May 29, 2011
Posted by nickbaines under Football
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When I get back to Bradford I will be doing two things: working out how to use WordPress on an iPad (nightmare so far – hence rubbish posts and no pictures) and getting very familiar with Bradford City. The club might be in League Division Two (or whatever we call it these days), but they pull in huge crowds of local fans. I’ve already discovered the colourful enthusiasm in Bradford and, in addition to my Liverpool support, I’ll be joining in the party.
But, I gather that Manchester United got taken apart last night in the Champions League Final at Wembley and that it was all rather Messi. Can’t say I’m upset.
The particular aside, football is in a bit of a mess. Forget the money, how about the corruption. Lord Triesman got into trouble for alleging naughty behaviour around the World Cup decisions a few months ago, but it looks like he was doing us a service. Allegations of corruption in Fifa are not new, but now it’s all creeping out from under the stones that have offered protection for years.
Why was the alleged corruption of leading officials tolerated for so long? Was it fear of favour? Or fear of retribution (like not getting support for hosting the World Cup finals)? Or fear of being accused of racism?
The next few days should prove interesting as football tries to clean up its act. Don’t hold your breath.
May 29, 2011
Posted by nickbaines under church
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Every three years the churches around what is called the Rhein-Knie (Rhine knee) get together for a day of worship, celebration, consultation and serious discussion of current issues. They come from Switzerland, Germany and France – thousands of them. This time it’s in Basel and it’s boiling in the sun.
The Münster was full to overflowing for the opening service (done in French and Gerrman) this morning and the seminars began after lunch. The session I was in wasn’t brilliantly attended, but began with some music. We got to hear singing in five different languages – the songs of people from other parts of the world. By singing their songs in their languages we enter a (very) little into their experience of God and the world. We also get a reminder that some things cannot be translated – you have to ‘feel the depth’ of the untranslatable language – and this at least generates a bit of humility, if not humiliation. To sing the songs of others in their language reminds us also that God is not monochrome, monolingual or monocultural.
But where else other than in church would people get this experience today – a unique opportunity for many people? A similar question that bugs me about young people and some ‘fresh expressions of church’ (the ones that are really ‘peer’ churches) is how in today’s world it might be possible for children and young people to have generous relationships with elderly people outside of their family. Where can children listen to and learn from the experiences of adults whose lives and wisdom might just have something to teach us that can’t be learned from a computer or telly? Children need good relationships with adults outside the family if they are to mature.
Here again, the church must regain it’s confidence in being probably the only institution that regularly brings together in a single community of relationships people of all ages. That’s why I am suspicious of the limitations of some forms of church which simply bring together people who like each other and are like each other. It might be more interesting and less frustrating, but I am not sure it is what church is meant to be.
Anyway (!), this Basel Kirchentag brings together people of most ages (haven’t seen too many younger people yet) and they come from Protestant, Roman Catholic, Old Catholic, Free churches and other odds and sods of church genres. And the main theme of the multiplicity of seminars? Not churchy stuff. Not ecumenical relations. Not mere spirituality to feed the individual (there are other places for that). No, here the question has to do with the role of the churches in addressing the aftermath of the financial crises of the last three years, the impact of these on relationships and families, and how to get a Christian voice/perspective heard in the shaping of the future.
They bring perspectives and proposals from three countries, three cultures and three languages to the common task of building a good society for all. And it is notable for not only repeating the imperative of standing alongside those who suffer, but also that of helping build something positive and new for the future.
What I need to think through as I prepare to go to Dresden on Wednesday for the Deutscher Evangelischer Kirchentag (150,000 people) is how the church in England can find a way not only of standing with those who suffer, but inspiring those who will use both their gifts and their wealth – however understood – to build the society our children will soon see as ‘normal’. Standing with the suffering is vital, but it isn’t the only responsibility we have.
Basel has seen some religious battles and controversies in past centuries. Today the only scrap is around the Cup Final which is taking place in Basel, but doesn’t involve FC Basel.
May 28, 2011
This week’s edition of Die Zeit is fronted by a picture of a large twin-towered German church sinking under the waves of modernity. The huge banner headline reads: ‘Ist die Kirche noch zu retten (Can the church still be saved)?’ The sub-text asks: ‘How Christianity is struggling for survival in modern society’ and promises an interview with the elderly Swiss Catholic theologian Hans Küng.
The church in central (Germanic) Europe is undoubtedly going through interesting times. This has (in my humble opinion) much to do with the rapid changes in receipts from Church Tax and a wrestling with the cultural and missional implications of such changes. If ‘membership’ of your church is denominational and your tax payments buy you your baptism, wedding and funeral, to what extent are evangelism or other elements of mission perceived as necessary or urgent?
Of course, this isn’t the whole story. The Church Tax in Germany has enabled the church to provide amazing (and amazingly high-quality) social provision for children, young people, elderly and sick people. It’s reach has gone beyond the limits of ‘what is good for the interests of the church itself’ and seen care of society as it’s remit. Few would talk this down.
But the world has changed, fewer people attend the churches and the taxes a reducing. rather than simply ignore this, the EKD under Bishop Wolfgang Huber bravely launched a decade of reform leading to the 500th anniversary of the launch of the Reformation in 1517. But even this wasn’t a desperate measure. It was a measured response to change – something churches have to do in every generation.
And I am writing this in Basel where we are staying with friends and looking forward to an ecumenical festival across the city tomorrow. Here the situation is similar to that in Germany. Church buildings have been converted for other (mainly cultural) uses. And therein lies my problem with the Zeit assumption that the church is preoccupied with it’s own survival. Die Zeit is asking the wrong question.
Of course, the church’s role in society has changed, is changing and always will keep changing. Yes, the Christendom model is dead and there is a need for reform in many respects; but this is not primarily for the sake of the survival of an institution. Dietrich Bonhoeffer got it right when he wrote:
“Jesus ruft nicht zu einer neuen Religion auf, sondern zum Leben. (Jesus doesn’t call us to a new religion, but to life itself)” (Gedicht an Eberhard Bethge, Tegel, 18 Juli 1944 – Das Ausserordentliche wird Erreignis: Kreuz und Auferstehung, S.63)
The survival of the church is not the end to which the church aspires. But elements of all churches – in England as well as Europe – need to recover the vision for which they exist in the first place: to be a reflection of the Jesus we read about in the gospels for the sake of the world we live in now.
Now, there are those in England who like to think (in a rather uncommitted liberal way) that if we could only shake off the institution of the church, we could create a new way of being church without all the stuff we find embarrassing or shaming. I recognise that what I am about to say goes wholly against the grain of the self-fulfilment, instant-gratification culture we now inhabit, but such attitudes are naive. They ignore the massive achievements of the church in our cultures – intellectually, socially, educationally, politically, morally, etc. – and collude in the selective memory that encourages costless fantasy.
The Christian Church, in the UK as well as here in Switzerland and Germany, needs to recover confidence in the church itself and the vocation of the church to serve its society. Show me what difference the National Secular Society or the British Humanist Association makes to local communities in every corner of the country. Show me how those Christians who want to re-invent church in terms of like-minded people joining together to re-write theology in their own convenient image change one iota of their local community for the better. If you want to do that, you need buildings, people and organisation, vision, commitment and enormous patience. All things the organised church has and uses for the sake of the society around them. The organised church has a unique vocation and needs its people to start having confidence in it again – not for its own sake, but for the sake of those it serves.
So, survival of the church is not our task. Shaping the church to better be able to serve our communities in the name (that is, according to the character of) Jesus Christ is the challenge. It isn’t an easy one, but it is more interesting and exciting than simply trying to keep an institution afloat. Or, as Stephan Schaede, Director of Evangelische Akademie in Loccum puts it (in the Zeit article):
Church is interesting for society if it says what sort of a society it expects – rather than asks how it can fit into society.</
Ps. I just discovered that the headline in Die Zeit is actually the title of Hans Küng's new book!
May 26, 2011
It’s been a blogless and full week, but today I was chairing the wonderful Sandford St Martin Trust in London. Last week the Church Times chickened out of a headline quoting the great scriptwriter Tony Jordan. When I interviewed him after handing him the Sandford St Martin Premier TV Award for 2011 for The Nativity, he described how he had realised in the course of writing the script that he was dealing with ‘truth’. He actually said that while sitting with his rum and cigarettes at his computer he realised: “Shit – it’s true!”
Not only did the Church Times chicken out of using the quote for a headline, but I dropped it from my initial blog report on the Awards ceremony, too. Anyway, it was less elegant than the words I quoted back to him: “The Nativity is a true story and a thing of beauty.” Discuss it if you will, but it was the dumping of the sh*t I thought was funny. If you see what I mean.
Then, a couple of days ago, I was on a BBC Radio 4 documentary celebrating Bob Dylan’s journey of faith as he hits his 70th birthday. Narrated by Esther Freud, Blowing in the Wind was a fascinating trek through the development of Dylan’s spiritual commitments. You’ll have to listen to it (4 days left on iPlayer) to get the full story, but the interesting bit for me was the debunking of the assumption that Dylan had a Christian ‘phase’. This assumption goes something like this: he was Jewish, then nowhere, then hit a rough patch and got misdirected into Christianity by his friends, then grew out of it and moved on.
But, one of the points I tried to get across on the programme was that Dylan’s life can’t be divided into self-contained phases like this. No one’s life can. It is one single ‘journey’ and one set of experiences is taken up into what follows – all of it shaping and re-shaping the person, but never simply discarding the bits we don’t like. It all becomes who we are.
That’s why Christians take forgiveness seriously. Forgiveness isn’t about removing the source of grievance and ‘forgetting’ it; rather, it’s drawing the sting out of it and putting it into an ordered place where it can be appropriated but it can’t bite you any more.
Anyway, I am off to Basel tomorrow for a brief stay and a conference on Saturday. The I go to Dresden to do a number of events and speaking engagements at the Kirchentag. I will try to put some of it into writing here.
May 22, 2011
Posted by nickbaines under Bradford
| Tags: Bradford Cathedral
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In the sort of literature that is the Gospels, the first words of the ‘hero’ are significant. Everything that follows is to be read, interpreted and understood in the light of those words. I have written of this before now in relation (particularly to Mark 1:14-15).
Although I don’t often use a full text for sermons, it seemed wise to write one for my enthronement (being put into my seat of pastoral care, authority and teaching) in Bradford Cathedral yesterday. I guess these ‘first words’ matter as they are the first things heard in my public ministry here. Although they are intended to be heard (in context) and not read (as text), I put the sermon up here in its entirety – whilst noting that I changed bits, added bits and forgot one or two bits in the course of preaching it. It is quite long (and audio, photos/explanation of the service can be found at http://www.bradford.anglican.org/bishopscroft/index.php?PageID=enthronement) …
ENTHRONEMENT SERMON, BRADFORD CATHEDRAL, SATURDAY 21 MAY 2011
I am glad to see you all here today, especially as we had been warned by an American pastor that today was to be the Day of Judgement, the moment of Rapture and the end of the world. Well, all I can say is: if it happened, and we are all left behind, we’d better start worrying. Although, I couldn’t hope for better company in whatever counts as ‘the other place’ where the ‘raptured’ obviously are not. I am particularly grateful to those who decided – in the circumstances, courageously – to take the risk of travelling long distances to be here this afternoon.
Joking apart, some people have travelled a very long way indeed. Bishop Saman from Northern Sudan – a country that will soon be divided into two, but with an Anglican Church that is determined to remain one church in a commitment to mutual service. Bishop Weber, the German Co-chair of the Meissen Commission has come here with his wife and I am extremely grateful for his support, encouragement and friendship as we work together on the Commission to pursue unity between our churches and common service of the Gospel in Europe. Other friends from Germany are here – Silke and Christoph Römhild – who manage to check the German texts of my sermons without laughing. Our guests from Erfurt are also wonderfully welcome. And Bishop Neff Powell has travelled from our link Diocese of Southwest Virginia, and I am grateful for his fellowship and encouragement.
Friends and colleagues from the Diocese of Southwark, where I served for the last eleven years, have clearly come to check that it is true beyond contradiction that they have finally got rid of me. In coming here today they show the love and encouragement that has characterised my time in that diocese south of the Thames. I am deeply grateful. Members of our families have travelled from Kuwait, France, Nottingham and (breathe deeply) the other side of the Pennines to be here today.
But, these wonderful people have not come here today out of mere curiosity. They have not strayed onto our small island and ventured north of Watford simply to attend a mere service in a church. They represent what is too often ignored even by those of us within the Church: the fact that we belong to one multi-coloured, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-lingual community in which we are united in and around Jesus Christ. Called to serve in different contexts and in different places and cultures, yet we belong together and serve one God… whom we see in Jesus Christ who laid down his life for the sake of the world and whom death could not hold.
I am also grateful for the generous attendance and accompaniment of civic leaders, Christian ecumenical partners and representatives from other faith communities in and around Bradford. We have a common interest and a common accountability for how we serve the people of our communities. And this we need to do with honesty, integrity, mutual commitment and humour.
Here in Bradford – a place many here today are visiting for the first time – we might well take the opportunity to think through, briefly, what we are about and what you might expect from the new bishop. For we live in challenging times – on many fronts – and we face serious questions about where our priorities lie. We can allow ourselves to get side-tracked by relative trivia – a form of what I often call ‘distraction therapy’… thrashing around in the murky darkness – or we can choose to unite in obeying the call of Jesus Christ to be people who bring light into the world, with all that implies. And I want to think about this call – this challenge not only to the churches in Bradford, but also to those elsewhere where the cultural dressing may be different, but the essence remains the same – and I want to think about it in terms of confidence.
But, first let me tell a story. A man went to the doctor for some medical tests. When all was finished the doctor looked at him sadly and said: ‘I’m sorry Mr Jones, there’s nothing we can do for you. You’ve had it.’ ‘Nothing you can do?’ asked Mr Jones? ‘No,’ replied the doctor, ‘I’m afraid there’s no hope.’ ‘No hope?’ replied Mr Jones. ‘No hope?! Look, I want a second opinion.’ ‘OK’, said the doctor, ‘there’s no hope… and you’re ugly.’
Now, I am not recommending that as an example of good pastoral method, but it does make the point that a second opinion can sometimes be essential. In his first words in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus quietly opens the possibility of a second opinion about God, the world and us. Not the opinion with which everyone was familiar: the tired old certainties that those who obeyed the rules got God’s favour and those who didn’t didn’t. Not the sad opinion that you just had to accept the way the world is and hope God would one day make it better. And not the tediously self-serving opinion that God was on the side of people with a particular ethnicity or national identity. No, Jesus was inviting people to look and think differently about God, the world and us… in order to live differently in that world and make a difference to the lives of people who make up that world.
We actually live in a world that hasn’t really changed much since the time Jesus sat on a hill and started to talk to whoever wanted to listen. Open to being misheard and misunderstood (as in Monty Python’s epic Life of Brian when the people at the back heard him say ‘Blessed are the cheesemakers’ and went on to guess that Jesus must have been referring in a non-discriminatory way to manufacturers of all dairy produce…), Jesus suggested that we don’t have to accept the lazy assumption that ‘the way the world is is the only way the world can be’.
Is it inevitable that the powerful always dominate and get their way? That the rich and independent should be both secure and happy – especially at the expense of the poor? That those who lose or grieve or don’t – what’s that awful phrase? – ‘believe in themselves’ are to be pitied? Are those who ‘win’ in life really to be admired and valued? Or is there another way of seeing – another way of thinking and, therefore, living in this world? Jesus suggests there is… and it revolves around himself. (No wonder they nailed him in the end.)
According to these revolutionary words of Jesus, those who have lost everything – health, family, things, hope, prospects, beauty, and so on – have nothing else to fear losing; so, they are liberated to live freely and to take whatever comes their way. They don’t need to be told of their need of grace, of redemption or of salvation: they swim in a pool called ‘freedom’ and they are blessed by being free not to have to pretend or to keep up appearances or the empty rhetoric of false glory.
And that is why Jesus tells his friends that they must shine like lights on a hill – not hide away for fear of being found out or for lack of confidence that the way they see and think and live won’t hold out. They are to be as recklessly free as the sort of salt that gets mixed as fertiliser into the soil or preserver into the meat: losing their own shape and substance in order to let the soil become fertile and the meat to feed the hungry. It’s about generosity and giving away and laying down and challenging the values of a world that is bound by its own insecurities, its deep fears, and the violence that instinctively erupts where hope has dissolved into the chaos and void of fatalism and destructiveness.
Which is why I want to speak of confidence. Confidence in God; confidence in a Church shaped by this Gospel, this good news that sounds to some people like bad news; confidence in our context.
Along with brothers and sisters of other faiths, I am confident in God. Why? After all, the Richard Dawkinses of this world would have us believe that I am actually confident in the airy-fairy subject of a fairy story. But, the Scriptures tell us that God is in the business of bringing order out of the chaos of life and lives. From the beginning onwards (which is the whole point of the Genesis narrative), God offers to bring healing and order out of the messes and pain we suffer. This is the God who in Jesus Christ looks us in the eye and dares us to believe that death and destruction do not have the final word – whatever Hollywood or fearful dictators think.
Christians need to be confident in God and in the call of God to reflect his life and face in the world of today. This means that the Christian community in Bradford and our diocese right up into Lancashire and the edge of Cumbria should look and sound and feel like the Jesus we read about in the Gospels. That is our vocation. And we can be confident in this God who calls us simply because he has a track-record in getting stuck in to the reality of the world and, through those who bear his name, offering transformation of both individuals and communities.
This is the God who loves his world so much that he refuses to exempt himself from it and all that it can throw at him. In Jesus he opts into it. And he calls his people to be like him – to do the same. Get stuck in – whatever the cost – and be so grasped by the generosity of God that we cannot but live generously with our neighbours. This is not, then, about point scoring or domination; rather, it is about confidence that the God who calls us has promised never to abandon us as we dare to take him at his word. He is the God who, in the words of the Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggemann, brings ‘newness after loss’ and dares us to hope and not despair.
But, secondly, confidence in God has to be earthed in a growing confidence in the Church. You might think this is a rather forlorn task. The Church is ridiculed in much of our national press, uncritically stuck on the easy dartboard of comic caricature, dismissed by lazy observers who simply filter out any good or local stories that don’t fit the prejudice of decline or despair. For such observers the facts of growing or changing churches are an embarrassment, as is the sacrificial service of huge numbers of ordinary Christians who give their lives not for the sake of the Church as an end in itself, but in order that the Church can obey its vocation to serve the world in which it is set. Yet, this state of affairs sometimes has a corrosive effect on Christians who can wonder if they are wasting their time maintaining worship and witness in their community. It can be hard to counter the negative rumour.
So, I want to encourage us to deny the naysayers and contradict the miseries with a confidence not only in God, but also in the Church itself. Don’t knock it! I was once asked on national radio what is the point of the church. Put on the spot like that, I had to come up with something quickly – and this is how I answered: the church is called to create the space in which people can find that they have been found by God. OK, that’s just one description of what we exist for. But, I want to go further. Different churches and denominations celebrate the fact that God is not boring. There are different ways of worshipping and serving him and different ways of organising how we do so. Good ecumenical work must always revolve around the purpose of our calling and not simply around organisational tidiness or uniformity. But, I want to affirm the particular vocation and responsibility of the Church of England in that context.
The Church of England is very public and, therefore, open to scrutiny. We are rightly regarded as public property, but this brings with it great responsibility for using the opportunities for service and proclamation that are unique to us. We believe in being present in every community and engaged in the life of that community in order to bring light and life to all. Sometimes we fail disastrously; sometimes we succeed gloriously; mostly, we just get on with it in a rather muddly way and we don’t always find it easy to tell our stories. But this vocation is ours and we need to believe in it, give ourselves to it and ask our Christian brothers and sisters of other churches to pray for us as we pray for them in their unique vocations. It is not a competition; but it is about being accountable to the God who calls us and accountable to one another.
Yes, the Church faces change and uncertainty – especially in the light of proposals to dissolve three Anglican dioceses and create one new, larger one. But, we have always faced change and uncertainty; it is the one certain feature of God’s pilgrim people from the moment Abram left Ur of the Chaldees and started walking into the unknown, with only the call of God to hold on to. He didn’t know the destination or what might happen along the way. But, none of that stopped him from going. The debate will carry on, but we must not be distracted by the engineering and lose sight of the purpose of the enterprise itself (which I described briefly earlier).
It will come as no surprise, then, that confidence in God, worked out through confidence in the life and mission of the Church that is supposed to resemble the Jesus of the Gospels, is not an end in itself. No. Thirdly, our being grasped by God’s generosity and invitation brings us together with others who share that mysterious condition, but in order that we might be a blessing to the world and that part of it in which we are put. And that means having confidence in our context: Bradford and its rural hinterlands, full of beauty and challenge and opportunity.
Let’s be honest: the rumours about Bradford and its particular challenges are not hard to uncover. Last Friday we were filming in the city centre and I found myself stopping random people, asking them what it was like to live here. The answers were interesting. They began with the inter-communal differences and tensions, but ended with an affirmation of their own personal life here. I wondered afterwards how we can most effectively change that rumour. I know that our parishes and communities are pregnant with creative celebrations of Christian presence: from arts festivals to interfaith partnerships, from faithful worship to community projects. Presence and Engagement is more than a slogan (or the title of a church initiative) – it captures our confidence in Bradford and its environs. Not blind wishful-thinking, but confidence that the resources for human flourishing and positive development of our society are already here in the people who are prepared to escape the confines of their own narrow interests and make it happen for the good of all.
Christianity is not airy-fairy. It is rooted in a God who deals with particular people in particular places. In Jesus he plunges into the real world at a particular time and in a particular context. And we are called to do the same. Which means loving our communities, nurturing the common good in Bradford, Keighley, Ilkley, Skipton, Dent, Settle and everywhere else. It means working together for human flourishing in all these places. And it means being confident about the potential for where we live, not colluding in the running down of reputation.
Confidence in God and the Good News of Jesus Christ for the world including the communities that make up the Diocese of Bradford. Confidence in the Church and its unique vocation to be grasped by God and to live in response to that love and mercy. Confidence in our context – a confidence that commits us to change the rumours that so demoralise and inhibit our communities from thriving.
As your new bishop I promise to work with all who seek the common good in these places. I promise to commend unashamedly the Good News of God. I promise to build up and not knock down. I promise to do my best in keeping focused on the call of God and to using my best endeavours – in body, mind and spirit – to work together with all who refuse to hide their light or leave their salt in the cellar.
Let’s change the rumour, for God’s sake.
CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
“Jesus ruft nicht zu einer neuen Religion auf, sondern zum Leben.” (Gedicht an Eberhard Bethge, Tegel, 18. Juli 1944 – ‘Das Ausserordentliche wird Ereignis: Kreuz und Auferstehung, S.63)
May 20, 2011
Tomorrow is the day I will be enthroned (put into my pastoral seat) as Bishop of Bradford. If the world doesn’t end first, that is.
An interview has now been posted on YouTube and it looks like this (with more to follow):
And here’s another video we made last Friday:
May 18, 2011
Last night I had the privilege of presenting the 2011 Sandford St Martin Awards at Lambeth Palace. The Trust aims to encourage excellence in religious broadcasting. The great thing is that ‘religious’ is emerging from the niche into the mainstream. Last night’s event showcased some wonderful stuff made by some very creative people.
The television awards panel of judges was chaired by Peter Bazalgette who has been described by the Independent as ‘the most influential man in British television’. (The Daily Mail, on the other hand, accused him of singlehandedly depraving the morality of the country by propagating reality television in these islands!) In his remarks he had a pop at television for not treating seriously enough the killing of Osama Bin Laden. He recognised that radio had considered the ethics of what he called ‘the assassination’, but that television had simply reconstructed the events and avoided serious debate.
The television award went to the remarkable Nativity, written by Tony Jordan (East Enders, Minder, The Hustle, etc.). The Nativity also won the Radio Times Readers’ Award, so I got to interview Tony twice along with his production team. Tony pointed out that the theologians and historians he interviewed debunked the story, but in the writing of the characters and the narrative he had begun to consider it ‘true’. I put to him what he has been quoted as saying: “The Nativity is a true story and a thing of beauty.” He described how, as a man who lives in ‘character’ and ‘story’, he recognises a true story when he sees one. This programme had changed him and his team told similar stories.
In one sense this is not a surprise. Some of us have been banging on for years about the fact that the Bible is not primarily a book of doctrines, but a collection of stories, characters and earthy experience: a rich fund for those who tell stories and explore ‘reality’ and ‘truth’ through them. A bit like Jesus did when he told stories and used images that tease away in the imagination in ways that propositional arguments do not.
However, Nativity pipped both a serious documentary on ‘beggar children’ and the wonderful Rev series – which humanised clergy, demonised archdeacons and exposed the raw stuff of church life and leadership in a tough local community. As another series is promised, they MUST submit again next year.
The radio judging panel was chaired by the Master of St Peter’s College, Oxford, who until relatively recently was Controller of BBC Radio 4 and Radio 7, Mark Damazer. The Premier Award was given to the BBC for daring to schedule 7 hours of readings of the King James Bible – in a single day. It was electric stuff and brought the Bible alive. Other recognised programmes included one from a prison, an axamination of the Pope (so to speak) and a surprising brief programme from West Yorkshire critiquing the image of Jesus as ‘meek and mild’.
We also gave a special award to the BBC for 50 years of Songs of Praise – a remarkable example of commitment to public service broadcasting.
Full details of winners and other awards can be found on the Sandford St Martin website along with a few photos.
The key encouragement is, of course, that mainstream media genres were throwing up programmes dealing with ‘religious’ themes: humanity, morality, faith, ethics, Bible, religious commitment, and so on. Wonderful stuff.
May 15, 2011
One of the things that I find most challenging about the Gospels is that they drive a coach and horses through easy assumptions about God and those who take God seriously. It’s no wonder that some Christians find Paul easier to handle (he develops arguments) than Jesus (he gives pictures).
I came to the conclusion a long time ago that we should read Paul in the light of the Gospels and not the other way round. Discuss…
Anyway, one of the glaring features of the Gospels is the way the religious leaders (usually for very good reasons) see themselves as the gatekeepers of (a) the truth and (b) access to the community that claims that truth. They end up crucifying Jesus. Clearly, one of the things that rubbed them up was Jesus being a bit unclear about who was ‘in’ and who was ‘out’ of what we might call ‘church’ but Jesus called ‘kingdom’ (or, the place where he is ‘present’).
For example, he tells a story that says we should stop worrying so much about our own ecclesiastical purity and let the weeds grow along with the wheat – he’ll sort it all out later. In another story he encourages outrageous waste of seed – the sower is to chuck it everywhere and be surprised by what takes root where. In another image, gifts given by God are not to be preserved in isolated purity, but risked out there in the big bad world where they might even get lost or perverted. I could go on…
This might seem an odd thing to think about when Liverpool have just this very afternoon shown great humility in losing at home to Spurs. (And writing this is not a form of distraction therapy. Honest.) But, it was sparked by an excellent sermon in Bradford Cathedral this morning by the excellent Dean, David Ison. Maybe this is blatantly obvious to everyone else in Christendom, but … a gate is not the same as a gatekeeper.
Jesus described himself in John’s Gospel as ‘the gate’ through which the sheep enter. A gatekeeper usually sees it as his (or her) job to keep people out – discriminating, sifting, excluding those who aren’t fit or won’t fit. A ‘gate’ doesn’t engage in such activity.
Now, I don’t for one minute think this means that anything goes (the charge usually levelled at anyone who is less worried about their own purity than opening the gate to as many people as are willing to go through it). But, it does put a question mark over how we see the church and the role of those of us committed to building, growing, defending or maintaining the church.
For myself, I am less worried about the purity of those who go through the gate and more concerned to open the gate of the Kingdom of God (that is, into the presence of the God we see in Jesus) to as many people as possible. (After all, they let me in…) It seems to me that Jesus said it was his job then to sort out later the mess that might ensue. In other words, we religious professionals need to keep a check on our protective and defensive instincts and make sure we don’t lose sight of what we are here for in the first place: to open the gate to God’s presence where his love, mercy, generosity might be experienced in a community whose experience this is.
A hallmark of the first Pentecost community of Christians was their ‘glad and generous hearts’. It is pretty obvious that this isn’t always the rumour about the church outside the church. But, it would be a good one to develop.
May 12, 2011
I was rather alarmed to read in the daily press briefing this morning that ‘a large Christian grouping’ (unspecified) believes that the world is going to end on Saturday 21 May. The bad news is reported in the Daily Mail, but I can’t find a link to it.
Announcing the end of the world is a bit risky, but it still comes over as bad news. Saturday 21 May is the day I am due to be ‘put in’ at Bradford Cathedral to begin my public ministry in the Diocese of Bradford.
I’m just not sure now if we should proceed with all the preparations, if we are about to expire along with the rest of the planet. As I can’t find a link to the report (and I refuse to buy the Daily Mail), I can’t get more precise details. My ‘enthronement’ (which means being put into my ‘cathedra’ – the teaching seat of the bishop) starts at 2.30pm. If the world isn’t going to end until, say, 7pm, that might put a different complexion on the matter. But, if it is due to happen at, say, 10am, we might as well save the money and time.
Oh! Apparently, this ‘large Christian grouping’ also says that if it doesn’t happen on 21 May, it will take place on 21 December 2012. That’s the trouble with dodgy prophets: never precise, never consistent.
On balance, I think we’ll go ahead in Bradford on 21 May.
May 11, 2011
Having been out of blogging action for a little while (leaving, moving, settling, starting, lacking wi-fi, mind on other things, etc.), it’s one word that has got me going again. In my last post following the killing of Osama Bin Laden, I stated that ‘vengeance is not necessarily the same as justice’.
Apparently, this sort of thinking is just ‘hand-wringing’. The Archbishop of Canterbury questions on moral grounds the killing of Bin Laden – not a man who often resorts to unthinking utterance – and this is reduced to ‘hand-wringing’.
OK, let’s get one thing out of the way first: can the journalists who use this lazy cliche find something more interesting and less patronising?
The real point, however, is that ridicule is simply a way of avoiding difficult moral argument. Simply deride those who have the guts to face the questions the rest of us don’t want to wrestle with.
For example, my own involvement in Zimbabwe led me to believe that unless and until the rule of law is established there, little else can happen to sort the place out. What should Robert Mugabe learn from the killing of Bin Laden? Either the rule of law is fundamental or it isn’t.
The decision to kill Bin Laden is understandable at a number of levels, not least that of political pragmatism. The implications of putting an iconic figure like Bin Laden on trial in an international court raises more than a few questions and fears. But, to ask uncomfortable questions about the morality, the philosophical undergirding, the ethical rationale and the capacity for consistent application of the decision to ‘take him out’ (which, for once, seems an appropriate term) is not ‘hand-wringing’; rather, it is the essential thinking that someone needs to be doing when political pragmatism goes in directions we might find less ‘appropriate’ to our interests.
The irony, of course, is that the more the term ‘hand-wringing’ is used as lazy, dismissive, patronising journalese, the more it suggests that there is, in fact, a case for deeper – and more disturbing – questioning.
Hands up for the hand-wringers.
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