Well, not about Russia getting the World Cup in 2018, I’m not. Why does it feel like the Eurovision Song Contest voting – nothing to do with quality, but everything to do with ‘politics’?

Anyway, miserable though I might be about that (and amazed that the huge snowfall in Croydon has brought all life to a halt), I am intrigued by the Government’s decision to gauge the country’s ‘happiness’ with criteria other than economic or financial statistics. The excellent Office for National Statistics has launched a survey and anyone can contribute through this link: ‘measuring national well-being’.

What is weird about it is the total omission of the very element of human experience and motivation that actually shapes ‘happiness’ or how real people measure their own personal ‘well-being’: world view or faith commitment. This applies equally to people of religious commitment and atheists. My argument is not about privileged mention of religion for the sake of religion, but that the omission of any such category renders the survey a bit pointless.

Now, some readers are going to be fed up that I appear to want to drag religion into yet another sphere from which they would gladly evict it. But, this is not about religion per se – it is about the integrity or value of the survey and any conclusions that might be drawn from it.

The human sense of well-being (however you define such a thing) is shaped by all sorts of things: wealth, material comfort, education, family, relationships, environment, etc. But, the assumptions we make about why we are here, why we matter, what drives our ethics, how we see the future, how we face dying and death, etc. also matter greatly. Our world view powerfully shapes how we face the world, interpret our experiences and handle our joy and suffering.

To omit any reference to these is silly. I guess it is yet another example of the ignorant public assumption that ‘faith’, rather than being the shaper of our commitments, is (a) a mere optional add-on for loonies or feeble people who can’t cope with the ‘real’ world or (b) dangerous territory (on the grounds that ‘religion’ is a problem or a threat).

I am tempted to encourage people to respond to the survey accordingly. Again, not as a whingeing ‘we are being marginalised’ complaint, but as a ‘why are public authorities so ignorant of what religion (or atheism) actually is’ challenge.

Just seen proof that Lampard’s goal didn’t go in after all. That makes me feel better. (The link came from a German newspaper…)

England, oh my England, where did you go today?

You were meant to be in Africa, you had a game to play.

The defence stayed home, the team looked lost, the Germans ran amok,

The vuvuzelas gave the sound that best described our shock:

Blaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh……

I don’t know why I should be so pleased, but the exit of both France and Italy from the World Cup is strangely cheering. No idea why – I like the French and the Italians. Maybe it is just the confounding of expectations or hubris that warms the English heart. Unless we are next, of course.

But, with a quarter-final battle with Germany ahead on Sunday, we can look ahead with depression to the singing by the English of such poetic epics as “Two World Wars and one World Cup, na na na na na…” There is something weird about the British obsession with the Second World War – as if it was the last ‘competition’ we won. A selective Hollywood-backed romantic remembering doesn’t help, but the problem goes deeper than that.

My younger son has just graduated (I hope…) in History and Politics at the University of Liverpool. Before he got there he seemed to exploit the preoccupation of every History syllabus at every school level with options to study Hitler and Stalin. Ask any reasonably educated kid in England about German history or culture and most will know little or nothing before 1933 (plus, maybe, the origins of fascism from 1918) – and certainly little or nothing after 1945.

OK, it isn’t hard to see the attraction of focusing on the dramatic, the catastrophic and the uniquely enormous human cost of Hitler’s adventures, but it has its dangers. Germany’s post-war history has been equally interesting and evokes admiration at the overcoming of cataclysmic defeat and humiliation. Yes, there are people who will never forgive the Germans and who will resent their reconstruction and reunification; but, Germany’s post-war division and subsequent reunification present important and instructive material for understanding the modern world (which is, I suppose, partly the point of studying history in the first place). Not least, the reconciliation in Europe led by French moves towards Germany is a story rarely told and little appreciated.

Helmut Schmidt addresses from a German perspective the problem of focusing too much on 1933-1945. In his wonderful book Ausser Dienst: Eine Bilanz, he gives specific attention to the problem of modern German history in a chapter headed Die schwerste Hypothek (in a section on the lessons of history titled Es gab nicht nur die Nazi-Zeit). Having briefly and lucidly described what it was like to be German in the post-war years (individually and collectively trying to understand and cope with both individual and collective guilt), he writes about the paralysis and fear of change that characterised the German psyche:

The more we limit our historical consciousness to the Nazi period, the failure of the Weimar experiment in democracy, Hitler’s instigation of the Second World War (with its catastrophic consequences), and the more we concentrate on the Holocaust and the other crimes of the Nazi era, the more strongly we Germans react with nervousness and even fear to changes.

He goes on to illustrate his point, observing that post-war Germans always feared ‘the return of fascism’. He then goes on to say:

I doubt that it is right or sensible to focus school and university teaching on the Nazi era; on the contrary, I think this sort of education is actually harmful. Concentration on the twelve year Nazi dictatorship leads to neglect of other periods of German history. Above all, however, it conveys the impression – however unintended –  to our young people that prior to and subsequent to the Nazis everything was relatively unproblematic here. In fact, the ideological ground was laid a long time before 1933. For generations education had messed up: particularly education about the value and freedom of the individual person, about humanity and about democracy.

Schmidt is not saying that the horrors of the Nazi era shouldn’t be taught, but that they shouldn’t be taught in isolation from other parts of German history. If we are to understand the Germany of today and tomorrow, we must do so with reference to more than just Hitler.

What this really says, therefore, is that any History syllabus must be rigorously tested in order to demonstrate that it is truly about helping students understand and not simply reinforcing some convenient stereotype or prejudice about other people. For this reason the Meissen English Committee of the Church of England (which I chair in conjunction with the German Committee chaired by the Bishop of Braunschweig, Dr Friedrich Weber) is looking at doing some research into the teaching of German history in English schools.

Our concern is not, however, simply about history – it is about the desperate drop in language learning in England, especially German. How is it possible that in today’s world the learning of foreign languages is so dismissed and undervalued in Britain? The only conclusion I can come to is twofold: (a) that we are so arrogant as to assume that everyone else will speak English, and (b) that we do not understand Schmidt’s point that we cannot know our own culture unless we see it through the eyes of a different culture… which means knowing something of the other language.

It’s a bit like our football: we keep hoping that England is the best team in the world… and are always disappointed to find that our pride actually lies in a romanticised past which we are unable to surrender to contemporary reality.

I filmed an interview today for the German TV channel ARD. As usual, the Germans spoke perfect English. Most German fans watching tomorrow’s game will understand everything the English sing. The same will not be true of English supporters. And that is not a cause of pride – whoever wins.

Song, a regular and always interesting contibutor to this blog’s threads, has sent a follow up to the Vuvuzela Concerto in B Flat. It is the funniest of many pictures doing the rounds and shows the annoying history of the ‘wasp trumpet’:

The G8 Religious Leaders Summit 2010 is now over and I have 24 hours to kill before flying to the earthquake zone of Toronto (!) for the connection to London. And England have got through to the last 16 of the World Cup. (I simply draw attention to my prayers and make no further comment…)

Despite requests for a ‘sharper and shorter’ statement from the Summit, the draft text kept growing. It really is impossible to do textual work on a committee of 60-odd sensitive and opinionated people. The organisers did a superb job of working the process, but some battles are beyond anyone’s competence.

One of the interesting elements to have become evident during the conference is the power of the ‘local’. I know I have banged on about this in the past, but it bears repetition. Any group of high-flying leaders can make statements on a grand scale – and feel that saying something achieves something – but it is usually at local community level that real change comes.

Every community has its own narrative and each community has to take seriously the history and culture that has brought it to where it is. This summit was begun and ended by the Anishnaabe people whose experience since colonialisation in Canada has been appalling. This morning we went to the university theatre in Winnipeg and had a presentation of excerpts from a musical called Strike. A general strike in 1919 not only shaped Winnipeg, but has become iconic as the event that brought together diverse ethnic, national and religious immigrant communities in a common cause (human rights). This memory defines the place even now and the musical is performed annually.

Before the final statement was handed to a Canadian Government Minister, I did the final keynote address to the summit. My brief was to suggest how we can go forward from here as the G8/G20 moves next year to France, in 2012 to the USA and to the UK in 2013. I had no script, so promised to write up the substance of it here.

Starting with the need for religious leaders (and their communities) to share a common space – however uncomfortable that might sometimes be – I went on to use Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ distinction between a ‘covenant of faith and a covenant of fate’. Diverse faith communities recognise a covenant of fate – we share common challenges and opportunities in the world – and we need to take seriously the urgency of our common demands.

This recognition sets the context for a summit like this one: we can see our role as religious leaders contributing to being the memory and the conscience of our political and economic leaders. This means that we can set a wider or deeper moral context for their policy-making. Religious leaders need to be more confident about this: more so than any politician anywhere, we are rooted every day in real communities with real people where we see the effects of sweeping policies on real flesh and blood.

This is not to say that only religious leaders or communities can set this context for reflection and thinking; but, it is to say that religious leaders need ot be more confident at valuing the difference their people make on the ground to the lives of millions of people.

However, grand aspirations, however eloquently expressed by religious leaders at a conference such as the one just concluded, are inadequate. Aspirations need to be confronted by hard ‘how?’ questions. Political leaders will not be inspired to take seriously passionate statements that do not demonstrate that their authors understand the realities with which their political leaders have to live. Any statement needs to be written through the eyes of the intended audience (if you see what I mean).

The way ahead for summits such as this (the sixth)? Well, the following points might be made:

  • We do not know if the G8 will continue to meet as it does at present. It might well give way to the G20. But the G20 in Toronto is causing huge local disruption and costing over $1.2billion. Questions will be asked about the effectiveness of what amounts to a very expensive and disruptive photo-opportunity. Religious leaders need to be light and flexible enough to ask new questions about how to engage most effectively in influencing the minds and priorities of political leaders – whether the G8 or G20 (or some other shape) continues or not. We must not lose sight of what we want to achieve and not simply perpetuate a familiar forum.
  • Effective engagement might need some different thinking. For example, we might need to recognise that by the time the G8/G20 meets, the decisions have already been made, the negotiations had and the priorities established. Running a parallel summit has obvious visibility attractions, but it might be illusorily incapable of having the desired effect. To this end, we might need to (a) meet with a smaller group earlier, (b) engage the media in raising the issues, (c) keep statements light and tight, and (d) find imaginative and creative ways of engaging.
  • If political leaders are to be leaders/shapers of a future (rather than simple reactors to crises), we might be able to find ways of encouraging as well as challenging, creating the space in which harrassed political leaders can be enabled to reflect on the worldview/vision from which policy and priorities can be derived.

The other point I made in passing was that the eclectic pragmatism evidenced by the approach of some of the young people present (who were intelligent, committed, articulate and great company) is inadequate. Put briefly, the question they ask is: ‘Does it work?’ when the really serious question is: ‘Is it true?’. Our young people are sometimes presented with a view of religion that encourages a pragmatic pick ‘n’ mix that avoids distinctives, contradiction or conflict. It is vital that we ask serious questions about truth, maintain our confidence in arguing our case (respectfully and humbly), listen to the experience/world view of others, and treat each ‘faith system’ with the integrity it demands.

Anyway, England has won – Germany looms on Sunday – and the British Government has been praised (and applauded) here for ringfencing international development aid. A good day to be English…

Winnipeg is mosquito heaven. One problem that comes with losing your hair is that is gives the mozzies a more expansive feeding ground. My head now looks like I’ve done five rounds with Mike Tyson. Yesterday it rained and now the sun has come out – which will bring the little bugs out in force. I’m trying not to take it personally, but, today I think I’m going to stick my head in a bucket of chemicals…

The summit of religious leaders began yesterday afternoon with a welcoming ceremony by some indigenous (First Nation) Anishnabe Nation people who lit a fire in a tent, spoke, sang and used drums to ‘send the word out’. This was preceded by two introductory speeches, the clearest coming from a man with authority.

Dr Alberto Quattrucci is here from the St Egidio Community in Rome. This is a remarkable communitywhich cares for poor, disabled and marginalised people – a visit there while we were in Rome last year for a communications conference made a huge impression on our group. Alberto is not only impressive, but is also a very nice man. He spoke quietly, firmly and with humility. He made the point simply that

the struggle against poverty means solidarity with poor people… Transformed structures do not change hearts; transformed hearts change structures.

This raises an important question about conferences such as this: what do we want/expect to achieve? Yes, we can add a voice and make a case for a different way of living in the world and running the world’s economies; but how is the making of that case likely to impact on the politicians who will gather for the G8/G20?

This question is one I will need to push at this gathering over the next two days. If we are to follow the process through France in 2011, the USA in 2012 and host a similar conference in 2013 in the UK, we will have to have a better and clearer idea of how we might achieve what we want to achieve (or think is worth achieving). Simply to make a statement – however powerful or worthy – is redundant unless it is heard and understood by the intended audience.

Given that the G8/G20 summit is always a photo-opportunity for the political leaders – the work has already been done and dusted long before they get there – it feels a bit late delivering a statement to a charade when the business was completed before we got there.

This means that we have to face the challenge in future: do we want profile concurrent with the politicians’ event or do we want to influence the agreements they come to before they get here? I side with the wish for effectiveness in influencing the content and process (by doing our work earlier, pulling together fewer people, keeping statements tight and light, getting effective media traction and maximising the impact whilst minimising the work involved).

Today we get down to business with a focus on ‘Extreme Poverty’ in relation to economics, peace & security and climate change. Some impressive speakers will focus our thoughts. I’ll report later on content and process.

Back to the other world, yesterday saw an interview with CBC about the World Cup. I gather the press in the UK and elsewhere have picked up on my latest World Cup prayers – some even recognising humour where they spot it. One Slovenian website has picked it up and made a comment which looks funny, but I can only work out a little of what it says (not the crucial bits).

Today France will probably get their flight tickets back to Paris. England will prepare for tomorrow’s showdown in the light of the severest UK budget cuts since the Second World War. If anyone can tell me what the Slovenian piece says (even if it is rude – I am getting used to that), I would be grateful!

I’m beginning to get superstitious. A soon as I leave the country the goals start going in in South Africa. Portugal have just banged seven past North Korea who will now have to go home and face the pleasure of their unenlightened dictator. I’ll still be away for England’s decider against Slovenia, so will just have to keep praying my latest prayers from Canada.

I can’t remember the last time I woke up to see seven goals go in during a World Cup. But there are lots of things I can’t remember. And I am clearly not alone in having rather limited powers of recall. Governments clearly have the same experience.

I arrived in Winnipeg with a colleague yesterday (or is it today?) afternoon and we got straight down to work. A tradition has grown up during the last five years whereby religious (usually Christian) leaders in the host country of the G8 summit also arrange a prior summit of world religious leaders. The purpose is basically (a) to bring the religious traditions together and offer a united voice in favour of the poor people of the world, (b) to offer a deeper/wider moral perspective on political, economic and social decisions by our political leaders, and (c) to remind the same leaders of the commitments they have made in the past.

The G8/G20 are meeting in Toronto, but the religious leaders are meeting in Winnipeg. Why not in the same place? Have you tried moving around the city where the G8/G20 meet? Anyway, Winnipeg has a history of religious diversity (and struggle) that makes it the right place to be – apart from the mosquitoes, that is…

On 9 June the Guardian reported that the draft G8 Summit communique had dropped any reference to the Gleneagles pledge to Africa – to double aid to the poorest countries by 2010. That would have amounted to an extra £17 billion ($25bn) each year as part of a £50bn increase in financial assistance. Last year’s summit in Italy concluded:

G8 countries reiterated their commitments, including those made at Gleneagles and more recently at the G20 London summit, to support African efforts towards promoting development good governance and achieving the millennium development goals [the UN targets for addressing world poverty by 2015].

At the Winnipeg summit, starting this evening, global religious leaders (with me representing the Archbishop of Canterbury) will be doing three things and working to make their voice heard by the politicians:

  • uniting their voices in favour of the world’s poor by working on a statement to be presented to the Muskoka summit on Thursday
  • reminding the politicians of the commitments they have already made and holding them to account
  • articulating the moral conscience of the politicians’ summit, thus putting political and economic debates/decisions in a wider moral and spiritual context against which their value can be weighed.

Of course, people are going to argue that this is whistling in the wind – that the financial crash and the fragile predicament of some leading economies have changed everything, thus rendering earlier ‘altruistic’ redundant. It is an understandable argument and carries some practical, realistic force.

But, it ignores the fact that in a global recession it is the poorest who always suffer the most (and not just relatively). The poorest, believing in many cases that they have been lied to or unjustly ignored, do not tend to stick to democratic niceties in trying to change their circumstances. The ‘rich’ countries will pay an even heavier long-term price if they do not continue to stick to their pledges to help end poverty.

As is often the case, the moral argument is often supported by what appears to be a purely pragmatic one: it continues to make good economic and political sense to do everything possible to meet previous G8 commitments and serve a longer-term economic, social and security end.

In a few hours we will start to debate these issues from diverse perspectives at the University of Winnipeg. No doubt the final statement (which is too wordy and worthy) will be edited to give it more punch and purchase; but the Canadians have done a superb job in pulling it all together and giving us a good start in combining our words and convictions.

I have spent the last few weeks explaining to around twenty radio stations from around the world why I didn’t write a prayer for England to win the World Cup. God is not partisan, I explained, and there are bigger things to pray for – especially as prayer is about (a) expressing our desires honestly (even if they are dodgy), and (b) having our own vision of God, the world and us changed by our praying.

Anyway, I suggested, it might take too much of a miracle for England to win the World Cup: we constantly over-rate, over-hype and over-anticipate England performances… and then indulge in a collective intemperate bloodletting against team and manager when they (consistently) fail to deliver on the big stage. At least we are fairly consistent in behaving like this in every competition. (On BBC’s Newsnight programme Gavin Esler said they had intended to show highlights of the game, but there weren’t any…)

But, after watching England’s remarkably aimless and seemingly dispassionate performance against Algeria last night, I now feel moved to pen two new prayers specifically for the England team. (I will be praying from a distance as I will be in Canada for the G8 Faith Leaders Summit – I am NOT leaving the country because I can’t bear to watch the Slovenia match next week…)

The first is simple and honest:

Oh God…

The second offers a little more:

God, who played the cosmos into being, please help England rediscover their legs, their eyes and their hunger: that they might run more clearly, pass more nearly and enjoy the game more dearly. Amen.

Well, don’t say I didn’t try.

Song posted this in a comment on a previous post, but it is funny enough to deserve a post of its own!

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