It is interesting reading from the distance of the USA the analysis of the riots in England. There is a clear tension in which only ‘either-or’ judgements are allowed – particularly by government politicians. I’ll explain in a minute.

In Fulbert Steffensky’s book Schöne Aussichten, he faces a similar issue which illustrates the need to hold together views that appear contradictory. Texts must not be tamed or reduced to comfortable caricatures of uncomfortable narratives. In this case he is addressing the apparent differences in the view of God given by different parts of the Bible. He dismisses the easy alignment of ‘nice, friendly God’ to the New Testament and ‘ nasty, frightening God’ to the Old Testament. Both have to be held together in tension. The former leads to informal mateyness with the Creator and a loss of the ‘holy’ awe; the latter leads to fearful distance and the denial of intimacy. God has to be both strangely distant and lovingly close. (And both are needed in our liturgies and songs.)

Steffensky then goes on to invoke respect for contradictions. “This God has revealed himself, and he speaks to us in many voices. Despite this, what we don’t know is greater than what we do know.” Referring to the tension between ‘grace’ and ‘works’ – that which goes to the heart of the Reformation tradition, he asserts that both Catholics and Protestants have much to learn from the other’s traditions, practices and emphases. He concludes: “The sayings need to be held together, even if they cannot be systematised.”


Now, what does this have to do with what is going on in England this week? Well, it’s tangential, but emanates from the lens through which I am watching events in England.

Take a look at the dispute on BBC’s Newsnight between Harriet Harman and Michael Gove (which I cannot embed on an iPad). Gove wants to damn the violence of the riots and not engage with any discussion of possible causes being rooted in government policies, particularly the speed and severity of the cuts. Harriet Harman wants to condemn the violence, but not run away from the possible causes. It turns into a dialogue of the deaf.

However, Gove cannot hold out with blank condemnation for long. Harman might be premature in her conclusions (though I suspect not entirely wrong in the analysis that got her there), but she is, at least, trying to hold together condemnation of the violence and discernment of cause (or stimuli). Gove wants ‘either-or’ – Harman wants ‘both-and’.

It might be a hard act to hold onto, but the wise will follow the Harman line – not in any way excusing the violence on any grounds – but, at least trying to think about why it happened… and to do so with a little less of Gove’s simplistic denial.

I wonder if the Daily Mail might now run a rethink of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s New Statesman warnings?

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Philadelphia, USA