So, Manchester United get another jammy win, Liverpool show flair and draw, Arsenal fall apart, and David Starkey insults someone on the telly. It looks like some things never change.

I feel out of the picture of post-riot English debate. But one thing that has somewhat surprised me is the knee-jerk (and lazily predictable) blaming of multiculturalism. Multicultural Britain certainly presents challenges, but where is the inextricable link between multiculturalism and the riots? From what I have seen from this side of the pond (so the judgement has to be provisional), the riots were multicultural in their constituency. I guess the riots were also fairly heterogeneous: black & white, young and middle-aged, unemployed and middle-class professional, etc.

So, why did nothing kick off in places like Bradford or Burnley? Why so many stories about Asians and Muslims protecting their neighbourhoods in, for example, Birmingham? What conclusions can we draw from this?


The other thing that has surprised me is the shortsightedness of some knee-jerk comment from politicians (as reported). Just a question: if the left is being caricatured as offering bleeding-heart liberal sympathy with the poor rioters, then how does the right think that evicting families of rioters from their homes offers a long-term solution? I might have little sympathy for the criminal opportunism behind much of the looting, but as a society we still have to live with the consequences of marginalising people who already feel they live on the edge of civil society.

Bleating about ‘responsibilities’ doesn’t help us when some people don’t bother to listen. And we still have to live with them – even if they riot or thieve or fiddle their taxes.

From where I am sitting (and, again, I am at an uncomfortable distance), it is not enough to damn the opportunistic consumerism of the looters while we see the banking system that brought the world to it’s financial knees continue its rewards system without shame or demur. What is good for the goose is presumably good for the gander. It is a value question.

Anyway, I still don’t understand the headline in Russia’s Pravda from last Tuesday (http://www.pravda.ru/world/europe/european/08-08-2011/1086943-westend-0/): ‘Arab boomerang returned to London’. It’s funny how we read into situations the conclusions we have already drawn before even looking at the evidence.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Philadelphia, USA

The end is nigh – the new beginning draws close.

Actually, that isn’t an Easter reflection. I managed to lose any internet connection four or five days ago and have now only popped in to my old office to bring all my official computer equipment from home before we move out of the Croydon house… which we do this coming Wednesday.

In the silence I have managed to miss addressing an absurd example of journalistic ignorance in the Independent (I think I might write do similarly by writing a lengthy and passionate piece about something of which I know little – quantum physics, perhaps), the big ‘Church school admissions’ story, and the whole of Easter. Even Liverpool’s thrashing of Birmingham City fell by the wayside.

This has been a pain for me as the writing (and subsequent commenting/debate) always helps me to think more clearly. I am not sure how much such ruminations will have been missed by readers of this blog. But, the enforced silence has been like enforced fasting – probably good for the health and for getting things in perspective – but it plays havoc with the blog stats.

Anyway, now back to radio silence until the end of this week when we will be settling into our new home in Bradford and getting reconnected with the blogosphere.

Lovely weather for humping furniture around…

I am in Berlin for today and tomorrow to speak at a conference of ‘middle managers’ in the German Church (EKD). I flew in this morning in time to hear a stimulating address by Dr Thies Gundlach which (to my ears, at least) focused on the need for fresh attention to be paid to spirituality (the Bible being a lens through which to see God, the world and us) and a need for the development of strategic competence in the outreach ministry of the church in a changing world.

I have met Thies a number of times and am impressed with the seriousness with which he engages – both personally and professionally – with these questions. He is also a very nice bloke.

My session was at the end of a heavy conference day for the punters and I feared I would send them to their early sleep. I was sharing the platform with a Dutchman who gave an interesting presentation about the challenges posed by the changing situation of the church in the Netherlands. The idea was that the two of us would be interviewed first by two comperes and then give a twenty-minute address each on the theme of the conference. I went second and addressed the question of ‘Leadership, Management and Inspiration’. I basically wanted to encourage the ‘middle management’ to be creative in leadership, to lose their fear of failure and enjoy the challenge of their ministry.

I was asked beforehand whether I was daunted by the challenge of moving from Croydon to Bradford. I was able answer immediately and without either delusion or hesitation: no! I am looking forward to the challenges and opportunities that this will bring. It is a fantasy that life is ever sorted; every day brings new challenges and there was never a ‘golden age’. So, if we are going to do this stuff, let’s at least try to enjoy the experience.

For the record, my line on ‘leadership, management and inspiration’ was basically that management of resources is important, but that leadership involves more than administration. Leadership demands from leaders the ability and freedom to inspire the led. I began with Liverpool Football Club…

Why can Kenny Dalglish get out of the same players who failed for Roy Hodgson more energy, commitment, flair, engagement, skill, optimism, determination and enjoyment? The same players on the same ground for the same club. Well, one answer is that King Kenny has restored confidence not only in the collective ambition of the team/club, but also confidence in the individual players’ creative ability. They look like they want to play and want to win.

Part of the distinction between ‘management’ and ‘leadership’ can be illustrated by the question I found myself asking as Archdeacon of Lambeth ten years ago. I can’t remember how or why, but I recall realising that there are two approaches to being an archdeacon (responsible for buildings, finance, law and ‘stuff’ in the Church of England): the first asks what the law allows us to do and goes from there; the second asks what we want to achieve (where do we want to get to) and then works out how the law might allow us to get there. In other words, leadership begins with a vision for which a strategy is then needed – but strategy without vision is meaningless. Poor management often sees the development of strategies without having first identified the vision that the strategies are meant to make happen.

Of course, this has to do with giving permission to leaders(at any level) to fail. Having identified clarity, confidence and communication as key to good leadership, I quoted Matthew 25:14-30. Here three blokes (they are always blokes…) are given money by their boss who was about to go away for a bit. Two blokes doubled the cash they were given, but one hid his away in order to preserve it from risk of loss. The first two were praised, the last was condemned. The church and the Gospel are to be risked – given away and possibly lost, perverted, misrepresented, twisted, half-remembered, etc – and not stuck in the ground where they can be kept pure, untarnished and ‘holy’.

We never really learn this, do we?

Anyway, as this isn’t a sermon, we went on to take questions form the floor – many of which began with the football allusion. One question made me think about the analogy between football matches and church services. I quickly thought and suggested that the liturgy of football involves (among other things):

  • a commonly owned and understood liturgy
  • that liturgy involves worship, praise, criticism, prayer (pleading for an outcome), complaint, questioning, singing, silence, emotion, reflection, critical appraisal
  • the experience is centred on a common goal (literally!)
  • everyone is a participant in the event – no one is a mere spectator.

Now, think about how church might take these elements on board – consciously – in the choice of medium, language, music, action, performance and articulated vision.

A question about the challenge of the so-called New Atheists led to the conclusion (among other things) that their major weaknesses are (a) their lack of humour, (b) their need to hold on to a caricature of religion in order for their critique to bear the weight they put on it, and (c) their ignorance of the fact that what they think of as ‘new’ is actually very old and didn’t hold much water even 200 years ago.

Anyway, that’s Berlin Tonight (to quote either Leonard Cohen or Bruce Cockburn).

I have no idea where this comes from originally (I am trying to find out), but – despite being outrageous – is very funny. If you don’t understand what Liverpool fans have gone through in the last few years, it will be meaningless

I leave the country for less than 48 hours and interesting things happen back home. Coincidence?

I was in Germany to speak at the launch of a new initiative by the EKD aimed at getting clergy and their churches to make use of resources for reminding people of or nurturing them in the Christian faith. As here in England (and probably everywhere else), many people reject Christian faith when they are younger, but then never bring to it the questions an adult ought to have. Thus the faith of a child is still being rejected by an adult whose questioning might not have grown up with him or her.

In my parish experience this was often the case. Parents would ask about baptism for their child and, during a pastoral visit, would say that they don’t necesssarily know what it was they had left behind. Baptism preparation (lay-led and over three or four meetings in their own home) gave them the opportunity to look at Christian faith as an adult.

That is what Kurse zum Glauben is aimed at doing in Germany. The launch in Osnabrück was excellent, creative and involved lunchtime cabaret as well as a fantastic (Gospel) choir and food. I was the keynote speaker and still managed to get Liverpool and Bradford as well as Croydon into the occasion.

And while I was away? Andy Coulson resigned as David Cameron’s Director of Communications – something that was inevitable in the light of the phone-hacking haunting of his old employer. What I never understood about Coulson’s defence of his role in the News of the World phone hacking scandal was his contention that he knew nothing of what was going on. If that was so, he was an incompetent editor, boss and manager (which begs the question about why Cameron hired him); if not, then he was being economical with the truth. The truth is, he has done an excellent job for Cameron and will surely be missed – just as Ed Balls comes in (for Alan Johnson) to harrass George Osborne and a tough Communications Director is needed by the Tories.

The second thing that happened while I was away extolling the value and virtue of Kurse zum Glauben? Liverpool beat Wolves 3:0 away from home and Kenny Dalglish was spotted laughing. Mind you, Torres looked happy and the gloom over Liverpool appeared to thin out a little. Glorious. But there’s a long way to go from here.

Anyway, back to Croydon to continue the ‘ending’ while trying to get my head into what lies ahead in Bradford when we move north in April. It’s all giving me a headache and taking away the creative impetus for writing this blog. I’ll try to get more space soon.

Time is tight these days – something to do with working Croydon/Southwark while turning attention to our move to Bradford in a few months time. But, I was going to write something this evening to pick up on comments about last couple of blog posts and now it seems a bit less urgent. I got home from seeing a long-time friend and opera singer Jonathan Veira (great venue, great live jazz, great food and great company) only to find

  • Roy Hodgson has left Liverpool by mutual consent, allowing Kenny Dalglish to take up the reins for the rest of the season;
  • A young US Congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, has been shot (along with others) at an event in Arizona – prompting Sarah Palin‘s people to (a) pull down her website appeal for action against opponents like Giffords and (b) delete her ‘Don’t retreat, reload’ tweets from Twitter.

The departure of yet another football manager isn’t too much of a surprise, but Roy Hodgson is a decent, honest and generous man and he goes with credit for this. I think his position was untenable in terms of confidence and I am (for the first time this season) excited about the passion King Kenny might be able to bring to the Liverpool squad. But Hodgson will get another position soon and even his opponents in Liverpool will wish him well.

But, this is trivial stuff in the face of yet another shooting in the USA. People who live by the gun will probably die by the gun. It is just hard to see from this side of the Atlantic why some people on the other side of the Atlantic can’t see any connection between an obsession with gun ownership and the number of gun crimes on their land. And if the American Right are so convinced of their rightness in this respect, why take down embarrassing websites or tweets? Words are powerful and violence starts not with a finger on a trigger, but with an idea in the mind, given shape by words.

Later I’ll write what I was going to write. In the meantime, the mad world continues to spin.

It was too good to last. Christmas joy, lots of family and celebration, and England win the Ashes in a game I never watch. Then this: Liverpool 0-1 Wolves.

I wouldn’t so much mind Liverpool losing, if they at least played like a team that was interested in being on the pitch in the first place. It’s the lack of passion. I have no idea if it is Roy Hodgson’s fault or if the rot goes deeper. But, we Liverpool fans are not used to being in 12th position at the turn of the year – only three points above the relegation zone. Desperate. And embarrassing when half your mates are Chelsea, Spurs or Man Utd fans.

I’m beginning to wonder if it’s my support that is sporting death to any team that claims my affections. Croydon’s own Crystal Palace drew last night and remain stuck in the Championship relegation zone – Bradford City lost 4:0 to Cheltenham Town. With an effect like this, I might just start supporting Man Utd…

It’s just as well I am rooted in a theology of hope. Hope does not depend on particular circumstances, but in being constant whatever the particular circumstances of life might be. Put bluntly, Christian hope is not in God keeping me alive and happy or healthy and fulfilled; rather, it is in the God who has the final word (‘resurrection’) in a world that thinks violence and death have ultimate power. In other words, the circumstances might change – and get better or worse – but I won’t blow in the wind.

I’m even hopeful about Liverpool. I’ll stick with them, come what may. But, I feel like the Hebrew people in exile, hanging on to words that promise a better future. One day.

(I can still be miserable, though!)

Christmas Day has moved on into memory. The Boxing Day sales couldn’t be thwarted even by the latest Tube strike. Liverpool’s revenge on Blackpool has been delayed because of a frozen football pitch. The government seems to have decided that helping children to read might be a good idea after all. And I wonder if the first Easter eggs have already started to appear in the shops…

The end of December always feels like getting to the top of a very high ladder – we’ve been heading up it all year. Then the parties of New Year’s Eve give way to the feeling of being at the very bottom of the ladder again, faced with the prospect of doing the whole thing again. It’s a funny psychology, but you can see why some people love the last week of December, but dread the first week of January – especially when the credit card bills come in in the cold light of day.

Nothing ever stands still. I have just re-read the Preface to Dr Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary in which he recognises that languages can never remain fixed (despite his own desire to resist corruptions of English by referring only to its use by pre-Restoration writers), but thinks that dialects will die out as written dictionaries fix meanings.

Yet, this is one of the ironies of life. Every time we predict that we have ‘arrived’, something else pops up to thwart our sense of security. Whenever we think technology will homogenise human experience or communication, real life confounds the prophets. Just when we think that globalisation will turn the whole world into plastic, the peculiarities of uncontrollable local cultures arise and assert their place in defiance of ‘inevitabilities’.

Last week it was reported that the Chinese government is to limit non-Chinese words in their media and, thereby, to preserve the purity of the language (and, therefore, cultural identity). They should learn from Johnson, the French Academie Francaise and the failed attempts by Germans to fix their tongue in some state of  ideologically pure suspension. A living language cannot be nailed for ever – especially by controlling governments – and the attempt is futile. (Which is not the same as saying, therefore, that Humpty Dumpty was right all along and words can be made to mean whatever we want them to mean – etymology isn’t redundant and language never develops randomly.)

Yesterday we celebrated that God did not remain an idea ‘logos’, but came among us as one of us in a way any human being can recognise. The ultimate in communication. We can play games with words, but human living and dying is common experience to everyone who has ever breathed.

However, Christmas is the beginning of the story, not the end. The baby grew up – presumably, through childhood (and all the ways children grow and learn), through adolescence (and all the ways young people grow into adulthood and the challenges this brings… not least to parents) and into responsible adulthood. The ‘idea’ did not remain a generality, but became ‘particular': someone, somehow, somewhere.

The challenge for the churches is how to encourage – creatively, consistently and imaginatively – people who get stuck with the baby in a manger to stay with the story right the way through to Calvary and beyond. Jesus didn’t stand still. The ‘Word’ became flesh and grew, changed and developed.

What that means and what that looks like is the task for the next few months. (After we’ve partied our way through the next week, that is.)

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.

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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