und mich selbst sehe. Ich hinterfrage das, was ich sehe, nur selten, und gehe meistens davon aus, dass es so ist, wie ich es sehe. … Doch diese Linse ist für die Sichtweise, wie ich das Leben und den Tod und das Glück und den Schmerz betrachte, so wichtig, dass ich sie nicht unerforscht und unberührt ignorieren kann. … Anders ausgedrückt: Alle Menschen sollten von Zeit zu Zeit die Linse hinter ihren Augen herausnehmen, sie sorgfältig untersuchen und schärfen lassen, um sich selbst, die Welt um sie herum und den Gott, der sie umsorgt, klarer zu sehen. Ein anderer Blickwinkel könnte unser Leben verändern, unsere Sicht verändern und unsere Vorurteile hinterfragen.”

Also, gemäß der Tradition der alttestamentlichen Propheten vor ihm, stellt Jesus die Frage, ob wir die Realität sehen, oder ob es möglich ist, dass es eine andere Realität gibt, die man nur dann spüren kann, wenn man durch die Augen Jesu sieht. Zum Beispiel:

  • Wir sind alle von Mode besessen, nicht wahr? Wir kaufen ständig und immer ein, weil wir glauben, dass mehr Dinge und immer mehr Stoff uns glücklicher und unser Leben besser machen werden. Aber Jesus sagt: “Und warum sorgt ihr euch um die Kleidung? Schaut die Lilien auf dem Feld an, wie sie wachsen: sie arbeiten nicht, auch spinnen sie nicht. Ich sage euch, dass auch Salomo in aller seiner Herrlichkeit nicht gekleidet gewesen ist wie eine von ihnen.”
  • Die Blumen zeigen ihre Herrlichkeit nur kurz, aber sie kümmern sich nicht um die Zeit danach. Und das bedeutet nicht, dass wir Menschen nur für heute die Erde ausbeuten sollten, sondern, dass wir die Erde respektieren müssen und von der natürlichen Welt lernen sollten. Deshalb hilft uns Jesus: es ist weder notwendig noch unvermeidlich, dass wir uns ständig von den Werbetreibenden und Marketing-Experten verführen lassen müssen, um mit ihren Lügen einverstanden zu sein, dass mehr Stoff und Textilien uns glücklicher macht.
  • Erinnern Sie sich an die Schlange im Garten? “Hat Gott wirklich gesagt, dass du nicht die Früchte dieses Baumes essen darfst? Wirklich? Bist du ganz sicher?” Wir Menschen fangen sehr früh an, Lügen zu glauben. Hier nehmen wir an, dass nicht Gott allein die Fantasie anregt, sondern auch der Satan, der auch eine andere Sichtweise anbietet.
  • Die Propheten beobachteten in ihren Gesellschaften eine echte religiöse Erweckung – eine Erneuerung der Anbetung und des Engagements. Aber sie sahen tiefer in die Dinge hinein, und ließen sich nicht von dem äußeren Schein verführen. Sie sprachen die Wahrheit aus, die manche anderen nicht anerkennen wollten: wenn Sie im Gottesdienst Lieder über die Gerechtigkeit und Gnade Gottes singen, aber Ungerechtigkeit und Korruption in Ihrer Gesellschaft institutionalisieren, lacht Gott nicht. Die Lieder sind bedeutungslos und unverschämt. Die Propheten sahen über die unmittelbare Realität hinaus, und versuchten durch Poesie und anregende Sprechweise, die blinden Menschen zu fördern, die Realität hinter dieser Realität zu sehen. Sie verwendeten reiche Sprüche und Sprechweisen, die wie ein Ohrwurm im Bewusstsein und der Fantasie der Zuhörer herumkratzen würden, bis ihre Sicherheiten und verführende Phantasmen in Frage gestellt wurden.
  • Und der Prediger von Nazareth geht mit dieser Tradition weiter. In einer Welt, die von dem brutalen herrschenden römischen Reich dominiert wurde, stellte Jesus in Frage, ob Gewalt wirklich die einzige Widerstandsmethode sei. Wirklich?
  • Was würde geschehen, wenn du deinen Feind lieben würdest – statt ihn umzubringen? Vielleicht wird so eine Liebe nicht immer möglich sein; aber, denkt daran! Muss das Leben sein, wie es ist oder ist eine andere Realität möglich? Können wir uns vorstellen, wie so eine Welt aussehen könnte?
  • Oder: Wenn du alles verlierst, alles was dir gehört, wie viel bist du wert? Wenn alles von dir weggenommen wird, wer bist du danach?
  • Die Welt liebt die Macht und hat Angst vor Gewalt. Es gibt heute diejenigen, die davon überzeugt sind, dass wenn man den Kopf von den Schultern eines Menschen abhackt, die Stimme dieses Menschen für immer verstummt. Aber, lassen wir uns vorstellen, dass diese grausame Tat in Wirklichkeit die Stimme des Toten verstärkt? Die grausame Tat wird ihrer scheinbaren Macht beraubt. Deswegen kann Paulus in seinem Brief an die leidenden Christen in Rom behaupten: “Denn ich bin gewiss, dass weder Tod noch Leben, weder Engel noch Mächte noch Gewalten, weder Gegenwärtiges noch Zukünftiges, weder Hohes noch Tiefes noch eine andere Kreatur uns scheiden kann von der Liebe Gottes, die in Christus Jesus ist, unserm Herrn.”
  • Was passiert, wenn man einen schwachen Mann auf ein Kreuz nagelt, und glaubt dabei, dass die Welt jetzt von einem gefährlichen Narren frei sei – aber nachher herausfindet, dass dieser Mann seine Armen einer Welt öffnet, und nicht heimzahlt, was diese Welt ihm antut? In seinem Tod ist er mächtiger als die politischen und militärischen Mächte, die glaubten, dass sie ihn überleben würden.

“Und stellt euch nicht dieser Welt gleich, sondern ändert euch durch Erneuerung eures Sinnes,” schreibt Paulus an die Christen in Rom. Metanoia – repentance – Sinneswandel. Am Anfang seines öffentlichen Auftrags sagt Jesus: Tut Buße! Das heißt: Schau anders, benutze eine andere Brille, um anders zu sehen, um anders zu denken, um anders zu leben.

Das müssen wir verstehen, wenn wir die Lesungen heute verstehen wollen. “Alle eure Sorge werft auf ihn; denn er sorgt für euch.” (1Petrus 5,7) In Europa klingt das schön und bequem. Aber in Mosul oder Aleppo? Im Nordirak oder in Syrien?

Und hier liegt die Herausforderung: können wir uns eine andere Welt eigentlich vorstellen? Es kann gefährlich sein. In einem Interview in Dem Spiegel hat Dr. Margot Käßmann gesagt: “Ich fände es gut, wenn die Bundesrepublik auf eine Armee verzichten könnte wie etwa Costa Rica. Natürlich weiß ich, dass das eine Utopie ist, allein wegen der Einbindung Deutschlands in die Nato.” Diese Aussage ist falsch wiedergegeben worden. Darf man nicht träumen – oder sich eine andere Welt vorstellen?

Wenn wir zurück in das Alte Testament gucken, sehen wir wichtige Geschichten und Warnungen. Zum Beispiel in Deuteronomium 26, wo die Israeliten nach vierhundert Jahren der Unterdrückung und vierzig Jahren der Wanderung in der Wüste gerade am Rande (an der Schwelle) des versprochenen Landes stehen. “Vergiss nicht, das du einmal Sklaven waren – dass du nichts hattest, und dich selbst nicht von den Ägypten befreien konntest. Denn, wenn du deine eigene Geschichte vergisst, wirst du schnell andere Menschen als deine Sklaven behandeln. Um diese Entwicklung zu vermeiden, musst du einige Rituale etablieren, die das Volk daran erinnern werden, woher sie kommen. Diese regelmäßige Erzählungen der Volksgeschichte wird dazu helfen, dass die Perspektive richtig gehalten wird und ihre Prioritäten hinterfragt werden.

Und die Israeliten sind nicht die einzigen Menschen, die unter Amnesie leiden. Auch wir vergessen, wer wir sind und woher wir stammen:

  • Wenn wir denken, dass die Erde uns gehört und für unseren exklusiven Gebrauch und unsere Ausbeutung existiert – ohne Gedanken für zukünftige Generationen… ohne Rücksicht auf die Folgen, wenn die Erde ausgenutzt wird…
  • Wenn wir andere Menschen als Rohstoffe ansehen, die für unsere Unterhaltung oder unseren Konsumverbrauch zur Verfügung stehen…
  • Wenn wir die Religion als Währung für den Kauf von politischer Macht nutzen, während wir gleichzeitig die Menschlichkeit zu Staub reduzieren…
  • Wenn wir Bedürfnisse mit Wünschen verwechseln (wie die Beatles sagen wollten: “All you love is need”, alles was du liebst, sind Wünsche…)…
  • Wenn wir glauben, dass die Macht darin liegt, Menschen zu verunglimpfen statt sie zu befreien…
  • Wenn wir vergessen, dass das „Überleben des Stärkeren” nur eine Beschreibung von Natur ist, und nicht eine Grundlegung von menschlichen ethischen Idealen sein darf…
  • Wenn wir den Anbau der Erde mit der Herrschaft über die Erde verwechseln (siehe Erstes Buch Mose, Kapitel 2).

Und wenn Jesus seine Zuhörer – einschließlich seiner Freunde – dazu einlädt, die Welt anders anzusehen, dann meint er das nicht romantisch. Jesus weiß, dass die Welt kompliziert ist – dass seine Freunde täglich mit Kompromissen und Angst unter den Besatzungsmächten leben – dass Menschen gekreuzigt werden, wenn sie es wagen, den Kaiser nicht als die höchste Autorität anzuerkennen. Jesus hat keine Illusionen über Macht und Leiden; er wandert nicht um die Hügel von Galiläa, bekleidet in einem weißen Nachthemd, mit einer Gitarre, und singt nicht ‘Kumbaya’ – er träumt nicht von Flower-Power. Er weiß genau, dass seine Freunde in der realen Welt leben müssen, aber er lädt sie dazu ein, zu einer anderen Melodie zu tanzen. Das heißt nicht Wirklichkeitsflucht, sondern eine alternative Lebensart.

In seinem ersten Brief an eine Gemeinde von leidenden Christen schreibt Petrus: “Der Gott aller Gnade aber, der euch berufen hat zu seiner ewigen Herrlichkeit in Christus Jesus, der wird euch, die ihr eine kleine Zeit leidet, aufrichten, stärken, kräftigen, gründen. Ihm sei die Macht von Ewigkeit zu Ewigkeit!” Wenn Gott Christus wirklich von dem Tode erweckt hat, dann können wir glauben, dass trotz unserer Angst Gott das letzte Wort hat – und nicht der Tod oder die Gewalt oder die Zerstörung.

Im Römerbrief, Kapitel 8 schreibt Paulus: “Denn ich bin gewiss, dass weder Tod noch Leben, weder Engel noch Mächte noch Gewalten, weder Gegenwärtiges noch Zukünftiges, weder Hohes noch Tiefes noch eine andere Kreatur uns scheiden kann von der Liebe Gottes, die in Christus Jesus ist, unserm Herrn.”

Die Mächtigen und die Gewalt können uns und keinen Menschen trennen von der Liebe Gottes. Keine Gewalt vermag es die wahre Realität zu verbergen.

Wir stellen uns die wichtigste Frage des Lebens: welche Vision treibt unseren Wille und formt unseren Lebensstil?

Einmal rollte Michelangelo einen riesigen Felsbrocken einen Abhang hinunter und wandte seine ganze Kraft an, um den Stein zu manövrieren. Irgendjemand blieb stehen und fragte ihn, was er da tun würde, schließlich sei es doch bloß ein riesiger Stein. Michelangelo erwiderte, dass er es eilig hätte, denn in dem Stein würde sich ein Engel befinden, der darauf wartete, sich zu zeigen. Michelangelo konnte die verborgene wahre Realität des Engels hinter der Realität des Steines erkennen.

Ich komme mit einer Frage zum Schluss. Haben wir gemeinsam die Vorstellungskraft – vielleicht die Neugier – durch die Augen Gottes hinauszuschauen, um danach zu leben? Haben wir den Mut, in dieser Welt nach den Regeln einer anderen Welt zu leben? Sind wir bereit, zu riskieren, die Komplexität in der Hand der Einfachheit zu halten? Wollen wir mit Jesus und seinen Freunden auf einem unsicherem Weg gehen, um auf der Reise zu entdecken, dass wir einfach nicht dazu verurteilt sind, nach der Pfeife von Macht und Gewalt zu tanzen? Können wir inmitten der konkurrierenden Geräusche der ängstlichen Welt die leise und schwache Melodie des Himmels erkennen?

Na gut. Das waren fünf Fragen. Und für heute sind sie genug.

Es ist wie in der Geschichte von der Auferweckung des Lazarus. Jesus geht in die Dunkelheit des Grabes des Lazarus. Jesus schenkt ihm neues Leben!

Wo wagt die Kirche es, an dunkle Orte zu gehen und den Menschen neue Hoffnung zu geben?

Amen.

Und der Friede Gottes, der höher ist, als alle menschliche Vernunft, der bewahre Eure Herzen und Sinne in Christus Jesus.

Amen

In his book Culture and the Death of God Terry Eagleton quotes Voltaire being rude about the English. “They give the name of infidel to none but bankrupts,” he said. I guess his point was that the English are cool about religion, hating extremes and being wary of enthusiasm. It also suggests, though, that the English are concerned only with money, and that the greatest blasphemy is to lose it.

But, heard in today's world, it questions our basic values and what, essentially, we consider to be worth living and dying for – or, at least, what we consider worth allowing others to die for.

At the end of August I wrote a letter to the Prime Minister, David Cameron, in which I put a series of questions about British foreign policy in the Middle East and its coherence within a clear strategy for realising a thought-through vision. The letter caused a bit of a media storm when it was published in the Observer newspaper. The PM was – understandably – not pleased.

When I received a long, helpful and detailed response from David Cameron, he addressed some questions more clearly than others; but, it was certainly not a fob-off response. I replied to his letter recently and pressed certain points.

As I said at the time, my purpose in writing the letter was to articulate what I thought to be the focused questions that went to the heart of people's concerns about what was going on particularly (but not exclusively) in Syria and Northern Iraq. What, I asked, is the overarching vision that guides responses to the particular crises that keep exploding? In my response I explained that the reason for allowing the Observer to publish the letter was that too many people were writing to ministers and MPs with serious concerns about the plight of suffering people and simply getting no response – including the Archbishop of York. For weeks. My approach certainly got the debate out into the public and media and placed the question of coherence at the top of the agenda.

Or did it?

Parliament is being recalled on Friday in order to – and I quote the BBC news report I heard on the way to the airport this morning, prior to writing this post on the flight to Berlin – “endorse military attacks on Islamic State”. Not to debate and decide, but to endorse a decision already made.

Now, the morality of this decision will be for another discussion. What concerns me here is the strategic purpose of the decision. What I meant in my question about coherence and (ad hoc) reaction is this: how do we avoid foreign policy commitments that simply respond pragmatically to short-term stimuli whereby yesterday's friend (to whom we supplied arms and money) becomes my enemy and today's enemy becomes my reluctant friend simply because he happens – for now, at least – to be my new enemy's enemy?

Is the planned use of violence part of a coherent long-term plan, or a short-term pragmatic response to an immediate stimulus – which might cause problems down the line which haven't been thought through properly now? Killing terrorists is the easy bit.

One of the problems with our politics is that we don't allow space for doubt. Repeatedly stating that “our policy is clear” does not make that policy clear, any more than me repeatedly saying I am a banana makes me yellow. But, politicians aren't allowed to ask difficult questions publicly because (apparently) we, the electorate, want clarity and certainty. Not always helpful, is it? I, for one, would prefer honesty – and some clarity about what would be gained and lost by any particular policy, without the pretence that every policy has to be 100% clear and certain. And right.

So, what have I learned from recent correspondence? (a) If the overarching vision and strategy are clear and coherent, then I still can't see it. Perhaps that says more about my limited mind than it does about policy. (b) What is very clear, however, is that there is no intention to make any asylum provision for IS refugees beyond what is already open to people wanting to claim asylum in the UK. I suspect this is because the PM (but other leaders are not breaking ranks on this) sees electoral suicide in doing anything that feeds UKIP or associates such provision with toxic immigration contamination. The only way to get around this is for those – particularly Christians – who don't like this to bombard party leaders and MPs with very focused letters that demonstrate that not all voters are xenophobic. (c) Asylum provision should be made, but should not be a tool for encouraging the evacuation of Christians and other minorities from the Middle East where they have been for centuries and where their spiritual, social and cultural contribution must not be lost. The stakes are high.

Incidentally, the two unanswered questions put down in the House of Lords by the Bishop of Coventry regarding asylum were eventually answered on 15 September by Lord Wallace of Saltaire. They read as follows:

“There are no current plans to resettle those displaced from ISIS-controlled areas of Iraq. However, we are proud of the UK's record of offering protection to those genuinely in need, and the Government will of course continue to consider asylum claims, including from Iraqi nationals suffering religious persecution, under the normal rules.”

“The safety and security of the UK are our priority. An essential part of delivering this is knowing who is coming to the UK and carrying out all necessary checks in advance of their arrival. We therefore ensure that the necessary checks are undertaken before those accepted on the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation scheme arrive in the UK. We have also been working with local partners, including local authorities, the police and healthcare sector, to ensure the safeguarding of individuals on the scheme when they arrive in the UK.”

Was Voltaire right in his assessment of the English? Discuss.

(And the reason it has taken me so long to post on this blog is simply that I have been working all hours for weeks – the creation of this new diocese is a little demanding at present – and haven't had the headspace or time to write. And, coincidentally, I am now in Berlin with the Meissen Commission, having spent time today in the Reichstag being hugely impressed with the approach and deep thinking of German political leaders.)

PS. Letters from anonymous people who don't have the courage to put their name and contact details on their communication will be disappointed that all their green ink was spilled in vain. I don't even read anonymous letters – they go straight in the bin.

 

Abba is best known as the Swedish poppers who at least gave us singalongamammamia. But, it is also the way Christians pray – abba being the intimate term of address Jesus told his friends to use when praying to God who is their father.

Not such an off-the-wall thought while the world burns tonight. I am in the diocese of Skara in Sweden to celebrate tomorrow the 1000th anniversary of its existence. Skara was linked with the historic diocese of Wakefield which is now part of the new diocese of West Yorkshire & the Dales, and this is my fist visit – although technically I am here to represent the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The abba bit has crept up because not long after I arrived this evening I was invited to a closed-door conversation about the Middle East with bishops and others. The conversation was led by the Lutheran Bishop of Jordan and the Holy Land and an Egyptian Coptic Orthodox bishop. It was frank and robust.

I don’t intend to breach the implicit confidentiality of the discussion. Some conversations are only possible because confidentiality can be trusted. However, I am at liberty to make one or two observations on the back of it. Next week – particularly if I still have had no response from my letter to the Prime Minister about comprehensive strategy – I will come back to the questions I raised three weeks ago.

  • Churches outside the Middle East need to be working with and through the churches in the Middle East, and not simply channeling their support through NGOs. Christian leaders and communities on the ground know the reality and have the channels that work. (This applied also to places like Zimbabwe when I was involved some years ago.)
  • Churches outside the Middle East need to convey in multiple and varied ways the message and the reality that our brothers and sisters are not alone in their dire struggle. Relationship has to be demonstrated in multiple expressions that together build a picture.
  • Churches in the Middle East have enough statements made – they need a strategy for long-term survival. It is widely recognised that the loss of Christians from (for example) the Holy Land leaves the space to polarised conflict between two enemies. The presence of Christians brings a different set of relationships and allows ‘enemies’ to be held in the same space. Christians need to be in their lands for the benefit of others.
  • The West needs to let go of its paralysing guilt and develop a strategy that will hold in the long-term.
  • In the midst of the massive propaganda war over Gaza and Iraq/Syria – mediated by selective representation – it is murderously difficult to identify ‘truth’. But, how we address these questions has implications not only for people in conflict areas, but also for communities closer to home. See the rise in anti-semitism in England and wider afield in Europe – but also hear the voice of the Muslims who ask my how they can protect their Jewish neighbours and the synagogues in West Yorkshire.
  • The 1000 year history of the diocese of Skara in Sweden covers periods of success, disaster, war, oppression, fear, jubilation, and every other phenomenon that goes to make up life in the real world. Nothing romantic about it. But, it reinforces the commitment of Christian churches to place and territory – not to lord it over others, but to stay when others go, to serve when the world seems to be falling apart around us. In it for the duration.

Which, of course, is the hard question facing us in the Middle East: how do we enable Christians to stay in their lands and thrive into the longer-term future.

I am not saying this is the last word. Rather, I am simply ruminating on a difficult discussion this evening.

It's a bit like the London buses: you wait for long enough and two come along at once.

Downing Street has today announced the appointment of two Area Bishops for the newly created Diocese of West Yorkshire & the Dales of which I am the Diocesan Bishop.

The Revd Dr Toby Howarth, currently Secretary for Inter Religious Affairs to the Archbishop of Canterbury and National Inter Religious Affairs Adviser for the Church of England will be the Bishop of Bradford.

The Revd Dr Jonathan Gibbs, currently Rector of Heswall in the Diocese of Chester, will be the first ever Bishop of Huddersfield. This is a new bishopric covering the local authority areas of Calderdale and Kirklees and is one of five areas in the diocese, which each have their own bishop.

We launched the new bishops on a footbridge at Leeds station before they went their ways to their new episcopal areas for meetings with key people from church and society. Which, on reflection, is a great metaphor for what the church is about: stuck in the middle of a public space where people pass by, some paying attention and others not, and glancing off people – whoever they are and wherever they come from.

I am delighted with these appointments which complete our team of bishops. They bring wide experience, great expertise and substantial gifts to our leadership and ministry as we build the new diocese. Both will bring important outside perspectives to this complex task and help bring bishops closer to the ground in parishes and local communities.

Toby Howarth brings expertise in teaching, pastoral care, leadership and interfaith relations at parish, national and international level. This is an important appointment for the Church of England and for Bradford where he will serve as Area Bishop.

Jonathan Gibbs brings to this new office wide experience at parish, diocesan, national and international level. He has been a committed parish priest and has served in a variety of contexts. His appointment is hugely welcome as he establishes the new episcopal area of Huddersfield.

Toby Howarth and Jonathan Gibbs will both be consecrated as bishops in a service at York Minster on Friday 17th October at 11am, conducted by the Archbishop of York.

Here are the brief biographical statements from the diocesan press notice:

The Revd Dr Jonathan Gibbs (aged 53), has been Rector of Heswall in the Diocese of Chester for the last 16 years. Before that he was Chaplain at Basle with Freiburg-im-Breisgau, in the Diocese of Europe from 1992-98.

Jonathan says: “I am delighted to be coming to Yorkshire and to be joining the new Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales at this exciting time. Toni and I are thrilled to be moving to such a great part of the world, with a wealth of culture in its towns and cities as well as beautiful villages and countryside. I am looking forward to working with the other members of the Diocesan team to build up the life of our churches both numerically and spiritually and to contributing to the life of the rich and diverse community in West Yorkshire. I am also very partial to a pint of Timothy Taylor’s “Landlord” and am looking forward to getting to know some more of the local brews!”

Jonathan takes an active role in the Church of England on diocesan, national and international levels: he has been Chair of the House of Clergy in the Diocese of Chester since 2006 and Chair of the Diocesan Clergy Chairs Forum since 2011. He is a member of General Synod, of the Meissen Commission (which links the C of E with the Evangelical Church in Germany), and of the Clergy Discipline Commission. He has also represented the General Synod on the Council of British Funeral Services and the Churches’ Funerals Group, focusing on the importance of clergy working flexibly and creatively to support grieving families.

After gaining an MA in Philosophy and Politics from Jesus College, Oxford, he went on to train for the ministry at Ridley Hall in Cambridge, where he also completed a PhD in Theology at Jesus College. He served his curacy in the Diocese of Chester at Stalybridge Holy Trinity and Christ Church (1989-92).

Jonathan is married to Toni who with others set up the Besom charity on the Wirral, which provides a bridge between those who want to give time, money, things or skills and those who are in need, working with over 40 agencies in the statutory and voluntary sectors. They have three children, Harriet (24) who is married to Matthew Curry, Edward (21) and Thomas (18).

Jonathan’s interests include walking, usually accompanied by their Cocker Spaniel, and rummaging in second-hand bookshops. He is fluent in German, Swiss-German and French and he and Toni have a love of France (where they first met). Jonathan is also a member of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), and is committed to supporting village and community life. As members of the National Trust and English Heritage, they are looking forward to visiting many of Yorkshire’s historic properties.

The Revd Dr Toby Howarth (aged 52), has served as a parish priest, taught and studied in several areas with a variety of different faiths and cultures before working with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Church of England nationally in inter faith relations.

Toby says, “It is a great joy to have been appointed as the new Area Bishop of Bradford. The role has no shortage of opportunities and challenges. I am very much looking forward to working with clergy, congregations and ecumenical partners in the diversity of the city itself, the surrounding towns and rural areas. I am also looking forward to engaging with the communities of which our churches are a part, and building relationships with those involved in the range of civic, statutory and community organisations which make up this vibrant metropolitan district. The Church of England has been bold in creating the new Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales, and it will be exciting to work with Bishop Nick Baines and the diocesan leadership team in developing structures that will better enable local churches to flourish and to serve their communities. I want to pray, to look and listen for what God is doing here so that I can join in and take my part.”

After graduating from Yale University in the US, Toby returned to the UK to work as a research assistant and postman before training for ordination in Birmingham, Oxford and Uganda. He was ordained in 1992 and served his curacy in Derby before moving to India with Henriette, his wife, who is from the Netherlands. There they joined the Henry Martyn Institute for Reconciliation and Inter Faith Relations in Hyderabad where he researched for a PhD in Islamic preaching from the Free University of Amsterdam while Henriette taught at a local theological college. In 2000 they moved with their two Indian-born daughters to the Netherlands, where Toby worked as an Evangelist at the Netherlands Reformed ‘Pilgrim Fathers Church’ in Rotterdam. Two years and another daughter later, they moved again, to Birmingham, where Toby became Tutor and then Vice Principal at Crowther Hall, the CMS Training College at Selly Oak, and Henriette was ordained in the Diocese. From 2004 to 2011 Toby was Priest-in-Charge at Springfield, a multi-cultural parish in the South East of the city. From 2005 he served also as Inter Faith Advisor to the Bishop of Birmingham before moving to London to take up his role with the Archbishop of Canterbury in 2011.

As well as helping to develop the church’s relationships and formal dialogue with other religious leaders on issues from global trafficking to religious freedom, Toby has also had responsibility for the Church of England’s ‘Presence and Engagement’ programme (www.presenceandengagement.org) that seeks to encourage dioceses and churches to reach out to and work with people and communities of different faiths. This is led by a national Task Group chaired by the Rt Revd Tony Robinson, now Bishop of Wakefield, and includes several people from West Yorkshire. Toby’s believes strongly that wherever the Church is, Jesus calls it to become a community that lives out his love and compassion.

Toby and Henriette have three daughters: Franciska (17), Lucy (15) and Tamar (12). They enjoy London and being a part of their local community of Peckham, and as a family they are actively involved in their local church. Whenever they can, they like travelling together, particularly linking up with friends across Britain, Europe and further away. On a day off or holiday, Toby enjoys visiting a museum or gallery, reading a novel, playing music, camping or going for a bird-watching walk or cycle ride.

Onward and upward!

 

The timing is terrible. The furore over my letter to the Prime Minister has exploded on the day I begin a family holiday in a place with no mobile signal and intermittent wifi. Sky sent a satellite truck to the middle of nowhere and, so, got their interview (although I struggled to hear the questions in my earpiece and, therefore, probably sounded incoherent). Otherwise, it is almost impossible to do interviews.

I think one or two comments of explanation are due:

  • My letter is neither “bitter” not an “attack” on the Prime Minister. That was journalese. My letter simply tries to ask questions many people are asking, but to which we are not getting answers. I wrote reasonably and respectfully.
  • The Prime Minister is in a difficult position and I bet even Ed Miliband is grateful not to have to attempt to bring some order out of the chaos of crises around the globe this month. Prioritising cannot be simple, given the complexity of the issues to hand.
  • Asking questions of “coherence” should not imply that there is none (even if there isn't); it does ask for any coherence to be articulated. We are all implicated in our Government's decisions and should, therefore, be able to understand the big picture into which the reactive details fit.
  • There is no implied hierarchy of suffering in my letter. Asking questions about the lack of attention to the Chritsians in Iraq cannot imply a rejection of the focus on the suffering of others. It is a specific question about silence.
  • It has become clear that many people have written to their MPs (including ministers) about their concerns, and often not even had a reply. Perhaps giving these questions a higher profile might help.
  • I do not expect the Prime Minister or his colleagues to reply immediately to my questions. Indeed, I would prefer to wait and receive a considered response that indicates how these concerns are being addressed holistically than to get a reactive response that doesn't take us further.
  • The central point (backed up by some quoted military leaders) is that there must be some overarching vision about what we want to see happen in the Middle East – the “we” being not just individual governments in isolation from each other. The strategy is the 'plumbing' that gets us there. If a strategy is to be at all coherent, then it must serve the 'end' to which that strategy is the means. It is this that needs to be seriously debated and agreed – as we will then have to accept the price we are prepared to pay in order to make it happen. (For example, if it meant us staying in Iraq for thirty years, rather than ten, will we do it?)
  • I doubt if the Prime Minister will have me on his Christmas card list after this. But, the letter was not an attack on him; it was a questioning of policy and practice. There needs to be a distinction between the letter and the reporting around it.
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