October 31, 2010
The world was clearly shocked recently to hear that Lauren Booth, sister of Cherie (wife of Tony Blair) has become a Muslim. The news unleashed a storm of criticism and abuse on Booth.
Or did it? And from whom?
My guess is that most of the world read it and moved on to the sport pages. The people who got stroppy about it were simply the usual suspects who spotted a good source of a few more ranty words for their newspaper columns… and a pile of vituperative islamophobes who are characterised by their staggering ignorance and sheer nastiness. There are two elements of the story that I find interesting: (a) media coverage of it, and (b) the reasons for Booth’s conversion.
In today’s Mail on Sunday Lauren Booth gives her side of the story. Credit to the Mail for giving her the space, but it is set amidst the usual xenophobic content we have come to expect. The headline speaks volumes: ‘Why I love Islam: Lauren Booth defiantly explains why she is becoming a Muslim’. I defy you to read what Booth actually writes and call it ‘defiant’. ‘Defiant’ suggests stubbornness, arrogance or deliberate contrariness; yet, she writes calmly, clearly and honestly to explain why she has converted. She doesn’t pretend to know more than she does and she doesn’t overstate her case.
However, she does give an account of how prejudiced she (and other Western) hacks can be when reporting or commenting on Islamic matters. Try this, for instance:
But it makes more sense to go back to January 2005, when I arrived alone in the West Bank to cover the elections there for The Mail on Sunday. It is safe to say that before that visit I had never spent any time with Arabs, or Muslims. The whole experience was a shock, but not for the reasons I might have expected. So much of what we know about this part of the world and the people who follow Mohammed the Prophet is based on disturbing – some would say biased – news bulletins. So, as I flew towards the Middle East, my mind was full of the usual 10pm buzzwords: radical extremists, fanatics, forced marriages, suicide bombers and jihad. Not much of a travel brochure. My very first experience, though, could hardly have been more positive…
You’ll have to read the article to see the experience of generous hospitality that impressed her. And it is this that provides the most interesting element of the story.
The factors in her conversion were: (a) unexpected generosity from a stranger; (b) experience of hospitality and community; (c) an intense spiritual experience. Interestingly, she is only now learning to read the Qur’an and understand the faith that has grasped her. Didn’t someone once speak of ‘faith seeking understanding’? And someone else of ‘believing before belonging’? The message is meaningless without a community in which to see it lived.
Now, some of the usual suspects are going to take her admitted ‘life crises’ (current divorce, move of home from France to England, emotional vulnerability and questions of existential identity) and smugly conclude that she has simply found a crutch with which to limp unthinkingly through life. Let them – they’re becoming tedious. But consider the challenge her experience offers to the fragmented society the Mail bitterly complains about (and promotes?) - a culture dominated by loneliness, idolatry of celebrity, xenophobia and judgmentalism.
Christians find that conversion rarely begins with intellectual conviction, but, rather, with experience of God (spirituality), community (people who love you and care for you regardless of who you are or where you come from) and generosity (self-giving in expectation of no reward or reciprocity). I am sad that Lauren Booth has not found a Christian community that provides this – which is decidedly not the same as saying that such is not to be found.
I can point you to hundreds of Christian churches of all complexions where people have become followers of Jesus (and reflectors of the Jesus we read about in the Gospels) because of their experience of loving, giving, sacrificial and celebratory communities of faithful Christ-ians.
Just as Islam is fragmented and contains a spectrum of ‘believers’ – from the mad to the wonderfully wonderful – so is Christianity. Just as I want Christianity to be judged by the best examples of Christian expression and community, so I want the same for Muslims. I wonder if the Mail plans to give any thought to, consideration of or coverage of good Christian stories that speak for themselves – or are Christians only useful if they are pitted against ‘the others’. Certainly, to depict Christians as white, Anglo-Saxon victims of persecution in the UK is ridiculous… but it sells well.
October 29, 2010
Here we go again. I don’t often lose my temper, but this morning I nearly did.
The Church of England Newspaper (which hardly represents the Church of England) today has a scandalised headline that states: ‘Bishops expenses rise by millions since recession’. The ensuing article goes on to claim that ‘the news has riled clergy who believe the church is too top heavy and that resources should be distributed to support more mission and pastoral work for those “doing the ground work”.’ (‘Riled’? Really? How? And which clergy? How many? Who?)
Let’s take a moment’s silence while we try to hide our collective embarrassment at this hopelessly poor bit of ‘reporting’. Consider the following:
- Recognising that the 2009 costs were hundreds of thousands of pounds lower than in 2008 (a good thing or not?), the profligate bishops cost more than they did in 2007! Funnily enough, they also cost more than they did in 1995 or 2002. What has that got to do with ‘the recession’?
- The use of the word ‘expenses’ is wilfully misleading. The vast bulk of bishops’ expenditure goes on salaries for staff and the costs of running a functioning office. Why does a bishop run an office? For the sake of his own personal gratification or entertainment? No. In order to serve the clergy and parishes of his diocese as best he can.
- A union officer shows staggering ignorance when she states: “More questions need to be asked about why there are these huge increases when clergy are not experiencing the same increases”. Er… that is breathtakingly inept. This year’s reduction is now ‘a huge increase’? Does she think this refers to a bishop’s income over against a vicar’s income? If anything, more questions need to be asked about why this union officer appears not to know the business of her core client.
- A Church Society spokesman complains about “rising bureaucracy in the Church’s hierarchy” – without saying what this so-called bureaucracy involves. Might it have to do with the massive increase in legislation and legal responsibilities now lying at the bishops’ door? Does he think bishops live for bureaucracy. Not having heard of the ninth Commandment, he doesn’t even say to what he refers. What price facts?
- The chairman of Reform admits he doesn’t know what the figures mean, but that doesn’t stop him joining in the whinge.
Now, forgive me for being over-sensitive here, but where does reality intrude into this nonsense? The entire report basically says that costs have gone down this year, but have gone up in past years – without congratulating the bishops (or the Church Commissioners) for reducing costs in the face of increasing demands (legal and financial – such as pension costs of staff). That would be inconvenient, wouldn’t it?
Here are some facts from one minor bishop:
- Suffragan bishops are housed by the diocese, not the Church Commissioners. That is the only cost on the diocese. We don’t live in ‘palaces’, but in houses that should be fit for purpose. Mine is excellent – it used to be a vicarage.
- Bishops are not paid by their diocese, but by the Church Commissioners. There is not a necessary correlation between finances available for bishops and diocesan clergy. Or would we prefer bishops’ costs to be borne directly by the dioceses? (Some would say ‘yes’ – but they need to check the realities before concluding.)
- Many of us don’t spend our allocated ‘expenses of office’ because we are careful with them. At the end of October I have nearly £7,000 in my account; I will not find things to spend it on in order not to lose it (as someone recently suggested bishops do) and I will lose it at the end of the year and that is right. I am not alone.
- Bishops cover wide distances in the exercise of their ministry and are leased a car (if they wish) for that purpose.
- The last time I looked, bishops were involved in ‘mission and pastoral work on the ground’. What else are we supposed to be doing – often under great pressure and at some personal cost? What do they think motivates a bishop?
What do the people who write this stuff think we do all day? Do they think we swan around in purple being grand and remote? Do they know anything about the reality of a bishop’s life, diary or ministry? Do they ever check facts before exposing their prejudices?
Being a bishop is a privilege. The bishop’s fundamental role is to enable the clergy, parishes and institutions to do their ministry and mission in their parishes – resourcing, encouraging, leading and supporting. To do this well comes at cost. If it is to be done differently (which might be right), then we need to work out what it would cost… which might be more than financial.
Over-sensitive, I may be. Unwise to write it out like this – possibly. But, this stuff shouldn’t go unchallenged – and I haven’t seen anyone else challenge it yet.
October 29, 2010
I am not sure Fleetwood Mac were thinking of MI6 when they wrote Tell Me Lies way back in 1987. But the words came to mind while I was listening to the head of MI6 (Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service), Sir John Sawers today.
In the first ever public speech by an MI6 chief, he tried to explain something of the dilemmas faced by the intelligence services in fulfilling their commission on behalf of the people they defend. The main problem he faces in doing such a speech is to convince people that an organisation shrouded in secrecy and subterfuge can be trusted. Basically, how do we know when we are being lied to by those we pay to protect us and keep us ‘free’?
Blow the secrecy and you make most intelligence work – which is immensely complex and not usually for the fainthearted or the gullible – redundant. The very nature of the work means that games are played all the time – games in which reality, truth and honesty stand on a perilously thin line.
For example, should we be told about a threat to public order if the very telling (a) informs the protagonists that their ways and intentions are known – thus rendering the intelligence itself redundant and the process ended – , or (b) provokes the disorder it was intending to prevent?
Surely, not to tell the public everything is not the same as lying. The withholding of information is not the same as deliberately conning the public for sinister ends. If the public wants to be protected from (for example) Tube bombings, the public must trust the intelligence services to do its work appropriately. And this, as the MI6 boss said, pushes the service into very difficult areas of ethical propriety with which most of us do not have to engage.
The clear and unequivocal rejection of torture was important, but the statement itself begs further questions. The protected must also come to some conclusions about how high a price they are prepared to pay for their security: compelling the security services to refrain from action on certain intelligence even if that silence leads to a preventable terrorist attack being successfully executed?
This is the main problem. I remember meeting an old friend my GCHQ days in London. He was now working in counter-terrorism and observed his secrecy obligations to the letter in our conversation. But, he did express the frustration felt by his colleagues that the world knows (and has a view on) successful terrorist actions (such as the Tube bombings) whilst necessarily remaining ignorant of all the ‘attacks’ and plots that had been foiled, but could not be trumpeted. In other words, how does the public measure the success of the intelligence services when, by definition, it cannot know (a) what it does, (b) how it does it, and (c) where it is successful?
Yes, we have to be aware of the temptation in a secret world to get that world out of proportion and transgress on the wrong side of the ethical lines. However, we also need, at the very least, to recognise that the serious and sometimes unimaginable moral dilemmas faced by those we ask to protect us are tough, complex and hard to resolve tidily in a world that is hidden and mucky. The commentariat do their ethics sitting in a study; the intelligence services do theirs in a less comfortable environment. The commentariat usually has no idea of the ethical nightmares faced by those whom they easily and often ignorantly criticise. This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t question and scrutinise, but it does mean they should do so with some recognition of the limitations of their own experience and perspective.
Sir John Sawers was interesting today. But, try thinking about what he said and you realise that he actually said very little. That’s how it is. Maybe that’s how it has to be. As the widely divergent responses to last week’s Wikileaks disclosures demonstrated, this a grey area of moral life, not a black and white one.
October 26, 2010
Dr Charles Reed, the Church of England’s excellent ‘foreign policy adviser’, has just launched his own blog. This is excellent news as he is one of the best informed people around when it comes to foreign policy and ethics.
His blog can be found here and is one to watch. I expect him to shine new light on a number of current and future issues and debates, helping us to frame the right questions to be asked when reading the stories. As the Carpenters famously sang, he’s only just begun… but it’s worth signing up now.
October 26, 2010
Paul the octopus is dead. Tragic – although an octopus is only likely to live for a year or two anyway.
Paul was unique because he had the rare knack of being able to predict the winners and losers during the World Cup back in the summer in South Africa. I doubt if this enriched the life of Paul himself, but it made him into a media sensation across the world and gave us a bit of fun. It’s just a shame he couldn’t fiddle the scores and make England win…
His demise has got me thinking. After a week that saw me enjoying the high quality of media presentations at the Jerusalem Awards at the Royal Society of Arts, a meeting with publishers, lots of diocesan meetings and shortlistings, a great day at the Bethlem Royal Hospital, a very stimulating 24 hours at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (where I was preaching on Sunday evening) and dinner with friends we haven’t seen for nearly a decade, I am now wondering what surprises lie ahead in the future. I have tried to learn from Paul and here are my top ten predictions, indicated not by the wave of a tentacle, but by the application of pressure on a keyboard:
- Liverpool will win the Premiership after Wayne Rooney spends his money on buying Manchester United – just for fun.
- Tory MPs will regret waving their order papers on ‘live’ TV after George Osborne had described how hundreds of thousands of jobs will be lost and people’s lives affected by the ‘cuts’.
- Robbie Williams and Take That fall out again and they all go solo – at least, those that can go solo go solo…
- Nick Clegg gives up smoking because ‘the hard job is now behind us’.
- Richard Dawkins converts to Islam.
- Iran gives up its nuclear programme because it ‘doesn’t want to upset anyone any more’.
- Trident gets dropped as it now seems ‘pointless’ keeping it.
- The Pope decides Anglican orders are valid after all – it was just a misunderstanding based on a translation error.
- The Beatles re-form.
- David forgives Ed…
I wouldn’t hold my breath, but the bets are now on.
October 23, 2010
While we are waiting to see what the reality of the ‘Big Society’ might look like here in the UK – and while we are absorbing the implications of the Wikileaks deluge of Iraq documentation (as well as wondering if Liverpool will be bottom of the Premier League by the end of this afternoon), it is good to hear that all is going well again in Zimbabwe.
Last week (14 October, to be precise) Immigration Minister Damian Green made a written statement in Parliament. He made the case that the time is now right to send asylum seekers back because conditions in Zimbabwe have improved so much since the formation of a Government of National Unity in 2009 between President Robert Mugabe (Zanu-PF) and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai (Movement for Democratic Change). This is what Green said:
I am announcing today our intention to end the current suspension of enforced returns of failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe. There are some Zimbabweans who continue to have a well-founded fear of persecution; we continue to grant protection to those people. As with any other nationality, every case is considered on its individual merits and against the background of the latest available country information from a wide range of reliable sources including international organisations, non-governmental organisations and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.The courts have found that not all Zimbabweans are in need of international protection and given the improved situation on the ground in Zimbabwe since the formation of the inclusive Government in 2009, the time is now right to bring our policy on returns of failed Zimbabwean asylum seekers into line with that on every other country. This will mean that failed asylum seekers from Zimbabwe will from now on be treated in exactly the same way as failed asylum seekers of all other countries when it comes to enforcing returns.
Those found not to be in need of protection have always been expected to return home. We prefer these individuals to return voluntarily and many hundreds have done so. It is in everyone’s interest for people to return to Zimbabwe and use their skills to support themselves and help rebuild the country. The Government support this process and are in active dialogue with Zimbabweans to explore how this process can be further assisted.
It remains open to Zimbabweans to return home voluntarily under one of the assisted voluntary return (AVR) programmes which are available for individuals of all nationalities. There are three programmes available under which all returnees receive support in acquiring travel documentation, flight costs to their country of origin and onward domestic transport, airport assistance at departure and arrival airports and, for those eligible, up to £1,500 worth of reintegration assistance per person including a £500 relocation grant on departure for immediate resettlement needs and, once home, a range of reintegration options which are delivered “in kind”.
The Immigration and Asylum Chamber of the Unified Tribunal Service (IAC) will be hearing in the near future a further country guidance case on general safety of return to Zimbabwe which we expect to reflect the improvements in Zimbabwe since the previous country guidance case was decided in 2008. Therefore, although there is no reason why Zimbabweans who both we, and the courts, have found not to be in need of protection should not now be removed, we will not enforce the first returns until the IAC has delivered its determination. Those who have no right to remain in the UK, and who chose not to return voluntarily, will then face enforced return, in exactly the same way as failed asylum seekers of all other countries.
This change in asylum policy which I have announced today does not reflect any change in our categorical opposition to human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. We will continue to call, both bilaterally and with our international partners, for an end to all such abuses and the restoration of internationally accepted human rights standards in Zimbabwe.
So, there is still no rule of law. Violence is still being used against ordinary people. The forthcoming referendum on the new Constitution looks likely to be followed by a new election. And reports we get every day from contacts on the ground in Zimbabwe tell of fear, threat and intimidation. Just because the US Dollar has allowed a degree of economic stability should not be interpreted as an ‘improvement’ in the overall situation in the country.
Consider the following few facts and be grateful for the ‘improvements’:
- The Bishops of Manicaland and Harare have been out of Zimbabwe for a couple of weeks because they were threatened with assassination. One has returned – against advice from within Zimbabwe – but has been given emergency contacts with diplomats in case of trouble. (If someone turns up to shoot you, do you ask him to wait while you phone an embassy?)
- Court rulings in favour of the Province of Central Africa in respect of legal status, appropriation of assets and use of buildings belonging to the Province are ignored by the Police who claim to have orders ‘from above’ which overrule the court rulings.
- Police intimidation and violence against ordinary people who choose not to leave the legitimate Anglican Church in favour of the utterly corrupt (and ‘excommunicated’) Nolbert Kunonga – now self-appointed ‘Archbishop of Zimbabwe’ and unrecognised by any other Anglican anywhere!
- Incursions into other dioceses by the deposed bishops, Kunonga and Jakazi, backed by police and intimidatory in the extreme.
- Harrassment and abuse of returned (failed) asylum seekers from the UK.
Well, all of that is clearly of little relevance to the ideological needs of the coalition government in the UK to get shot of as many asylum seekers as possible in as short a time as possible.
OK, sarcasm aside, at least let’s be honest about what is going on and why. If it is for economic, political or ideological reasons, let’s admit it. But, don’t let’s pretend that Zimbabwe is a safe place to be returned to – especially from the old colonialist enemy and fount of all evil, the UK.
Given that I am one of those who fundamentally agreed with Morgan Tsvangarai that Zimbabwean expats in the UK need to go back as soon as possible in order to help re-build their country and take responsibility for establishing their democracy, I don’t write this lightly. We shall await the ruling of the Immigration and Asylum Chamber of the Unified Tribunal Service with both interest and concern – especially as the Minister seemed to know the likely outcome four days before the court even met.
October 22, 2010
I have just done a Pause for Thought on the BBC Radio 2 Chris Evans Show. The thrust of it had to do with the effects of the Government’s cuts on the lives of real people. Just as the numbers of bank subsidies during the crash became so huge that they became meaningless to most ordinary mortals and just as the Zimbabwean inflation rate reached a conceptually incomprehensible 231 million %, the huge numbers of people about to lose their jobs hides the impact on the individuals involved.
I guess the ‘Big Society’ will actually hit the road running with churches and other bodies on the ground (so to speak) picking up the casualties – those whose world has fallen apart. We will deal with the marriage breakdowns, the increase in mental health problems, real poverty and so on. These human realities don’t appear on any Government balance sheets (until, that is, crime increases or the demands on the NHS increase).
This morning, on my way into the BBC, I bumped into a friend who is a secondary headteacher. He told me he is expecting around £300,000 to be cut from his budget next year. That equates to a massive impact on our children. Universities are facing up to 40% cuts in teaching staff (which are already stretched – yet how many undergraduate students are already taught by postgraduate students instead of serious (i.e. employed for the purpose) academics?).
It is clear that the country needs to cut back and the Government has a near impossible task in making the numbers add up. There is no easy or comfortable or unsacrificial way of sorting the financial situation out. But, there are questions that still need to be pressed:
- Which people are going to suffer/sacrifice the most? Leave aside the talk about ‘scroungers’, there are very many disabled and vulnerable people in our communities who are very worried.
- How has the increased cost of increased mental health and other medical need been factored in to the calculations aimed at cutting jobs and benefits in order to save money – especially given the drive to reduce costs in the NHS, the slashed subsidies and grants to local and national charities and the likely downturn in charitable giving as more people lose their income? (And will real money actually be saved?)
- What is the thinking behind reducing investment in the next generation by negatively affecting teaching, educational resources, staffing and expertise? Methinks we have been here before…
- What is the point in keeping Trident (at the expense of education) when the concept of an ‘independent’ deterrent is an obvious nonsense in today’s interdependent world and one can’t avoid the suspicion that Trident is a mere symbol of solidarity with the USA?
I have no illusions that these and other important questions will be taken seriously, but the problem for our churches is that we see every day the casualties of decisions made ‘on high’ – the numbers have faces and families. Categories are harder to sustain when they develop voices and have names.
October 18, 2010
I remember cutting out of Der Spiegel a map titled Ronald Reagan’s world. This was back in the 1970s (I think) and Europe and Asia were divided into ‘our missiles’ and ‘their missiles’. Great Britain was oddly shaped and called ‘our aircraft carrier’. It was funny, but seriously worrying at the same time. I have no idea if the cartoon still exists – if it does, I would love to see it.
I also remember seeing a book about the mental maps of different sorts of people living in different parts of the UK. Londoners saw England as basically the South-east with a small misshapen blob of ‘the rest of England’ on top of it. Scotland was barely visible. Again, it was funny, but it made its point.
Yesterday someone on the wonderful Twitter pointed to a site called Big Think. 483 – The Great European Shouting Match had me laughing out loud. Read Bill Bryson’s Neither Here nor There (his tour of European countries and prejudices about them) in conjunction with Big Think and you can’t help laughing out loud. You’ve got to go to the site to see the maps and commentary.
[Update: There are more (the originals?) here.]
[Next update: This just gets better and better! Try this and this and this!]
October 17, 2010
Posted by nickbaines under history
| Tags: Germany
|  Comments
So, Liverpool begin a new era today with a crucial game against Everton at Goodison Park. Both clubs are close to the bottom of the Premier League – a situation that was inconceivable even a few weeks ago. I find it hard to understand how everything fell apart so quickly – how the great tradition of a great club could be so easily rubbished and the fans of the club so humiliated.
Be patient with me. I grew up with only one question each spring: which trophy or trophies would the team be parading through Liverpool on an open-topped bus this year? We had thirty years of stunning success before it all began to sink. My memories are offended by reality and I am embarrassed to admit that I took success for granted. It’s hard to face today’s reality.
Which takes me on to a parallel line of thought that seems at first glance to be unrelated. There is a fuss in Germany about an exhibition entitled Hitler und die Deutschen (Hitler and the German People) at the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin. This is the first time a major exhibition at a major museum has focussed on Hitler himself and some people are not happy about it. Their fear is that it will be exploited by neo-Nazis. (Although, as the director of the Museum Hans Ottomeyer tartly says, “They don’t read books and they don’t go to exhibitions”.)
On the surface there is little to fear in putting Hitler centre stage and trying to come to terms with how this pathetic little man came to wield such destructive power. As I have remarked before, Joachim Fest attempted a psychological analysis of the main Nazi protagonists in his 1968 book, The Face of the Third Reich. Horrific and offensive as it might be, you have to give the ‘monsters‘ a face if they are to be understood and if we are to come to terms with our own complicity in their manipulations.
The problem for Germans is that very soon ‘memory’ will become ‘history‘. The generation of those involved in Germany up to 1945 will begin to die out. That is why it is so important to capture their voices and preserve the memory from becoming ideological weapons in arguments about history (which can then be used to justify present or future action). In my book Finding Faith I briefly describe Sir Jonathan Sacks‘s view – that we must be cautious about memory becoming history and thereby losing our roots – and the opposite caution of Miroslav Volf – that memory can be held onto as an ideological weapon for justifying the violence or particularism of future generations who have nurtured a grievance. (Think of Northern Ireland and the Battle of the Boyne, for instance, or the ‘tribal’ violence of the Balkans after the division of Yugoslavia.)
I might be wrong, but it seems to many of us outside Germany that the Germans need to stare Hitler in the face and disempower him. As can be seen from this weekend’s debate about the death of German multiculturalism and the problems of German immigration, it is almost impossible to address some issues without the spectre of Hitler hanging over. Which gives Hitler a sort of ongoing victory - the power of the terrorist to scare the ‘free’ into restricting the freedom that was supposed to define them in the first place.
The Germans cannot wait until the 1945 generation is dead before getting to grips with this stuff. Then it will be too late. For the memory will be partial (recorded) and the history will be an object for discussion or appropriation by those who will use it to justify their latest ideologies, self-justifications and violences.
I just wish I could be in Berlin to visit the exhibition.
October 16, 2010
While I was in Ireland last week loads of interesting things were going on elsewhere:
Liverpool finally got sold and bought. One lot of Americans went out (having done nothing that they promised when they took over the club) and another lot came in. Although we breathe a sigh of relief at the ending of one American dream, we clap the new owners with one hand while reserving the other one ‘just in case…’ If celebration is heartfelt today, there is also a great deal of suspicion. Having been fooled and humiliated once, we won’t (as The Who put it) be fooled again. Yet, it is almost embarrassing to listen to the language of the ousted Tom Hicks: he still doesn’t ‘get it’. But, at least Torres appears fit enough to play against Everton on Sunday…
Chilean miners were being released from 69 days of imprisonment a very long way underground. The world rejoiced, but this is only the end of the beginning. Mining safety has to be improved in a country where miners’ lives have thus far been cheap. And we know that the next months and years will bring huge challenges for the miners and their families: they will need massive support in the light of not only their trauma, but their new-found fame. Furthermore, the BBC overspent on its budget by covering this saga in such depth; will it now cover the stories of trapped miners in China and Ecuador similarly – or are some stories less interesting than others and some lives cheaper than others? The Chilean saga was gripping, but it also raises questions of value and perspective for the rest of us. In brief, was it just more entertaining for us?
The Bishop of Fulham has announced he is to resign and join the Ordinariate (i.e. become a Roman Catholic). His announcement speech used extraordinary language, claiming ‘persecution’ of ‘traditionalists’. Someone should do a linguistic textual analysis of this stuff – for a start it cheapens the word and concept of ‘persecution’. But, the notions of ‘they are forcing us out’ and ‘we have no responsibility- it is all being done to us’ has reminded me of the posts I wrote about ‘future foreshortening’ and the hierarchies of victimhood.
As I have often expressed here, I understand something of the dilemma facing those who oppose the ordination of women; but they need to take responsibility for their decisions about the future and not do the unhealthy thing of simply identifying themselves as a victim of other people’s decisions. I know from personal experience something of the cost of such demanding dilemmas (twice: once in secular employment and once in the church) – and how important it is to stop blaming other people (or ‘the evil institution’ as the Bishop of Fulham puts it). The language is the give-away in all this and it will repay careful examination one day. Meanwhile we continue to pray and try to support those facing these dilemmas – everyone loses in processes such as this one.
The thing each of these stories has in common is the importance of perspective – and how difficult it is to see through the eyes of others or dare to change our point of view. I was going to write today about a German exhibition, but I guess that will have to wait.
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