June 30, 2010
This evening we had a reception for those being ordained as Deacons and Priests in the Diocese of Southwark next Sunday, 4 June. They are a mixed bunch of people – evidence that God doesn’t call clones and honours the flawed humanity we bring to the party. As I left I wondered what the future will hold for these people who have given up much in order to respond the call of God on their lives. Where will they be (and what will they be like) in ten or twenty years from now?
No idea. Not a clue. I have given up trying to imagine people’s future trajectories – experience has taught me to be open to surprise. But it has also taught me to be open to hope. I was reminded of Jürgen Moltmann‘s wisdom:
God is our happiness. God is our torment. God is the wide space of our hope.
These people soon to be ordained will need to discover (if they haven’t done already) the need for hope to be a wide space and not narrowed down by their own prejudices or theological/ideological straitjackets. Experience (as well as our reading of the Bible) tells us that God will not be pinned down to suit our own comforts; we must beware of trying to shape God in our own image.
Tomorrow I will be leading a Quiet Day for clergy at Worth Abbey and will be basing my addresses on the story of Jonah from the Old Testament. Many people think it is a kiddy’s story about a weird bloke being sicked out of a whale’s stomach; it isn’t. It is about a man discovering (but not very well or willingly) that God’s love and mercy cannot be limited by our own limitations or desire for God only to behave well to the people of whom we happen to approve. God has a habit of never sticking to our moral formulae – which can sometimes be embarrassing.
I recently read the book about Anglicanism and the future, called The Hope of Things to Come. Like most edited books, it is a mixed bag. The first two chapters by Dr Charlotte Methuen are very interesting, but spoiled by lack of proofreading by an editor: there are loads of typos and words transposed. But, these chapters and the book as a whole repay careful consideration as they address a generally Christian and specifically Anglican approach to tradition and change in both world and church. Charlotte Methuen quotes Sir Thomas More (1478-1535):
Tradition is not holding onto the ashes but passing on the flame.
However, the flame of hope – indeed, of confidence – can only be passed on if it has first been received and held. And that confidence has to be rooted not in a particular tradition, but in the person of the God whose character and activity the tradition is supposed to be about.
My own hope for these ordinands is that their experience of the church will blow oxygen onto the flame and make it dance… and not let the flame die out in order to preserve and honour the wick. I hope they will play like Brazil against Chile (full of flair, creativity, enjoyment and imagination) and not like England against Germany (er… you know what I mean…).
The job of the bishop is to fan the flames, keep the fire burning, feed the embers when they are in danger of dying. In the words of the great Bruce Cockburn song/prayer (sort of):
Love that fires the sun keep them burning.
June 27, 2010
Posted by nickbaines under Football
| Tags: England
, World Cup
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Just seen proof that Lampard’s goal didn’t go in after all. That makes me feel better. (The link came from a German newspaper…)
June 27, 2010
England, oh my England, where did you go today?
You were meant to be in Africa, you had a game to play.
The defence stayed home, the team looked lost, the Germans ran amok,
The vuvuzelas gave the sound that best described our shock:
June 26, 2010
I don’t know why I should be so pleased, but the exit of both France and Italy from the World Cup is strangely cheering. No idea why – I like the French and the Italians. Maybe it is just the confounding of expectations or hubris that warms the English heart. Unless we are next, of course.
But, with a quarter-final battle with Germany ahead on Sunday, we can look ahead with depression to the singing by the English of such poetic epics as “Two World Wars and one World Cup, na na na na na…” There is something weird about the British obsession with the Second World War – as if it was the last ‘competition’ we won. A selective Hollywood-backed romantic remembering doesn’t help, but the problem goes deeper than that.
My younger son has just graduated (I hope…) in History and Politics at the University of Liverpool. Before he got there he seemed to exploit the preoccupation of every History syllabus at every school level with options to study Hitler and Stalin. Ask any reasonably educated kid in England about German history or culture and most will know little or nothing before 1933 (plus, maybe, the origins of fascism from 1918) – and certainly little or nothing after 1945.
OK, it isn’t hard to see the attraction of focusing on the dramatic, the catastrophic and the uniquely enormous human cost of Hitler’s adventures, but it has its dangers. Germany’s post-war history has been equally interesting and evokes admiration at the overcoming of cataclysmic defeat and humiliation. Yes, there are people who will never forgive the Germans and who will resent their reconstruction and reunification; but, Germany’s post-war division and subsequent reunification present important and instructive material for understanding the modern world (which is, I suppose, partly the point of studying history in the first place). Not least, the reconciliation in Europe led by French moves towards Germany is a story rarely told and little appreciated.
Helmut Schmidt addresses from a German perspective the problem of focusing too much on 1933-1945. In his wonderful book Ausser Dienst: Eine Bilanz, he gives specific attention to the problem of modern German history in a chapter headed Die schwerste Hypothek (in a section on the lessons of history titled Es gab nicht nur die Nazi-Zeit). Having briefly and lucidly described what it was like to be German in the post-war years (individually and collectively trying to understand and cope with both individual and collective guilt), he writes about the paralysis and fear of change that characterised the German psyche:
The more we limit our historical consciousness to the Nazi period, the failure of the Weimar experiment in democracy, Hitler’s instigation of the Second World War (with its catastrophic consequences), and the more we concentrate on the Holocaust and the other crimes of the Nazi era, the more strongly we Germans react with nervousness and even fear to changes.
He goes on to illustrate his point, observing that post-war Germans always feared ‘the return of fascism’. He then goes on to say:
I doubt that it is right or sensible to focus school and university teaching on the Nazi era; on the contrary, I think this sort of education is actually harmful. Concentration on the twelve year Nazi dictatorship leads to neglect of other periods of German history. Above all, however, it conveys the impression – however unintended – to our young people that prior to and subsequent to the Nazis everything was relatively unproblematic here. In fact, the ideological ground was laid a long time before 1933. For generations education had messed up: particularly education about the value and freedom of the individual person, about humanity and about democracy.
Schmidt is not saying that the horrors of the Nazi era shouldn’t be taught, but that they shouldn’t be taught in isolation from other parts of German history. If we are to understand the Germany of today and tomorrow, we must do so with reference to more than just Hitler.
What this really says, therefore, is that any History syllabus must be rigorously tested in order to demonstrate that it is truly about helping students understand and not simply reinforcing some convenient stereotype or prejudice about other people. For this reason the Meissen English Committee of the Church of England (which I chair in conjunction with the German Committee chaired by the Bishop of Braunschweig, Dr Friedrich Weber) is looking at doing some research into the teaching of German history in English schools.
Our concern is not, however, simply about history – it is about the desperate drop in language learning in England, especially German. How is it possible that in today’s world the learning of foreign languages is so dismissed and undervalued in Britain? The only conclusion I can come to is twofold: (a) that we are so arrogant as to assume that everyone else will speak English, and (b) that we do not understand Schmidt’s point that we cannot know our own culture unless we see it through the eyes of a different culture… which means knowing something of the other language.
It’s a bit like our football: we keep hoping that England is the best team in the world… and are always disappointed to find that our pride actually lies in a romanticised past which we are unable to surrender to contemporary reality.
I filmed an interview today for the German TV channel ARD. As usual, the Germans spoke perfect English. Most German fans watching tomorrow’s game will understand everything the English sing. The same will not be true of English supporters. And that is not a cause of pride – whoever wins.
June 26, 2010
Posted by nickbaines under Football
| Tags: vuvuzela
, World Cup
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Song, a regular and always interesting contibutor to this blog’s threads, has sent a follow up to the Vuvuzela Concerto in B Flat. It is the funniest of many pictures doing the rounds and shows the annoying history of the ‘wasp trumpet’:
June 24, 2010
It is impossible to leave Canada without promoting its finest son. The great Bruce Cockburn has put into context some of the most profound emotions we can experience and yet is also able to give frightening colour to political trauma.
This morning we heard a young man in Winnipeg describe his experience of having come from Guatemala and returning there each year. This year he arrived just after a public lynching in the town square. He spoke movingly about the need for change in some of the neediest countries of the world.
It brought to mind Cockburn’s powerful indictment of the US-backed Contras who caused such horrors in Central America in the 1980s. If I had a rocket launcher expresses the dilemma of a Christian pacifist faced with the massively cruel injustice of state-backed violence:
June 24, 2010
The G8 Religious Leaders Summit 2010 is now over and I have 24 hours to kill before flying to the earthquake zone of Toronto (!) for the connection to London. And England have got through to the last 16 of the World Cup. (I simply draw attention to my prayers and make no further comment…)
Despite requests for a ‘sharper and shorter’ statement from the Summit, the draft text kept growing. It really is impossible to do textual work on a committee of 60-odd sensitive and opinionated people. The organisers did a superb job of working the process, but some battles are beyond anyone’s competence.
One of the interesting elements to have become evident during the conference is the power of the ‘local’. I know I have banged on about this in the past, but it bears repetition. Any group of high-flying leaders can make statements on a grand scale – and feel that saying something achieves something – but it is usually at local community level that real change comes.
Every community has its own narrative and each community has to take seriously the history and culture that has brought it to where it is. This summit was begun and ended by the Anishnaabe people whose experience since colonialisation in Canada has been appalling. This morning we went to the university theatre in Winnipeg and had a presentation of excerpts from a musical called Strike. A general strike in 1919 not only shaped Winnipeg, but has become iconic as the event that brought together diverse ethnic, national and religious immigrant communities in a common cause (human rights). This memory defines the place even now and the musical is performed annually.
Before the final statement was handed to a Canadian Government Minister, I did the final keynote address to the summit. My brief was to suggest how we can go forward from here as the G8/G20 moves next year to France, in 2012 to the USA and to the UK in 2013. I had no script, so promised to write up the substance of it here.
Starting with the need for religious leaders (and their communities) to share a common space – however uncomfortable that might sometimes be – I went on to use Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ distinction between a ‘covenant of faith and a covenant of fate’. Diverse faith communities recognise a covenant of fate – we share common challenges and opportunities in the world – and we need to take seriously the urgency of our common demands.
This recognition sets the context for a summit like this one: we can see our role as religious leaders contributing to being the memory and the conscience of our political and economic leaders. This means that we can set a wider or deeper moral context for their policy-making. Religious leaders need to be more confident about this: more so than any politician anywhere, we are rooted every day in real communities with real people where we see the effects of sweeping policies on real flesh and blood.
This is not to say that only religious leaders or communities can set this context for reflection and thinking; but, it is to say that religious leaders need ot be more confident at valuing the difference their people make on the ground to the lives of millions of people.
However, grand aspirations, however eloquently expressed by religious leaders at a conference such as the one just concluded, are inadequate. Aspirations need to be confronted by hard ‘how?’ questions. Political leaders will not be inspired to take seriously passionate statements that do not demonstrate that their authors understand the realities with which their political leaders have to live. Any statement needs to be written through the eyes of the intended audience (if you see what I mean).
The way ahead for summits such as this (the sixth)? Well, the following points might be made:
- We do not know if the G8 will continue to meet as it does at present. It might well give way to the G20. But the G20 in Toronto is causing huge local disruption and costing over $1.2billion. Questions will be asked about the effectiveness of what amounts to a very expensive and disruptive photo-opportunity. Religious leaders need to be light and flexible enough to ask new questions about how to engage most effectively in influencing the minds and priorities of political leaders – whether the G8 or G20 (or some other shape) continues or not. We must not lose sight of what we want to achieve and not simply perpetuate a familiar forum.
- Effective engagement might need some different thinking. For example, we might need to recognise that by the time the G8/G20 meets, the decisions have already been made, the negotiations had and the priorities established. Running a parallel summit has obvious visibility attractions, but it might be illusorily incapable of having the desired effect. To this end, we might need to (a) meet with a smaller group earlier, (b) engage the media in raising the issues, (c) keep statements light and tight, and (d) find imaginative and creative ways of engaging.
- If political leaders are to be leaders/shapers of a future (rather than simple reactors to crises), we might be able to find ways of encouraging as well as challenging, creating the space in which harrassed political leaders can be enabled to reflect on the worldview/vision from which policy and priorities can be derived.
The other point I made in passing was that the eclectic pragmatism evidenced by the approach of some of the young people present (who were intelligent, committed, articulate and great company) is inadequate. Put briefly, the question they ask is: ‘Does it work?’ when the really serious question is: ‘Is it true?’. Our young people are sometimes presented with a view of religion that encourages a pragmatic pick ‘n’ mix that avoids distinctives, contradiction or conflict. It is vital that we ask serious questions about truth, maintain our confidence in arguing our case (respectfully and humbly), listen to the experience/world view of others, and treat each ‘faith system’ with the integrity it demands.
Anyway, England has won – Germany looms on Sunday – and the British Government has been praised (and applauded) here for ringfencing international development aid. A good day to be English…
June 22, 2010
It has been announced today that James Langstaff, Bishop of Lynn in the Diocese of Norwich, is to be the new Bishop of Rochester. This is excellent news of an excellent appointment.
Firstly, James and Bridget are friends and will soon be neighbours. So, it will be great to have him/them closer and to have James in the group of South-East Bishops.
Secondly, James brings all the right qualities and experience to his new ministry. He will be pastorally strong and has both Church and world in a healthy perspective. He will be good news for clergy and people of Rochester.
Thirdly, he brings vast experience of both urban and rural ministry and has the wisdom that derives from that experience. Good news for communities in the diocese.
Fourthly, he brings international experience of partnership with dioceses in other parts of the world, particularly Papua New Guinea and Sweden. He will now bring that experience and clarity of engagement to Rochester’s link with Harare, Zimbabwe – and this (along with the commitment of the Bishop of Tonbridge, Brian Castle) will strengthen the Zimbabweans and the links my own diocese (Southwark) has with the other four dioceses in Zimbabwe.
But, the good people of Rochester also need to ask him about cross-cultural communication and what his experience has to teach the Church of England and the Anglican Communion during their current cultural ‘challenges’. Bishops in England confirm people who usually turn up to church clothed. In Papua New Guinea it is culturally unacceptable for a young woman to bare her thighs, but she always presents herself topless. I bet that never happened in Lynn and I bet it won’t happen in Rochester.
(Personally, I find it harder to cope when a candidate turns up for Confirmation wearing a Manchester United shirt…)
June 22, 2010
The G8 Religious Leaders Summit began this morning, but with three introductory addresses.
Dr Lloyd Axworthy runs the University of Winnipeg, but is a former Foreign Minister of Canada. He spoke about the need for religious leaders to have a common witness in matters of human concern (I think).
Justice Murray Sinclair has been chairing the recent Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission which wrestled with the historic abuse and injustices instigated against the indigenous (aboriginal) communities of Canada. He rooted our thinking in the more local (Canadian) experience of (a) state legal oppression of indigenous people and (b) the loss of credibility of churches for most indigenous people. Interestingly (and contentiously, given the language involved), he observed that the greatest oppressors of the indigenous communities are now what he called ‘fundamentalist aborigines’ – those who ‘converted’ away from their indigenous roots and now evangelise their fellows.
However, the third speaker was the most powerful and arresting. Senator Lt. General Romeo Dallaire (Retd) is famous for having been given command of UN forces in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide. In a serious, passionate and informed presentation, he questioned whether politicians are now offering leadership in the world or merely reacting to crises. He stated that leadership by crisis management does not offer leadership in shaping the future.
He cited George Bush’s ‘New World Order’ and changed it to a ‘New World Disorder’ in which the sheer complexity of a world undergoing technological (and other) revolution is being reacted to by politicians who are overwhelmed by panic and finding it difficult to live with ambiguity. For example, he wanted to know what were the criteria for deciding to send 400 UN troops to Rwanda in 1994 while allocating 67,000 to the former Yugoslavia: who set the priorities and according to which criteria?
The lack of an answer to that question represents the most serious challenge to the ability of politicians to lead: which world view (rooted in which assumptions and according to which moral base?) will be thought through and owned by those making decisions to shape the future rather than simply keep reacting to events/crises? Dallaire thinks that our political masters are waiting for citizens to give them the authority to lead.
This raises the most fundamental questions facing us all. It is not enough to make policy without doing the hard work of working through and owning the philosophical (or theological) assumptions/world view that will subsequently and consequently direct and shape specific policies that take a long-term view of the future and are not simply shaped to ensure electoral success in the short term.
Dallaire put it bluntly: are all human beings human or are others more human than others?
This was a very humane articulation of Justice Murray Sinclair’s conclusion that four fundamental questions need to be addressed by all peoples and communities:
- Where have we come from?
- Where do we go after here (that is, after death)?
- Why are we here (ethics)?
- Who am I / are we? (identity)
The implication offered here is that religious leaders might have to drive this sort of thinking in order to hold political leaders to a more informed account in a complex world that allows those political leaders little time for thinking, learning or reflecting before either reacting … or shaping the future.
These speakers were followed by Dr Andre Karamaga (General Secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches) – who asked for Africa to be partners in alleviation of poverty rather than simply recipients of others’ aid:
Don’t speak of doing it for us, but with us.
He was followed by Jim Wallis from Washington who stressed the need for a vision to drive politics and the rest of us. He noted that our faith traditions began not as institutions, but as movements – and that the difference is in the capacity of the latter for sacrifice. He called for religious leaders to “announce the impossible and then work to make it happen”.
And here lies the fundamental problem for conferences such as this one: despite the challenges by Dallaire and Wallis, responses from the delegates resorted to “telling the politicians that poverty is unacceptable”. I will be arguing later that statements like that need to be read through the eyes of those who will receive them – and I can’t see any politician responding with anything constructive. It is like being told that we must support human beings in staying alive: no one will disagree with the sentiment, but it doesn’t help the decision-makers to know any more clearly how this should be done in a complex world of competing priorities and expectations.
Sitting here, it is hard not to hear successive contributions as worthy recitations of what we all already know (for example, about environmental disasters, the power of capital and the global problems of blind materialism). If we are to make any impact, we will have to be sharper and more savvy than this about the intended audience and the language of our discourse.
June 22, 2010
Winnipeg is mosquito heaven. One problem that comes with losing your hair is that is gives the mozzies a more expansive feeding ground. My head now looks like I’ve done five rounds with Mike Tyson. Yesterday it rained and now the sun has come out – which will bring the little bugs out in force. I’m trying not to take it personally, but, today I think I’m going to stick my head in a bucket of chemicals…
The summit of religious leaders began yesterday afternoon with a welcoming ceremony by some indigenous (First Nation) Anishnabe Nation people who lit a fire in a tent, spoke, sang and used drums to ‘send the word out’. This was preceded by two introductory speeches, the clearest coming from a man with authority.
Dr Alberto Quattrucci is here from the St Egidio Community in Rome. This is a remarkable communitywhich cares for poor, disabled and marginalised people – a visit there while we were in Rome last year for a communications conference made a huge impression on our group. Alberto is not only impressive, but is also a very nice man. He spoke quietly, firmly and with humility. He made the point simply that
the struggle against poverty means solidarity with poor people… Transformed structures do not change hearts; transformed hearts change structures.
This raises an important question about conferences such as this: what do we want/expect to achieve? Yes, we can add a voice and make a case for a different way of living in the world and running the world’s economies; but how is the making of that case likely to impact on the politicians who will gather for the G8/G20?
This question is one I will need to push at this gathering over the next two days. If we are to follow the process through France in 2011, the USA in 2012 and host a similar conference in 2013 in the UK, we will have to have a better and clearer idea of how we might achieve what we want to achieve (or think is worth achieving). Simply to make a statement – however powerful or worthy – is redundant unless it is heard and understood by the intended audience.
Given that the G8/G20 summit is always a photo-opportunity for the political leaders – the work has already been done and dusted long before they get there – it feels a bit late delivering a statement to a charade when the business was completed before we got there.
This means that we have to face the challenge in future: do we want profile concurrent with the politicians’ event or do we want to influence the agreements they come to before they get here? I side with the wish for effectiveness in influencing the content and process (by doing our work earlier, pulling together fewer people, keeping statements tight and light, getting effective media traction and maximising the impact whilst minimising the work involved).
Today we get down to business with a focus on ‘Extreme Poverty’ in relation to economics, peace & security and climate change. Some impressive speakers will focus our thoughts. I’ll report later on content and process.
Back to the other world, yesterday saw an interview with CBC about the World Cup. I gather the press in the UK and elsewhere have picked up on my latest World Cup prayers – some even recognising humour where they spot it. One Slovenian website has picked it up and made a comment which looks funny, but I can only work out a little of what it says (not the crucial bits).
Today France will probably get their flight tickets back to Paris. England will prepare for tomorrow’s showdown in the light of the severest UK budget cuts since the Second World War. If anyone can tell me what the Slovenian piece says (even if it is rude – I am getting used to that), I would be grateful!
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