I managed to get home from a very positive Bradford experience (putting in a new vicar on a large estate) in time to see the second half of the first Make Bradford British programme. Having posted a media literacy lesson the other day, what is my response? I would simply make the following points:

1. Focus on the naff title is fair – especially as this first programme, if anything, is clear that Bradford is British. The question is: what does it mean to be British? It seems that when we try to identify identity we look to the past. But, ‘Britishness’ is not some sort of product we inherit and then try to keep in a cultural box; rather, it is evolving as time moves on. We are creating Britain as we go. In this sense, perhaps, the title of the series unwittingly opens up a more productive debate – or provides a better-shaped lens through which to look at local culture: how do we take our responsibility in shaping at every level the Britain we are becoming?

2. A friend who lives near the canal in Shipley was amused to see how the conversation between the white retired policeman and the Muslim ex-rugby player was edited. They were on a long boat on the canal – somewhere I haven’t yet been. The conversation seemed to be seamless, progressing from one expression of mutuality to another. However, according to my friend, for this conversation to have been played out the way it appeared, the boat would have had to have gone forward, then leapt backwards, then picked up further down the canal before sliding back again to a point they had already passed. Now, I don’t know; but, it wouldn’t surprise me if this were true. What we see on our screen is what I called ‘mediated reality’ – a narrative for which the evidence or illustration is then identified and edited into place.

3. The programme did portray some interesting encounters. I thought it showed strongly the important stuff of people realising through personal relationship the need for good listening, hard learning (about one’s own prejudices and practices), mutual respect and generosity. That’s good, isn’t it? Put aside some of the tacky stuff (like the title and the dramatic trailers) and the programme had some quite interesting stuff in it – certainly stuff worth thinking about and debating further. Such as how to create more such encounters so that people meeting together can challenge and be challenged.

4. It will be interesting to see whether the second programme points to how all the above is already going on in Bradford. There are loads of initiatives aimed at bringing people from different communities together. The Church Urban Fund sponsored Near Neighbours scheme (to name but one) is funding dozens of such imaginative initiatives – but they aren’t dramatic or sexy enough to hit the headlines. There is some great stuff going on here already, and in Bradford we know this.

5. So, if the picture of Bradford offered by the programme is of more interest outside the city, what might be the response so far? Well, inevitably the local media proclaim ‘fury’ locally – Bradford being ‘hit’ again, misrepresented by outsiders who then just walk away. Outsiders who know the city have rightly complained that it represents the place as a single-issue city in which ‘race’ is the only lens through which all else must be seen. This, of course, clouds the multifaceted richness of the place… and the other challenges we face which are identical to those faced by neighbouring cities such as Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool. It would be more helpful to have a focus on Bradford that went beyond race. Such an approach would be enlightening for everyone and would demonstrate a maturity and intelligence on the part of media production companies (rather than a rather lazy stereotyping or recourse to tired cliche that a more media-literate and sophisticated audience simply sees through).

6. I might (again) be in a minority of one on this, but responses from around the country also demonstrate that how Bradford responds to a programme such as this also forms part of how Bradford is seen. The response is fairly cross so far. Yet we should have confidence in Bradford and its people to be able to watch a programme such as this and not be taken in. Confidence allows us to take the hits, turn the focus, shine a different light, and shape the debate as we go forward. Complaining makes us sound like weak victims when we certainly have it within us to take some control.

Bradford is a brilliant place. It is facing questions in the public spotlight that other cities face in a more hidden way. The microcosm we saw last night points to the source of hope: that people in relationship can see themselves more clearly, be ashamed by their prejudices more readily, and find themselves changed by their encounters. Relationships lie at the heart of how we shape our future – not just of Bradford, but of the Britain (and Britishness) we are now creating. After all, today’s ‘Britain’ will be tomorrow’s ‘inherited Britishness’.

Tomorrow evening the first of two ‘reality TV’ programmes about Bradford will be screened on Channel 4: Make Bradford British. They have clearly earned their money in the media world by drumming up a lot of interest and – which I guess was the purpose – eliciting pre-emptive suspicion and resentment against the series… even before we have seen it. I have met two people who have seen it – I have not.

When it was first announced at the back end of last year there was an immediate outcry here in Bradford. The line is – and, given past experience, it is fully understandable – that Bradford keeps being visited by media types who give the place a kicking before departing and leaving the rest of us to pick up the pieces. So, we can understand why even the mere suggestion of yet another experimental programme will raise the hackles and provoke pre-emptive resentment locally.

But, I have not been part of this history – having only moved back to the city nine months ago when I took up my new responsibilities as the bishop here. All my media instincts tell me (a) not to preempt what I haven’t seen, (b) not to assume everything in such a genre must always be negative, and (c) to think that it is possible to take control of a thing like this, turn it, shine a different light on it, and shape the subsequent debate/response. So, although I fully understand the response of some to the prospect of these programmes, I want to see them before making any judgements about them.

Yes, I might be proved to be naive, over-generous and in a minority of one.

Ahead of the screening I would make the following points for consideration as we watch it:

1. All ‘reality’ programmes are always selective and mediated reality. In other words, it has been edited according to the story the programme makers want to be seen. So, it is not ‘neutral’. Therefore, we need to ask how far the mediated reality takes into account in its ‘messages’ the actual multifaceted realities on the ground.

2. Images of people getting on really well do not make for good television. The ‘story’ must involve danger, conflict, emotion and some sort of resolution. Otherwise no one would bother to watch it. So, we need to dig beneath the apparent story to ask deeper questions about what is going on in and between the characters presented to us. The trailers for the programme are irritating because they purport to highlight the conflicts – but, that is a ploy to get us to watch the thing. It is entirely possible that the brief conflicts depicted in the trailers represent the sum total of conflict in the mediated narrative. We will soon find out.

3. The title is crass. Bradford is British. But it raises a very good question about what it really means to be British in the first place. No one ever said Bradford was Irish, but it was the immigrants from the Emerald Isle who really got the place going. Jeremy Paxman in his interesting book The English illustrates how impossible it is to say what it is to be English… in a way that doesn’t apply to the Welsh, the Scots or the Irish. I am German, French, Norse, Celtic (Welsh, Irish and Manx) and probably related to Genghis Khan somewhere down the line. This is why the English Defence League is barking up a branchless tree in trying to defend something undefinable.

4. A confident city will not be afraid of a television programme. Bradford is big enough to look at what is portrayed, take seriously the questions it raises, challenge any misrepresentations or selective representations, hold the programme-makers to account, take control of the debate and move it on.

5. Bradford is a unique place and one that is compelled to address questions the rest of the UK will need to face at some point. Pioneers will always feel exposed. Yes, there are significant challenges, but there are also great resources, massive successes and huge opportunities. I might be wrong, but it seems to me so far that most of the challenges are fundamentally economic and rooted in confidence.

6. Check the language when you watch the programmes. Undefined (or ill-defined) shorthand can set hares running that either don’t live in the field or are not hares in the first place. For example, lazy use of the word ‘segregation’ does not help us to understand a complicated and complex set of social relationships. (For example, when wealthy Brits buy houses in Spain and, ignorant of all but a few holiday phrases in Spanish, choose to live close to and associate with other Brits, we don’t speak of segregation. When they then bring in British plumbers and builders, electricians and administrators, foodies and others, we don’t scream that this is unjust segregation, do we? What we say is: “Well, it’s natural for people to want to live with people like themselves, people who speak the same language and eat the same food, people who share a set of cultural experiences and expectations that do not (in this company, at least) have to be articulated or rehearsed.” So, when the same phenomenon happens in an English city – as it does in every English city – why do we change the rules?

There are ‘issues’ and challenges in Bradford and some of them are unique to Bradford. But, lazy and superficial readings of the situation are not helpful when it comes to tackling them on the ground.

As I said earlier, I haven’t seen the programmes. In fact, I won’t be able to see tomorrow’s at all. Why not? Because I will be licensing a new priest to a parish on a huge estate on the edge of Bradford where the previous vicar did 26 years of utterly committed and brilliant work. His successor is coming from the south of England to pick up the mantle and develop the work further. I will be out all evening with him, his wife, and loads of people from the churches who, rather than pass judgement on a telly programme, will be doing the real business with real people on the ground – not being voyeurs, but being committed. These guys have moved north with vision, faith and hope – all words which, in my time in Bradford so far, I have found in abundance in many of the communities here.

Now watch Make Bradford British with your media brain engaged.

I remember the days when I could write blog posts almost every day. But there seems to be a limit to how much writing I can do in the time available. This weeks has seen me writing radio scripts, a lecture four sermons and more besides. So, with another week looming and a full day out tomorrow, I simply ask five questions provoked by the last week:

 

1. Does James Murdoch have a future? His dad did a messianic drop-in to News International this week without the boss-boy and with boss-boy’s previously disconnected brother. Is James leaving the building?

2. Is Rupert serious about the Sun on Sunday? Probably. It all makes sense and was predicted when the News of the World shut down. But, the loin-girding bravado of Rupert’s presence and journalist-endorsing email might sound tough and supportive while being drowned in the swamp of arrests, suspicion and public outrage. Will the Sun survive?

3. Does anyone have any idea what is likely to happen with Iran as they send military ships through the Suez canal into the Mediterranean Sea for the first time since the revolution in 1979? Western policy in relation to Iran has not been… er… exactly inspiring during the Ahmadinejad years. In fact, Iran has been handled weirdly (in my humble opinion) ever since the revolution – especially when we backed Saddam Hussein’s ethical fight against Iran and in favour of democracy and human rights during the 1980s. What next for Iran – especially with Syria and the Falklands kicking off (in different ways, obviously)?

4. I am writing this while half-watching Keanu Reeves being persuaded to save the world in The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008). But, my real question is whether Arsenal can be saved – along with the career of Arsene Wenger. I find this hard to say (as a Scouser), but I like Arsenal and admire Wenger. They were hopeless against Martin O’Neill’s resurgent and exciting Sunderland in the FA Cup today. But, Wenger hasn’t suddenly turned into a bad manager. I hope, for football’s sake, that he survives. Am I a romantic optimist?

5. Will I make any sense at all of the need for religious institutions to be open to change and challenge when I do my ‘Faith and the City‘ lecture at the University of Bradford on Monday? Entitled Questioning Faith: Religion, change and challenge, I manage to get Rowan Williams, Dostoyevsky, Critical Muslim and the Church of England into a questioning of ends and means, language and fearlessness. I’ll let you know after Monday.

The Keanu Reeves film has just finished. It was rubbish.

Just got back from a great trip to our link diocese in the USA – Southwestern Virginia – and trying to pick up what has been going on while I was away. Both the BBC and the Guardian websites were re-shaped into US sites while I was over there, so some domestic news seemed to slip by.

So, what strikes me on my return?

1. The Leveson Inquiry continues, but things are getting worse as four more journalists have been arrested – this time not from the defunct News of the World, but from the Sun. I can’t weep for those who have (a) indulged in unethical or criminal activity in the name of ‘the freedom of the press’ or (b) shredded other people’s lives before simply moving on to the next cash-generating scandal. However, I do weep for good journalists who now find themselves tarred with the brush of corruption – even if they now know what it feels like to face a situation of personal injustice that they cannot resolve by themselves… an experience familiar to victims of their tabloid colleagues. Not to forget also that it was excellent investigative journalism (and considerable nerve) that exposed this apparent web of corruption in the first place. A good democracy and a good society need a good, free, intelligent, accountable and ethical press.

2. While we spent nearly four hours on Saturday night with a couple of hundred others in Roanoke packing 176,000 food parcels for Sudanese refugees and displaced people (the remarkable and motivated young people of Southwestern Virginia raised the $35,000 it cost – and did so explicitly in the name of Christ), questions were being raised here about the viability of the new state of Southern Sudan. The challenges are huge, but they extend even more precariously in the north (Sudan itself). Christians there continue to be persecuted, expelled, attacked, dispossessed and dispersed. At least one British newspaper keeps this in the news (others may be doing so, too, but I have only had time to check the one).

3. Lord Carey, former Archbishop for Canterbury has bashed the bishops for being so feeble as to defend the poor in the face of the governments welfare cut proposals. Actually, it is clear that the bishops in the House of Lords have not opposed cuts per se and do take seriously the need to re-calibrate who gets what in the future. With the caveat that I have lifted this from the OUTRAGED Daily Mail report, this is what Lord Carey said about the bishops’ amendment regarding Child Benefit:

‘Considering that the system they are defending can mean some families are able to claim a total of £50,000 a year in welfare benefits, the bishops must have known that popular opinion was against them, including that of many hard-working, hard-pressed churchgoers,’ he writes.

‘Yet these five bishops – led by the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds – cannot lay claim to the moral high-ground.

Victoria Coren responded effectively in the Guardian, defending the right – nay, the obligation – of Christian bishops to speak on behalf of the poor, whether or not they win the eventual vote. But, my question really has to do with the insinuation that the bishops should not go against ‘popular opinion’. This cannot be serious. Since when has ‘popular opinion’ been the singular guide to ethics, Christian thought and action, or prophetic wisdom? Coren put it like this:

But I’m not a bishop. It doesn’t matter whether I think they’re right or wrong; I think it’s their job to do what the Bible tells them to do, ie look out for the needy, like the innocent children on whose behalf they raised the amendment, who might otherwise get lost.

The right-wing press that is so angry with the bishops has been complaining for years that Christianity (for better or worse, our national religion) is too weak and small a voice, that its values are not fought for. Now it’s happening, they hate it.

Lord Carey might have an opinion on the government’s handling of the debt, but to suggest that the bishops should be guided by popular opinion (as opposed to, say, the Bible?) is just weird.

Or have I missed something? 

There’s not alot of time for blogging these days because the days are all full. All good stuff, but full. There is loads I’d love to think and write about – Putin’s nomination for the Russian Presidency, the so sad suicide of Gary Speed, Syria, Egyptian elections, the Leveson hearings on phone hacking, and more besides. But, my head’s full of other stuff.
So, here’s some easily lifted material aimed at answering a question I was asked three times by non-church people in the last week: “What does a bishop actually do?”It is easy to give an answer that sounds either surreal or pious, but the reality is simply that it is very varied. At risk of attracting criticism for doing all the wrong things, having the wrong priorities or sounding pretentious, here’s a glimpse of my last week and the days ahead this week. (Every day begins with and is shaped by prayer.)

Last week began with two Confirmation services on Sunday. Each service lasts around an hour and a half. I get to the church between 30-45 minutes beforehand in order to prepare, talk through practicalities, attend to paperwork, meet the candidates, etc. After the service I stay behind to meet people and chat – often for an hour or more. I might have to drive an hour and a half each way (last Sunday was only fifteen minutes in the morning and thirty minutes in the late afternoon. This means that one service can take between three and six hours in total – excluding preparation time.

Monday was the Bishop’s Staff Meeting. This happens once each month and involves the two Archdeacons, the Diocesan Secretary, the Dean of the cathedral, my chaplain, two ‘Bishop’s Officers’ (for part of the meeting). We begin at 8.30am, break for coffee at 10.30am followed by Communion, then we resume business. We finish around 3.30-4pm. I then went straight into a ‘safeguarding’ meeting for an hour and a half. I then drove into Bradford for an interfaith consultation and reception hosted by the Lord Mayor, organised by the Dean, facilitated by me. Over 100 people contributed to a very good event that encourages us to develop the engagement in 2012. I got home and dealt with correspondence and emails.

On Tuesday I drove to Wakefield for a non-agenda meeting of the three West Yorkshire diocesan bishops (Bradford, Wakefield and Ripon & Leeds). I then had a pastoral meeting in my study followed by phone calls on a variety of matters. I then had my regular meeting with the Diocesan Secretary. She was followed by the Diocesan Youth Officer who briefed me on developments among children and young people in our churches and schools. When he left I also left to drive back to Wakefield for the first meeting of the so-called Preparation Group, comprising five members nominated by each of the Bishop’s Councils of the three West Yorkshire dioceses (proposed by the Dioceses Commission to be dissolved into a new single diocese). This first meeting was intended to agree the terms of reference, set out who would lead on which issues, what our work should look like in 2012. I got home after the two-hour meeting to attend to correspondence and emails.

I caught the 7.14am train from Shipley to London on Wednesday in order to chair the Meissen English Committee – the last one of this quinquennium – at Church House, Westminster. This finished early (11am – 2pm), so I fitted in three meetings with people at Church House before a briefing meeting with the Church of England’s excellent Rural Officer. This was follow by a pastoral meeting. I eventually checked in to the hotel in time to deal with phone calls and emails before meeting my youngest son for dinner – I hadn’t seen him since we moved up north. A late end to a great evening.

Thursday began with me doing Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2′s excellent Chris Evans Show. The script has to be written a day or two before (in order to go through compliance), so I’d fitted that in on Tuesday. I left the BBC and walked to Church House, Westminster, to chair the Sandford St Martin Trust meeting – which this week covered future development strategy, the 2012 Awards ceremony, finance & investments, routine business, and an invited guest from another media trust (who we embarrassingly kept waiting for an hour – he was gracious, but needn’t have been). I left as soon as the meeting ended in order to get the train back to Bradford to chair the Bishop’s Council (which included several important policy decisions) in the evening. I always work on the train, but was too tired to deal with correspondence and emails when I eventually got home.

Friday was my day off. I went through to my office to offload some work stuff and then bumbled around the house for the rest of the afternoon before going out to the Alhambra Theatre in the evening to see the Rambert Dance Company perform. (I had never in my life been to ballet or dance, but this was beautiful and brilliant.)

Saturday I was in Shipley for a training morning for churchwardens from across the diocese. I worked in my study all afternoon (clearing correspondence, preparing for the next day and the week ahead). In the evening we drove to York for dinner with the High Sherriff.

On Sunday I baptised and confirmed at Haworth (the Brontë church) before heading off to Liverpool to see Liverpool versus Manchester City at 4pm – with my elder son (who lives there) and one of my colleagues – my first time at Anfield for a match for over twenty years. Great atmosphere, OK result (1-1), excellent day. Back in the evening.

This morning I began a three-day visit to one of my deaneries – the seventh of eight deanery visits in the diocese, the last one (very rural) coming next week. I meet all the clergy individually and together, and will lead an open evening for all-comers tomorrow evening.

I will be back in London on Thursday for communications meetings and Friday for the Chris Evans Show on Radio 2 before catching the train back to Bradford.In the margins of all this are the phone calls, the crises, the correspondence and emails (of which there is an abundance and a variety). I try to respond to emails within 24 hours, letters as soon as they hit my desk, phone calls as soon as I can call back (if not available).

So, that’s it. Illustrative. I write it to give an idea, not to justify myself. I write it simply because people ask what we actually do. If it annoys you, ignore it.

During the last couple of weeks the media focus in London has been on the handling by St Paul’s Cathedral in particular and the Church of England in general of the Occupy camp. Three questions were asked repeatedly by journalists, for whom this story must have presented itself with bells and ribbons attached:

1. Why isn’t the Archbishop of Canterbury saying anything?

2. Shouldn’t the focus be on the bankers and the real object of the protestors’ ire (and not on the cathedral’s management of the situation)?

3. Why aren’t other bishops speaking out?

Now the Archbishop of Canterbury has contributed specifically to the current situation. And the church has turned the debate to the real object of the protestors’ ire. And other bishops are speaking out about the issues raised.

So, what am I being asked in the media now?

1. Is it the place of the Archbishop of Canterbury to intrude in questions of politics and finance?

2. How many marks out of ten would I give to the handling by St Paul’s of the situation on their doorstep?

3. Shouldn’t bishops be attending to what is going on in their own diocese?

Now, call me naive, but isn’t that a bit odd?

OK, it’s a bit of a game for the media: how to find new angles on a story that is in danger of becoming a bit boring. That’s fine and I fully understand it. But, let’s not pretend it isn’t what happens. (And, for the record, I think some of the media reporting of and comment on this stuff has been excellent and very important.)

The other interesting element from a media point of view is the immediacy of the hungry 24 hour media beast – which requires feeding on demand. Memory of previous meals disappears. The fact that the Archbishop of Canterbury hit the headlines just a few months ago with his New Statesman editorial is simply fogotten – he has to speak now. The fact that the Government lambasted him for suggesting that there might potentially be unrest because of the lack of attention being paid to reform of the financial world is simply forgotten. The fact that many bishops and other commentators have been raising these questions for years and have been either ignored or called ‘sensationalist’ simply doesn’t hit the radar. Is this not just a little bit ironic?

If I were a journalist, I would be trawling through the last couple of years of the Archbishop’s speeches and writings and ask if he was being clever, prophetic or just wild. I would then go to the Church of England’s ethical investment material and poke around some of its (probably by now) decade-long concerns about excessive remuneration in the boardroom. There I might even discover in the annual reports of the main investing bodies (Church Commissioners, Pensions and CCLA) an analysis of voting against excessive pay, which (I am told) is consistently the most frequent issue to do with corporate governance. In the last 12 months the EIAG has written to all top 350 UK companies who break the Church’s EIAG framework, explaining in detail why they will vote as they do (in some marginal cases they abstain, rather that vote with management).  When they meet with companies as part of their active engagement programme with UK Boards, remuneration is often one of the topics on the agenda.

Even the Pensions Board annual report said:

In our proxy voting the main issue on which the Board did not back management remained executive remuneration. The EIAG and the Board share a deep concern about excessive increases in recent years in the amounts payable under variable remuneration schemes – both annual bonuses and longer term incentive plans – and will be considering in 2011 how to step up engagement with business on this.

If I dug a little deeper into the St Paul’s Institute I might even discover that it has been fostering dialogue between the City and Church for several years – that is, taking a proactive lead in raising and debating the matters of serious concern now. In fact, (and I only learned this the other day), only days before the current events began outside St Paul’s the Chair of EIAG was there at the cathedral launching his new book - an examination of the causes of the Credit Crisis and subsequent Western world recession. (Not that I have read it…)

None of this takes away from the serious questions raised about the church’s handling of the St Paul’s situation – and it isn’t an attempt to shift the spotlight onto the media… except to suggest that some fruitful areas of exploration have not been spotted and that we should also be canny about the reporting of the story itself as it develops.

Has anyone asked the Archbishop of Canterbury yet why he wasn’t listened to when he predicted exactly what is happening now?

I hope the media keep pushing us on all fronts.

The game is on. Journalists have started their game of speculating without reason on the internal workings of the mind of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The whistle has blown, the runners are lined up, and now we’ll get a race to see who can guess the best story. How exciting… er… or maybe not quite.

I thought the silly season had finished with the ending of the summer break. However, I was clearly wrong. But, the race they describe is the wrong one – the only ‘race’ is between the newspapers.

The media are running with the Telegraph’s speculative story about the retirement of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Despite the accurately vague language that is used in these reports, it is sadly inevitable that many people with think them credible. I don’t blame the writers for amusing themselves in this way, but the readers need to ask themselves a few questions.

Let’s start with the headline in the Times: “Bishops line up to don Williams’ robes”. Can someone tell us just how bishops ‘line up’? What’s the process? The facts are: (a) there isn’t one, (b) no bishops are interested in playing this sort of game, (c) bishops cannot put themselves in the frame even if they wanted to, and (d) bishops are usually too busy doing their work to bother with this stuff.

“Bishops are placing themselves under starter’s orders in the race to become next Archbishop of Canterbury”. Er… who and how? I understand the use of the metaphor, but it doesn’t work in this case. There is no race. There is no competition. There is no ‘finishing line’. The horses don’t know that they are running or where the jumps are that they didn’t know they were required to jump.

It simply doesn’t work like this. If any particular bishop was being considered, he probably wouldn’t know. He couldn’t influence the process anyway. Unlike some other Provinces of the Anglican Communion, there is no election to be fought, no lobbying to be done, no one to lobby and no ‘ultimate prize’. One newspaper report speaks of “some apparent jockeying for position among Dr Williams’ potential successors”. How would a potential successor actually do this ‘jockeying’? Just asking.

You’d have to be out of your mind to want to be Archbishop of Canterbury. My guess is that whoever is asked to do it next will have to be dragged to the seat.

Just read this in today’s Telegraph: “The Archbishop is thought to be under pressure from some senior colleagues to move aside…”. Er… ‘is thought’ by whom (other than the media who would like a good story)?

Anyway, all this speculation is based on another misleading use of language. Why would Rowan be ‘retiring early’ by leaving when he thinks it best for the Church to do so? The fact that any of us can go on until we reach 70 doesn’t mean we should – and most bishops don’t. There would be no sinister significance in the timing of a retirement.

I have no idea when Rowan thinks he might retire. I doubt if anyone else does. Journalists certainly don’t. We can all speculate, but that’s all it is.

And most of us have a life to live and work to do and will leave this media game (for, entertaining though it obviously is, that is all it is) to the media.

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Location:Oxford

There’s a bit in the book of the prophet Jeremiah where the king, Hezekiah, asks Jeremiah: “Does the Lord have a word for us today?” the answer is ‘yes’, but the king doesn’t like it when he hears it. It doesn’t press the right political buttons. It is inconvenient to the dominant ideology. So, it gets dumped. Today it would simply get ridiculed.

The question itself, however, provides the lens through which I look when writing Pause for Thought scripts for BBC Radio 2 (principally these days for the Chris Evans Show). Of course, people don’t articulate it in that language; but, I assume they are asking a similar question: “Will someone help me make sense of this?” or “Will someone shed a different light on this, so I can think it through?” The choice of language – as well as theme – then matters.


When I was asked to go into the studio to do a ‘live’ broadcast a couple of days after 9/11, this was how I thought about it. It was a similar process after the Tsunami, the death of Princess Diana, and other big events. But, it plies to the ordinary times of life, too.

I pick this out now because of what I wrote in the last post about the silence of the Archbishop of Canterbury during the riots in London and other English cities. In one sense, Rowan had nothing new to say that he hadn’t already been saying for years.

Think about his penetrating book, Lost Icons, in which he questioned the consequences of (for example) the sexualisation of children and the refusal of adults to behave like adults (by competing with children in the sexuality market).

Consider his considered thinking and writing in the wake of the Children’s Society ‘Good Childhood Report’ – criticised because he didn’t let adults or parents off the responsibility hook and questioned the destiny of the ‘me’ generation in which ‘personal fulfilment now’ trumps everything else and justifies any behaviour.

Consider what he actually wrote in the New Statesman edition recently and the questions he put to the Government, the Opposition and the rest of us about the values upon which our society is being built. (Ignore the ridiculous media furore and address the actual questions.)

Rather than being silent, in fact he’s been banging on about this stuff endlessly for years. But, people who haven’t listened now turn round and tell him he hasn’t spoken. Bizarre or what?

Rowan once said that when people accuse him of ‘not leading’, what they really mean is that he isn’t going where they want him to take them – and that when they want him to ‘speak out’, they really mean they want him to say loudly what they want to hear.

Unfortunately, that has never been the job of the prophets.

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Location:New York, USA

From what I have heard (which, admittedly, isn’t much), Ministers blame the police for handling the riots badly. And the Archbishop of Canterbury has come under fire for not having made any statement about the riots before his response in the House of Lords yesterday. Then, the first thing he did was praise the police.

Awkward…

It appears to be mostly media people who are upset by his apparent silence. He is, after all, supposed to ‘say something’ every time anything happens.

Why?


It is for the bishops of the affected areas to speak, not primarily the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has no jurisdiction over other bishops’ dioceses. There is something prophetically stubborn about Rowan’s refusal to accept that (a) every time someone sticks a microphone under his nose he has to say something, (b) his job is to feed the media with words, and (c) there is something to be gained from speaking before thinking – or being sure of the facts. There are plenty of others (like me, obviously) willing to comment; why should he?

His silence – however frustrating for the rest of us – makes his response more powerful. And he didn’t once say, “I told you so.” I will comment further on this phenomenon (silence), but, for now, here is what he said:

“My Lords, along with all of the members of Your Lordship’s House, I wish to associate myself with the tributes that have been paid to the work of the police force in recent days, and the work of the emergency services. These are people who have put themselves at risk in a very costly way in order to minimise the risk to others, and we are reminded by what we have seen in recent days of the crucial role that these services play in our society. I believe there are indeed questions about the right level of policing that is appropriate to a complex and troubled society like ours, and I hope that those are questions that will be seriously addressed in the days ahead.

I wish also to express the deepest sympathy to those who have lost members of their family, who have lost their livelihoods, who have in some measure lost hope and confidence in recent days. And it is perhaps that loss of hope and confidence that is the most serious, the most long-term issue which we have to address as a society. In the events we have seen in recent days, there is nothing to romanticise and there is nothing to condone in the behaviour that has spread across our streets. This is indeed criminality – criminality pure and simple, perhaps, but as the Prime Minister reminded us, criminality always has a context, and we have before us the task of understanding that context more fully.

Seeking explanations, it is worth remembering, is not the same as seeking excuses, and in an intelligent and critical society, we do seek explanations so that we may be able to respond with greater intelligence and greater generosity. My Lords, one of the most troubling features, as I think all would agree, of recent days, has been the spectacle of not only young people, but even children of school age, children as young as 7 taking part in the events we have seen. And surely, high on our priorities as we respond to these circumstances must be the question of what we are to do in terms not only of rebuilding the skills of parenting in some of our communities, but in rebuilding education itself.

Over the last two decades, many would agree that our educational philosophy at every level has been more and more dominated by an instrumentalist model; less and less concerned with a building of virtue, character and citizenship – ‘civic excellence’ as we might say. And a good educational system in a healthy society is one that builds character, that builds virtue.

In the wake of the financial crisis a few years ago, we began to hear more discussion than we’d heard for a very long time about the need for a recovery of the virtues. The need for a recovery of the sense of how character was to be built in our society, because character my Lords, involves an awareness not only of the connection between cause and effect in my own acts, but a sense, a deepened sense of empathy with others, a deepened sense of our involvement together in a social project in which we all have to participate.

There are indeed, as we’ve been reminded, no quick answers here. And I believe one of the most significant questions that we ought to be addressing in the wake of these deplorable events, is what kind of education we are interested in, for what kind of a society. Are we prepared to think not only about discipline in classrooms, but also about the content and ethos of our educational institutions – asking can we once again build a society which takes seriously the task of educating citizens, not consumers, not cogs in an economic system, but citizens. Yesterday I was speaking to a friend who teaches in higher education, who said that she had been overwhelmed with the number of messages she had received from the young people she was involved in, expressing their anger and their frustration at what they had seen on television. They believed that their own generation was being betrayed by the activity of many young people.

And that, My Lords, is simply a reminder that the young people of this country deserve the best. The reaction of so many of them to the events of recent days has been, as we’ve already been reminded, an inspiration. Just as has been the reaction of so many in our communities – generous, sacrificial, and imaginative. My Right Reverend Brother the Bishop of London has already spoken in other contexts about the way in which communities have rallied, and the place of churches and other faith communities in that rallying, to provide support, to provide emergency help, and simply to provide a quiet space for reflection. Communities deserve the best, and above all, let me repeat it My Lords, young people deserve the best.

I would hope that in our response to these events we shall hold in mind what we owe to the next generation of our citizens – and I underline that phrase “the next generation of our citizens”. What we have seen is a breakdown, not of society as such, but a breakdown of the sense of civic identity, shared identity, shared responsibility. The Government has very rightly made a priority of building community cohesion in what it has spoken of in recent months. Talk of the “Big Society”, of which we have heard a great deal, has focused precisely on the rebirth, the renaissance, of that civic identity. Now we need to see what that is going to look like. Now we need – all of us, without any point-scoring from a partisan approach – we need all of us to reflect on what that building will require in terms of investment in the next generation – in formal education, but also in the provision of youth services, imaginatively and consistently, across the country.

My Lords, I’ve spoken a little about the way in which communities have responded, not only volunteer bodies, but local businesses and also individuals, building new friendships, new networks. People have discovered why community matters. They’ve discovered why solidarity is important. They have begun to discover those civic virtues that we’ve talked about in the abstract. In other words, My Lords, I believe that this is a moment which we must seize, a moment where there is sufficient anger at the breakdown of civic solidarity, sufficient awareness of the resources people have in helping and supporting one another, sufficient hope (in spite of everything) of what can be achieved by the governing institutions of this country, including in Your Lordship’s House, to engage creatively with the possibilities that this moment gives us. And I trust, My Lords, that we shall respond with energy to that moment which could be crucial for the long-term future of our country and our society.”

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:New York, USA

How do you tell a story in film in no more than three minutes and with a limit of six lines of ‘dialogue’?

Last summer Philips and director/producer Ridley Scott launched a global film-making competition called Tell It Your Way following its Cannes Lions
award-winning short-film project Parallel Lines. Entrants were given freedom of expression and could take up any theme they wanted. The following entry was a prize-winner, but all are worth looking at:

Like some of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation video shorts, these go to prove that you can tell alot with a little. Maybe preachers have something to learn about communication here – and that includes me.

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