February 28, 2009
Jade Goody has gone into a hospice for palliative care and it is brilliant that she has done so. Having visited a number of hospices around the country, I can think of no better environment in whcih to consider and approach one’s death.
Hospices provide the best forms of palliative care for people who are dying… and their families. The holistic approach they take – always non-judgemental in terms of faith commitment – to human living and dying is remarkable. The person is taken seriously as someone who is not simply a ‘case’, or categorised by their illness, but is seen as a person with a mental, spiritual, physical and social context and life. The individual’s history is taken seriously and each person is treated with complete dignity.
Even the buildings are designed with the whole person in mind. Years ago, when I was a curate in Kendal (in the Lake District), our local hospice was 25 miles away in Lancaster. The building was shaped in such a way that if you were lying in a bed, you could see out of a floor to ceiling window and see greenery as well as sky.
Yet, as far as I can work it out, hospices receive very little (and sometimes no) financial support from the NHS. They all rely on donations from the public.
I am about to read Julian Barnes’ new book Nothing to be Frightened of – all about death, dying and arguing with God. I saw it in a bookshop in London yesterday and noted the line on the back that said something like: ‘I don’t believe in God, but I miss him’. I don’t know if Barnes is quoting someone else there, but death and its imminence does provoke the questions many of us push to the hinterland of the mind when life is OK and busy.
Jade Goody will get fantastic care in and through the hospice. They work in the community and in people’s homes, too. She will find herself cared for with dignity, love and genuine personal attention while the rest of us commend her and her family to God.
February 27, 2009
Posted by nickbaines under Rules
| Tags: pizza
|  Comments
I know there are a load of vitally important and challenging matters to occupy the mind at the moment and my mind is usually duly occupied. But I have come home feeling a little distracted.
I had an appointment in London this morning and came out of it needing something to eat. I nipped into a place where I could get something cheap and easy and ordered a pizza (‘piccante’, if you must know). When I got in there I was the only customer, but within ten minutes the place had filled up. The waiter came over to ask if everything was OK at a point where I was about a third of the way through the pizza. Instead of asking me what I thought, he ventured to comment that I was cutting the pizza ‘in an unusual way’. I thought he was joking and asked if there is a ‘right’ way to cut pizza. He said he wasn’t sure, but the way I was doing it wasn’t it.
I turned to the two women on the next table and asked if they knew the ‘right’ way to cut a pizza. They had overheard the conversation with the waiter and were laughing. One woman said she didn’t, but she did know the way I was doing it wasn’t the ‘right’ way.
So, now I am bemused and confused… and a bit worried. Life is complicated enough without discovering at my age that I have a pizza-eating disorder. I had no idea there were rules about such things. I start round the adges and work in – on the grounds that the edges go hard as the pizza cools and so are best eaten early. But, I now wonder if I should be slicing from the outside towards the centre in triangular movements.
Does anyone know the rules for slicing/eating pizza? And are there rules for other areas of life that I haven’t yet come across? I have this dread that I might have been committing other social faux-pas for decades and nobody has had the courage to tell me.
Should deodorant go on the left armpit before the right? Should one put the right leg into the bath before or after the left?
Or am I losing the big picture and thus setting up a parable of how not to keep things in perspective?
February 27, 2009
Posted by nickbaines under Banks
| Tags: Banks
|  Comments
I wonder what is going through the mind of Fred the Shred these days. Having led a bank into meltdown at great personal reward, he has walked away with his knighthood intact and a pension of around £650,000 per year every year until he dies.
I think I need to sit down and reflect on what that amount buys each year. I guess Fred thinks it will buy him security as he probably won’t work again. It has also bought him a poor reputation. And, yet, I feel a certain sympathy for him – suprisingly.
Fred played the banking system according to the rules of the day and nobody stopped him. If he should hand back his pension, then so also should other bankers, the entire leadership of the FSA and everybody who colluded in the fantasy that if a lot of money is being made, it must all be going OK – don’t rock the boat. Fred has negotiated a settlement for early departure from the bank and is only getting what was agreed.
But this is where we see a fundamental difference between justice and grace. Justice is about getting what is deserved; grace goes beyond justice and is, in one sense, scandalous. The similarity here is that Fred has got his just desserts (justice), but ought to recognise the consequences of his leadership (and personal responsibility for those he was highly paid to employ, etc) and go beyond justice – and hand back a considerable part of the pension package.
After all, if he gave back 75% of it, he would still be far wealthier than most of his former employees put together. And, he would look generous – which he won’t if it gets legally extracted from him.
He has declined to return it so far (and he is right to say that justice has been done), but would be wise to do so now (so that mercy can be shown). He is still a human being who could not have done what he did without the massive collusion of the rest of the business and the unbelievable negligence of the FSA who only had one job to do and failed comprehensively.
February 25, 2009
I have just scanned the news and four things jump out as having something significant in common: David and Samantha Cameron’s son Ivan died last night at the age of 6; the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have published a superb and strongly-worded condemnation of Robert Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe and announced a day of prayer and fasting (as well as giving cash); a plane has crashed in Amsterdam; Obama has addressed his people with a strong encouragement that America will emerge from its problems eventually.
The thing that links these four ‘items’ is the fact that whether we are talking about a single family or a whole nation, a community of travellers or a starving and oppressed people, every individual counts. Millions of people die every day – most of them too young and most of them utterably avoidably. Over four million people have died in the Congo. Zimbabwe, with which I mostdeeply connected, is suffering terribly both from its own internal problems of misrule and corruption, but also from the neglect from elsewhere in Africa to do anything about Mugabe. But, when millions die unnecessarily every day, why does the death of one person hit the main headline?
Anyone who has done pastoral work – especially in contexts of bereavement – knows that the death of someone close makes the rest of the world disappear. A million may die, but each individual has a network of family and friends that is unique and irreplaceable. One death changes the whole world for a load of other people. Zimbabwe rightly disappears from view when your own child dies. When I read about the suffering in Zimbabwe, I don’t think of an amorphous mass of people who look the same; rather, I see the faces and hear the voices of particular people in particular contexts with particular challenges.
Obama is rightly telling people the truth: there is no quick fix and some people are going to suffer before things get better. There can be no hiding from that truth. But, we need to recover our ability to take a long-term view and re-shape the world slowly, step by step, at every level from the macro (government, banking, fiscal systems, etc) to the micro (looking after my neighbour who is suffering or in need). Obama sounds increasingly like one of the perceptive and brave Old Testament prophets.
The Cameron family will, I hope, withdraw from the world and grieve fully and properly for the loss of their son who was profoundly vulnerable during his short life. I hope they will be given the space to come to terms with the fact that the whole world has changed and other people can handle the Party and our economic challenges while they take the space to love and be loved.
Zimbabwe needs our love and anger and action. I hope many will give to the Archbishops’ Appeal – not because this is a tidy way of salving the post-colonialist conscience, but because the need is immediate and great and bigger than the niceties of my particular feelings about how they have got into this mess and who is responsible for it. My conscience or analysis does not matter a great deal to the parents of the child in Gweru who is not eating, not going to school and in danger of suffering from Cholera.
Every human being is made in the image of God and is infinitely valuable. Some of us have to hold the tension between the macro and the micro, but the shock of the macro (Zimbabwe) should never minimise the trauma of the micro (the death of one person such as Ivan Cameron- RIP).
February 25, 2009
Here in deepest Surrey, Ash Wednesday begins in murky, misty greyness. It seems peculiarly apt for the beginning of Lent with its associations of privation, discipline, funlessness and restriction.
But Lent is not just about these things for the sake of being miserable or holy. The ‘end’ of Lent is greater holiness and a greater engagement with the reality of God, the world, of life and oneself in relation to God. It is a hard time of self-examination, an escape from fantasy and a stripping away of the illusions that get in the way.
The Church of England is offering two innovative ways of engaging with this – not as a quick fix, but as an aid to using Lent properly and helpfully - especially for a generation brought up on a diet of self-fulfilment.
Love Life Live Lent (via Facebook or website) offers simple, but creative ways of living positively through Lent. You can also use Twitter. Apparently.
February 24, 2009
The BBC’s Religious Affairs Correspondent, Robert Piggott, has today begun a ‘Faith Diary‘ on the BBC website. He has made an excellent start and gone right to the heart of an issue that can’t be got away from: popular perceptions of the role of religion in UK society. Instead of listening to the secular elite who have a louder voice than they deserve (even based on a simplistic statistical analysis – for example, under 3000 members of the National Secular Society, but they get treated as being representative of most of the country), a poll was conducted among more ordinary people.
According to Robert Piggott’s report, ‘there’s been a rising chorus of alarm from church leaders at what they regard as the “aggressive secularism” marginalising Christianity, the religion whose precepts – such as “do as you would be done by”, and upholding the sanctity of human life – once underpinned British laws.’ This concern is echoed by members of other faith communities who are equally concerned about the ‘secular’ lack of understanding of two points:
1. Every human being has a world view. This world view shapes how we see the world and live in it. It accounts for why we think some things matter and how our morality is formed. It assumes an understanding of what history means and where death fits into life. It also directs what or whom we worship (that is, give ultimate worth/value to). The point is that every human being has a world view, but rarely argues for the assumptions that shape it. In the contemporary debate it often appears that the secular commentators or campaigners think that only religious people have a loaded set of private convictions about God, the world and everything, but that they, on the other hand, are neutral. The secular world view is assumed to be self-evidently true.
If you don’t believe me, look at some responses to the Children’s Society’s A Good Childhood inquiry. The evidence was examined, but the conclusions to be drawn from the evidence were inconvenient to the lifestyle and world view (particularly in relation to relationships, families and children) and, so, were rejected for reasons no less than ideological prejudice - a charge usually directed at religious people.
2. World views are not private. The notion, often articulated in the broad media, that there is a neutral centre ground which is occupied by rational secular humanists (the media, politics, economics, etc), is nonsense. This assumption sees religion as belonging to the realm of the private conviction, the secret hobby, that has no relation to nor place in the public discourse. Given that every world view is based on certain assumtpions and is not thoroughly argued for, why is one world view to be arrogantly privileged over against another?
This is where the ignorance kicks in. A religious world view is not something to be consigned to a bin called ‘private’. One problem here is that when we speak of ‘believing’ in western culture/language, we assume it to mean ‘giving intellectual assent to a set of propositions’. Yet this is not adequate. ‘Belief’, understood in Christian terms at least, means ‘committing your life – body, mind and spirit – to what you now see when you look through a lens behind the eyes that is shaped by a particular world view. That can never be private.
This means that, although it might pain many people to face it, religious world view have to be taken seriously and engaged with – not simply derided, ridiculed or avoided.
Robert Piggott exposes the (for many) uncomfortable fact that British society has been shaped by Christian precepts that did not simply emerge from nowhere. Yes, Christian history also bears witness to misguided irrationality, horrow and injustice – as does the history of those places that tried to oust religion in general and Christianity in particular – and there is little to be gained by dismissing Christianity because Christians have too often screwed up. But it is equally stupid to try to pretend that Christian history didn’t happen, that 21st century Britain emerged from some cultural vacuum, that Europe has always been a secular environment, or that secular humanism can lay any more claim to self-evident truth than can any religion.
This debate needs to move on in the UK and needs to be treated more intelligently by both secularists and religious people. This will be helped by examples of comment such as that by Robert Piggott.
February 23, 2009
It is almost Lent and, as always, there are some imaginative ways to spend the season reflecting on God, the world and us.
The Church of England is flagging up several initiatives including TEAR Fund’s Carbon Fast. Christian Aid have launched an online pilgrimage to the Holy Land: you can hike with just your fingers on the keyboard. But you’ll find that even if your soles don’t get worn, your soul will get torn. Lent does this to you when all the ‘stuff’ gets stripped away and we are left with just ourselves and God.
I am off for a two-day retreat with the bishops, archdeacons and staff of the Diocese of Southwark to a place where there is no internet access and no mobile phone reception. It will probably be good for me…
February 23, 2009
I am just beginning to realise that I am a cultural dinosaur. When I went to see the Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire on 17 January, soon after its release in the UK, I wrote a post in which I said I hadn’t enjoyed it. I objected to its billing as ‘feel-good film of the decade’ when all it did was portray vividly the misery of corruption, crime, poverty, conflict and brutality. Despite the wonderful artistry and acting, the great soundtrack and direction, I just wanted it to finish.
But yesterday it won eight Oscars. The whole world loves it and even I love the fact that an independently-made film has trounced the other megabuck productions. Yet still I feel isolated in a minority of one. I still don’t like it and don’t want to see it again.
On the train back from London this afternoon I was perusing the endless pages of Oscar-night fashions in the freebie newspapers you get handed to you at the station. I was just wondering how they manage to fill so many pages with photos of celebrities looking uncomfortable wrapped up in funny fabrics when, at last, something interesting took my eye: a review in London Lite of a new album by an American band called Lamb of God. The album is called Wrath and appears to be an epic expression of heavy metal irony that is, in the words of the reviewer ‘almost beyond parody’. (Please don’t confuse this with John Taverner’s wonderful Lamb of God; there are not-so-subtle differences…)
I have never heard of them before, but that might be because they used to be called Burn the Priest and produce songs with titles like Fake Messiah and Broken Hands. Earlier albums bear titles such as New American Gospel, Walk with me in Hell and Sacrament. Now, forgive me for my naivete – I’ve never come across this band in church circles, but maybe I should get out more – but this sounds exciting, rebellious and dangerous material. Until you actually listen to it, that is.
‘Almost beyond parody’ it might be, but it is screamingly funny to listen to. The ‘larynx-shredding vocals, pummelling drums and machine-gun riffs’ just made me laugh. No doubt this is the sort of music that some over-sensitive Christians get all worried and upset about, but I think it is just funny. If this is the devil’s music, then I think it is no longer true that he has the best of it. If this is meant to be an example of ‘having a go at God’ (and I have no reason to think it is), it is marvellously hopeless. Despite this, it still got three star approval – on the day it was announced that the great Bruce Springsteen is to headline at Glastonbury this year for the lucky beggars who got tickets. Funny old world.
The other irony is that I was reading this on my way back from a meeting with people from the excellent Tony Blair Faith Foundation which is initiating some really innovative and excellent work in bringing people in grassroots faith communities together across the globe. I’ll write more another time, but I mention it here because they have projects running in the (not so) feel-good India and are working hard and creatively to dispel the caricatures that faith communities can easily build up about others.
Unlike the metalheads, they want to help people of diverse religious worldviews and commitments to understand each other – not an easy task in a world where it is more convenient to let prejudice justify anger and assume God is always on ‘my’ side. But it is also a world in which I also need to understand the worldview of the metalheads, even when it means listening to their music and trying so hard to take it seriously.
February 22, 2009
I have been out of parish ministry now since mid-2000 when I left Rothley, Leicestershire, and moved to London to be Archdeacon of Lambeth. It is always tempting to see the life of the Church being conducted through the synods and commissions, etc with which I often have to work. I have come back from my old parish this evening reminded that this is false.
We went back to Rothley for a wedding and stayed over until this afternoon. This morning the church was packed with people from 0 to 90. Here was a real community with a clear identity in a real village, engaged with the stuff of people’s real lives. I sat in church this morning and looked across to the Norman font and through the mediaeval rood screen to the Elizabethan memorial to a young woman of 32 who died giving birth to her twelfth child.
This community has seen everything over the centuries – and is still here. One vicar has handed on the pastoral and missional care of the parish to another for a thousand years and people have prayed and laughed and sung and wept through all the dramas and banalities of ordinary life in an ordinary place. And we are still here – thriving and worshipping and serving and reaching out to the lcoal community and beyond.
When I became a bishop in 2003 I was repeatedly asked by clergy what my vision was. I was a little coy about responding because I didn’t really come with some grand scheme for transforming the church or evangelising society: I merely thought that the bishop’s job here was to encourage, challenge and enable the parishes on the ground to do their stuff asd effectively as possible for the sake of the Kingdom of God. But I thought that might sound either (a) not very sharp and dramatic or (b) a bit too grand in scope, but vague on detail.
But I think I was right. There is a place for schemes and projects and big ideas for mission, etc, but I really do think that most of the time we just need to be encouraging people on the ground (particularly the clergy) to do the stuff of the Kingdom as well as possible. And this might not always be very easily measured.
I didn’t need to go back to my old parish to be reminded of this. I think about it every time I visit a parish, preach/preside at services in churches or do ministerial reviews of clergy. But, sitting there this morning in a church that was ‘home’ for me and my family during some very formative years, I had an episcopal reality check and came out a bit more encouraged about where the priorities should lie for me in my episcopal work.
So, thanks to David and Sue Wilson (with whom we stayed) and to the vicar (my successor), Rob Gladstone, and all those who made us so welcome and reminded us both of what we were privileged to enjoy for eight years and what I now miss so much – being part of a living, worshipping, serving, praying, loving parish church.
February 20, 2009
Posted by nickbaines under Jade Goody
| Tags: Christians
|  Comments
Having opened up a plea for kindness for Jade Goody in her last days of life, I used this blog to open up wider thinking about the Bible and the Poet Laureate‘s comments about biblical ignorance. Now the two come together in reports that Jade Goody is reading the Bible avidly as she prepares for her marriage and the baptism of her children. But it is possibly also where they come apart.
Jade will find in the Bible the story of a God who is no stranger to the realities of life as we know it and experience it. rather than exempt himself from the pain of human existence, he opts into it in Jesus Christ. And even the resurrected Christ has wound marks in his body. No sentimental wipe-out there then.
I hope that Jade will find the affirmation that she is loved infinitely by the God who created her. He is also the God who doesn’t seduce us into thinking life is just or easy – or that being a Christian offers exemption from suffering. From dust we have come and to dust we shall return: that is what will be remembered this coming week on Ash Wednesday.
But the Bible tells the story of a God who rather embarrassingly refuses to allow violence, death and destruction to have the final word. He has the final word and it is ‘resurrection’. And Christian hope is rooted in the God who raised Jesus – not in the fantasy that ‘I’ might be spared the suffering that comes with being a physical being in a contingent world. I hope that whatever Jade understands of all that she reads, she will know simply that God loves her.
As for all the arguments that have followed the cultural protest of Andrew Motion, they don’t really matter a great deal when you are facing your final weeks. Do they?
Next Page »