Globalisation is the word we keep hearing. Indeed, the world has shrunk and contact with people of different cultures and contexts can be immediate. News is instant and judgements are quick (even if ludicrously limited or wild). But, despite HSBC’s claim to be ‘the world’s local bank’, it is the ‘uniquely local’ that always matters most. Here in Bradford one question that nags away at me (as a relative newcomer) is: how does this city become uniquely Bradford and not simply a competitor with somewhere else (like Leeds)?
One of the privileges of being a bishop is that you get out and about a lot – visiting real people in real local places, hearing local stories, learning about the uniquely local realities, and seeing one ‘locality’ through the lens of another. For example, whenever we grapple with inner-urban issues (both challenges and opportunities) we do so partly by looking at them through the lens of the rural and suburban. And, of course, vice versa. This means that there is always another perspective – a different light to shine on one reality/context – that inevitably questions our assumptions, checks our excuses and compels us to look more broadly.
This doesn’t just apply to geography and demography. In my travels around the diocese I also try to help people to read the Bible in this way: seeing the particular reading in the light of the whole narrative and allowing assumptions or prejudices to be challenged by looking at the text from a different perspective. It is like looking at a cropped fragment of a painting or photograph, working out what is is about, then drawing back to the wider canvas and – on seeing the true, fuller picture – revising our prior judgement in the light of what we now see.
Yesterday’s budget by the Chancellor in London is no doubt causing a lot of sound and fury around the country. I haven’t had time to look at it as all day every day seems to be filled with people and work at the moment – all good stuff and the stuff of the real world. But, as well as asking what impact the budget will have on people locally – especially poor, sick and vulnerable people – yesterday saw the bodies of the six (five from Yorkshire) soldiers killed recently in Afghanistan repatriated to England. I was asked recently on the telly how the people of Bradford were coping with the news of their tragic deaths – as if I should know how everyone is thinking or feeling! Yet, the question is valid in the sense that a soldier from Bradford has a connection (at lots of levels: identity, locality, commonality of environment and experience) that a soldier from Brighton does not and cannot have.
Identity and association work at different levels. When I am abroad I am fiercely English/British; in England I am Scouse; in Yorkshire I am Bradfordian; in Bradford I am… er… trying to learn what ‘Bradford’ is and what ‘Bradfordian’ means. Which I love.
Being positive about locality is not about being blind to its challenges. But, it does mean (in Christian terms) taking ‘presence and engagement’ seriously. Christianity is inherently incarnational: we see God in the person of Jesus who then sees us as his body, called with a single mandate, therefore, to reflect the Jesus we read about in the gospels. And this means paying attention to the local, the small, the parochial, the relatively insignificant, the everyday realities that shape the lives (for good or ill) of people in every community. Which is what the Church of England tries to do, using its clergy, people, buildings, ‘purchasing power’, and down-to-earth commitment to transform both the way we live and the way we see – from the inside out and from the outside in.
Today I am meeting nine curates, one after the other, for interviews about their future ministerial deployment. Conversation about their ministry has with it huge consequences for spouses, children, families, schooling, employment, etc. It is easy to take this commitment for granted, but it is frequently remarkable and humbling. And it always takes place in the context of trying to hold the individual in the light of the common and the local in the light of the wider church and world.
It is never boring.