Bradford


The English Defence League – minus most of its recently-resigned leadership – is coming to Bradford on Saturday.

In one sense it is really nice that lost of people from outside the city want to come and visit. They need to know, however, that the weather forecast is shockingly awful and it will be cold.

In response to a request by the local newspaperwpid-Photo-16-Sep-2013-1332.jpg for a few words about this visit, I offered the following:

The first question we need to ask of the English Defence League is: what sort of ‘England’ do you think you are defending? Is the answer something like: racist, violent, anti-social and destructive?

Where the EDL goes, they disturb ordinary people’s lives, and leave behind a huge financial cost to the police and local authorities. Many ordinary citizens speak of feeling violated.

It is interesting that the leaders of the EDL have just announced their departure on the grounds that the organization has become too extreme and has fallen into the hands of the far right. Well, past experience would suggest that none of this should have come as a blinding revelation. But, Tommy Robinson has now distinguished between “Islamist ideology” and “Muslims”: he wants to be against the former, but not the latter.

For Bradford this is significant. Bradford is mature enough in its community and intercultural relations to be able to face hard questions and to have honest conversations about the challenges as well as the opportunities afforded by our cultural interactions (or lack of them). These challenges are clear, but are best addressed by people who live in Bradford and have a purchase on what happens here. We are big enough to avoid illusions and work towards better integration.

Bradford is rich in diversity – and more colourful than any other city in England. We need to hold firm to our common heritage as we shape what it will mean to be ‘English’ for our grandchildren. The EDL has no place here because it has nothing to bring to the conversation.

Really, this just picks up on something I wrote when Channel Four broadcast its two-part programme entitled ‘Make Bradford British’. Since when was ‘Englishness’ or ‘Britishness’ something we merely inherited rather than something we are creating? In the earlier post (referred to above) I observed:

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?

I have no idea what fantasy of ‘England’ the EDL thinks it is defending. And I am not holding my breath that they’ll be able to articulate any coherent vision for the England we might create together.

Whatever. If they make it through the wind and the rain, they’ll find a confident city, facing challenges with eyes open, and they can at least marvel at the wonderful Victorian architecture.

 

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Doesn’t this video of Bradford’s city centre make you want to visit? Not only this, but the architecture here is fantastic… if you just look up a little.

This is going to be a great week.

Not only do we hit 'the longest day' – 21 June, midsummer's day – when I and colleagues will spend the whole day from 5am to 10pm walking in the diocese, visiting places, doing meetings, taking part in the Grassington Festival and meeting loads of rural people, but we also have a Clergy Study Day on Wednesday on 'change'. In the morning we have Ben Quash (Professor of Christianity and the Arts at Kings College London and Honorary Canon Theologian of Bradford Cathedral) leading us through 'a theology of change'; in the afternoon we have Sebastian Feydt (Pastor of the Frauenkirche in Dresden) telling his story of living through massive change between 1989 and today.

The Diocese of Bradford faces a decision by the General Synod on Monday 8 July on the proposals for dissolution of three dioceses and the creation of a new Diocese of West Yorkshire & the Dales. We have lived with this uncertainty about the future for the last three years or so. I was appointed as the Bishop over two years ago in order to take the diocese through this never-done-before process and build confidence for change. If the Synod votes against these proposals (which would be mad), we cannot go back to business as usual – there will still have to be change as we look to the future.

So, doing theology on Wednesday is intended to reinforce the theological framework in which and through which we see what is happening and shape our future with vision, courage and wisdom. Listening to a personal story of how a whole world (Communist East Germany) collapsed overnight and how individuals, churches and society coped with a whole new emerging world should (a) be dead interesting, (b) flesh out some of the theology we have been discussing, and (c) put diocesan reorganisation into some perspective.

Behind this lies a conviction that structures of themselves guarantee nothing; it is the imagination, vision, will and determination of people that effect change. And for this to happen we need to dare to think and see differently. Whatever decision the Synod makes in July, one thing is certain: mistakes will be made and elements of a new structure will be found wanting. The interesting bit, however, will be how those involved either engage with and own the 'new' or seek out the failings in order to say,”I told you so.”

Not for now, but there are some very interesting biblical associations with all of this.

 

It does, indeed.

Cutting services and access to things that make individuals and communities thrive runs the risk of saving money from one pocket while thereby ensuring that more will be paid out from the other pocket in order to address the consequences of the former.

I haven't been writing much lately. This is because I have been working morning, noon and night on other matters since returning from the Bermuda gig. These 'other matters' include: (a) following up observations on the need for excellent broadcasting that interprets the world and human experience through a religion-shaped lens; (b) convening a meeting of Muslim leaders to discuss serious questions arising around the sexual grooming phenomenon and its implications both locally and nationally (including challenging the elision ethnicity with religion); (c) spending a day in a rural deanery, discovering more about the effects of austerity and other pressures on rural communities and parishes; (d) attending a dinner aimed at raising awareness of the work of the Church Urban Fund in turning round the lives of troubled people; (e) convening a meeting between Christian leaders and civic leaders in Bradford, aiding mutual understanding of some of the remarkable work done under the radar in supporting people in tough communities; (f) visiting an excellent Cancer Support centre and hearing about the funding pressures on local charities; (g) meeting with a local councillor and the Child Poverty board in Bradford to discuss some of the heroic efforts to support children for whom austerity brings undeserved misery.

And all the time I was up to this stuff (these are just the highlights of a demanding couple of weeks) Bradford celebrated the nationally-televised Bollywood Carmen (capping some great and positive recent media coverage of the place) and faced a serious threat to the future of its National Media Museum.

Pic. BBC Radio Leeds

The cord that runs through all this has at least two threads: money and human need.

Wherever one stands on the government's welfare cuts, it is clear that the choice of what to cut is not neutral. Nor is it obvious. Billions can be magicked up to save the banks – whose culture seems not to have changed a great deal subsequently – but the poorest in our country must pay the highest price at every turn. Local authorities have had their budgets cut to the extent that, all the flesh having been cut away, there is only the bone to begin to hack into. Councillors have been in tears as they make decisions they know will damage children and families and vulnerable people.

Choices, as always, are rooted in ideological assumptions about who matters most in our society. It would be no different if another party were in power; but, it does no harm to state the truth about the ideological motives that always lie behind economic priorities.

Local evidence sees a huge increase in demand from food banks – including from the 'working poor'. We see increasing numbers of children and teenagers arriving at school in the morning without having eaten. Some schools are hiding the real costs of this because they feed their children from their base funding, thus reducing the funds available for 'education'. I discovered today that if an eligible student stays on in a school 6th form, he/she is eligible for free school meals; if he/she transfers to an FE college, this eligibility disappears – which clearly distorts access options and raises other questions. I also hadn't realised that whereas the benefits system is operated by the Department of Work and Pensions, the funding of free school meals to needy children is the responsibility of the Department for Education – which seems both odd and not-very-joined-up.

According to Investor Today child poverty costs the UK £29bn a year. In other words, what is saved on 'welfare' is paid out again in addressing the consequences of cuts on the very people affected. Is this not weird?

And this is where the threat to the future of the National Media Museum comes in.

Not only is this one of three national museums in the north of England (the Railway Museum in York and the Science Museum in Manchester being the other two), it also offers free access to people who are being deprived at every other turn, and stimulation/education in the vital areas of science, industry, communications and technology. The National Media Museum is unique; it is not a luxurious frippery riding on the back of a cultural surplus in the north of England. It is unique. It's loss would be a national cultural and educational loss, not just a loss to Bradford and its local economy.

This threat emphasises and fleshes out the growing north-south divide. Noting the growing economic divide, health inequalities and life expectancies between people living in the north and the south of England, the Archbishop of York has commented:

I was shocked to hear of the cuts that our museums are facing. It is simply incredible that we are now considering cutting back on funding which benefits the whole community – investment which not only helps to educate future generations, but which also gives them a sense of their cultural heritage and identity… We need to recognise that our cultural heritage is an important part of our country’s history. A country which forgets its heritage becomes senile.

Increasingly it seems there is a growing economic divide between the North and the South. Too often we are seeing communities across the North of England bearing the brunt of the economic downturn. We need to see a level playing field. Whether we are looking at transport investment, education, employment, health or about where our children and grandchildren learn about what made our cities the fantastic places they are today, we need to put wellbeing at the centre. Everyone deserves the opportunity to blossom and flourish, regardless of where they were born.

No wonder, then, that Bradford is campaigning hard to ensure the future of the National Media Museum here. This museum contributes £24m per annum to Bradford's economy, provides 103 full-time equivalent jobs, and generates Gross Value Added of around £3.7m. The city is the world's first UNESCO City of Film and a Producer City that makes science and technology the foundation of its future. Local businesses are committed to this development. Bradford contributes £8.3bn to the UK economy and this is expected to grow. It is also the youngest city in England outside London.

Is it remotely conceivable that serious consideration would be given to closing a London museum of national importance? Why, then, are northern museums considered an easier target?

This all hangs together. Ultimately the decisions taken will speak eloquently of our national communal priorities. These will betray our ideological as well as economic assumptions. And underneath it all will seethe a pile of questions about our anthropology, our fundamental philosophy of the common good, and the gap between our words of 'social solidarity' (for example, “we are all in it together”) and the reality we fear to face.

And, one way or another, it will cost us.

 

… Is absolutely hammering down just now. Barcelona is lovely, but the heavens have just opened and I am going nowhere. (Unlike my wife who volunteered to go out and get something to eat…)

Being away from the office this week is a tad unfortunate. I am following Sandy developments in the USA and Carribean, but only when the wi-fi allows. Shocking pictures from New York and other places. Just wondering where the money is going to come from to restore what even Republicans seem to agree is a deteriorating infrastructure across the USA – presumably not from taxes?

Anyway, while I am struggling with the wi-fi here, there is nothing going on back in my Bradford office. Apparently. I though I was having the ultimate e-holiday – a totally empty Inbox – but discovered today that the server replacement and migration (that was supposed to take us out for an hour or so) has left the office without email or Internet access since Monday morning. Dead. Nothing. Oh well.

So, two things to point to while I am away: lead theft and proposals to dissolve three West Yorkshire dioceses and create a single new one (with an episcopal area system).

First, theft of metals. Croydon MP Richard Ottaway has the third reading of his bill to make it harder for metal thieves to get cash for their spoils. Shipley MP Philip Davies intends to try to talk the bill out. He opposes it because it doesn’t go far enough and doesn’t increase sentences for those found guilty. I have written to him to ask him to change his mind and his intentions. Apparently, he disagrees – which is his right. It is also the right of his constituents to question his response. Vote against the bill – no problem; but, why try to talk it out? The bill does not do everything needed to outlaw this pernicious trade, but it certainly helps.

George Galloway made me laugh (genuinely) when he said it was like trying to ban Steptoe and Son. Good image. But, Harold Steptoe didn’t strip war memorials, railway lines, communications lines, churches, houses and other buildings to get his scrap metal.

Bradford constituents – especially those who have suffered from this business – might like to reflect on it.

Second, the Dioceses Commission final scheme to dissolve three dioceses and create a single new one for West Yorkshire and the Dales. (Note: not ‘merge’, ‘amalgamate’ or ‘aggregate’; and not driven by ’emptying pews’ or ‘saving money’…)

My response is available here. We vote on 2 March 2013 in Diocesan Synods. If agreed, it then goes to the General Synod in July 2013 and will begin to kick in at the beginning of 2014.

Not surprisingly the media are speaking as if this is a fait accompli. It is as if, by making the proposals, the Church of England has decided and now is implementing its decision. We get used to this. A report to the General Synod – usually the first word in a debate – gets reported as “Church to do…”. I can’t quite bring myself to believe that process is so hard for literate people to understand. But, apparently it is. Consistently.

(Philip Davies MP asked a question in Parliament last week that assumes that Bradford would be subsumed into a greater Diocese of Leeds. The question would be reasonable if this were true, but the assumptions are false – as indicated above. I am surprised that the question was even asked without any single direct approach whatsoever in the last eighteen months to me as the Bishop most closely involved for Bradford.)

So, I’ll leave it alone for a few days and get back to resting, reading and listening to the rain in Spain.

Mention the word 'race' at the moment and all eyes turn to the Olympics in London. But, it is another form of race that preoccupies my mind today.

Yesterday the parents of Shafilea Ahmed were jailed for life for murdering their own daughter who had – by her westernised independence – offended their cultural and community sensibilities. The case has been well publicised and I don't need to go into detail here.

However, there is a very good and clear response to some of the issues raised by Sara Khan in the Guardian this morning. She might also have questioned whether the inhibition of social and health services to protect and advocate for vulnerable arises not from misguided racism, but rather from cultural ignorance and fear of 'getting it wrong'.

Yes, this is sensitive stuff. Muslim leaders in Bradford have no truck with religious or 'cultural' excuses for criminal or violent behaviour. No question – and I know because we speak openly, frankly and without inhibition about these and other matters. And it is not simply about race.

Today the English Defence League is due to demonstrate in West Yorkshire – Keighley, to be precise – and at the same time demonstrate its crassly simplistic (and selectively perverse) focus on missing the point. It is right that people should protest about the horror that is sex-grooming of vulnerable young girls. It is barely believable that men can do this in the first place and it demands condemnation and punishment. But – and this is the brutal point – it is not primarily a racial issue.

Sex-grooming of vulnerable girls is a male issue, not a race issue. It is an Asian male problem and it is a Muslim male issue… because it is a generic male issue. When white Anglo-Saxon men commit these crimes we don't write off 'white' 'non-Muslim' 'non-Asian' cultures as being inherently corrupt or dangerous. If this is an Asian problem, it is only so because it is a male problem. Of course, there will be factors peculiar to Asian culture and the Asian community – just as there will be factors unique to the phenomenon in other cultural communities – and these need to be addressed. But, to target Asians is misguided, to say the least.

In a conversation recently my Muslim interlocutors acknowledged straight up the fact that “this is our problem”; but, we followed this up with the recognition that it is also OUR problem. If the problem of such appalling criminality is to be properly addressed, we need to recognise the 'maleness' of the phenomenon and not simply target religious or cultural scapegoats whilst quietly ignoring the facts or the cultural ubiquity of the behaviour.

The best way to handle the EDL is simply to ignore them and not honour their case with attention.

This morning I preached at the Civic Service in Bradford Cathedral to mark the end on the Lord Mayor’s year in office. This enabled the Lord Mayor, Naveeda Ikram – the first Muslim woman Lord Mayor in the country – to reflect publicly on her year. It was a long service…

I wanted to take the opportunity to thank those who take up public office in any way and recognise the human cost of doing so (for some, at least). Here are the main bits, based on Matthew 5 and minus the jibes at Chelsea and questions arising from David Beckham’s haircut…):

The so-called Sermon on the Mount is often misheard and misinterpreted. It looks and sounds so simple, but is fraught with challenge and demand. In Matthew’s Gospel – which was not written in a moment of boredom as a twee way of telling stories about nice Jesus – this ‘sermon’ comes at the beginning of Jesus’s public ministry and serves as a summary of his teaching. In one sense, the rest of the Gospel puts flesh and blood onto what he says here. And it is gripping stuff that allows the comfort-seeker only one recourse: that is, to ignore it and walk away.

In this passage Jesus is not offering lots of self-help advice for people who want to live a fulfilled life. He is not suggesting ways of improving your happiness quota. He is saying very clearly that if you want to take God seriously – which means taking other people, wider society and the world seriously… and taking responsibility in and for them – there will be a cost. A cost to your prejudices (the meek will inherit the earth, not the powermongers after all), to your values (the hungry will be filled) and your expectations of comfort or satisfaction (people may revile and persecute you).

But, this passage does give us windows on the nature of public service which lies at the heart of this service and today’s celebrations. Let’s look at a few of them before we return to the point.

‘When Jesus saw the crowds’ he went away from them. He didn’t run after popularity or populism. There are dangers in seeking approval all the time. Yet, those who wish – for whatever reason – to serve on local councils must seek a popular mandate and canvas the votes of those who have the power to entrust it to you. In reality, whatever the benefits of public engagement, you get a pile of public exposure in which your personality, motives, dress sense, values, priorities and appearance will all be subject to popular critique – which is a nice way of saying that you open yourself up to being taken apart by people who carry no responsibility other than to pillory people who do. So, you can understand why Jesus didn’t run towards the crowds, but went up a mountain to do some serious thinking about what really matters when you come down again and can’t avoid the crowds or their demands.

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit…’: yet many people can go though life avoiding contact with the poor, the humble and the publicly insignificant. One of the things that mayors – Lords or otherwise – often remark on is that until they began their demanding schedule of visits, they had no idea just how much amazing and self-sacrificial work and service was going on in their area. Naveeda has been to places she probably never knew existed and met people who, without any hope of reward, serve those in a variety of places of need. That is to be ‘poor in spirit’ – often unnoticed and unrewarded – serving those who are poor in spirit and just about every other way, too. Public service exposes you to things you might otherwise not see or encounter. (Which is why Anglican clergy live on the job – part of the community they serve and never being able to worship God without that worship being rooted in the realities of the community life around them.)

‘Blessed are those who hunger and search for righteousness’: Righteousness is not a pious notion… something to do with being a goody-goody. Righteousness has to do with being passionate about social justice, about recognising the inherent dignity and humanity of every person (made in the image of God, as Genesis puts it), and about committing oneself in body, mind and spirit to furthering the goals of that passion. At whatever personal cost.

And the personal cost can be great. Ask the family of those who serve voluntarily or in public service as councillors. ‘Blessed are the merciful’, says Jesus, but mercy is not something you will always find at the hands of a media seeking the sensational or the conflictual. Mercy is for the feeble and the sentimental in a society that speaks all the time of ‘fighting’ for causes. But, as Jesus says and we find so hard to believe or work out, ‘it is the merciful who will find mercy.

Can you imagine what it might look like to give our public servants the space to be merciful and to receive mercy for those they seek to serve?

(As an aside, I was listening to the Archbishop of York preaching at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Service here in this cathedral last Sunday afternoon and thinking about how we take for granted the culture and polity we enjoy in this country. For sixty years – whatever your particular views on monarchy itself as a feature of the polity – the Queen has presided over remarkable stability… and, as she reminded us in a speech last month, over a country whose democracy developed over a thousand years, rooted in a Christian theology and world view that is all-too-frequently disregarded or derided today. Our judicial system was not invented from thin air. The freedoms we take for granted did not just happen. These and other features of our assumed common life arose from an understanding of who we are as human beings, what matters in human living, why morality matters and where moral values derive from, how society should be shaped and on what moral and spiritual foundations it should be built. We take it all for granted as if ‘common goodness’ were a given in any human society. And we are in danger of giving some of this away without a moment’s thought about why we think what we think matters in human living and dying.)

Yet, as Her Majesty pointed out, we need to recall that our society has been shaped by a theology that enjoins self-giving, service, humility, justice exercised with mercy, a passion for ‘righteousness’. These things are written into the fabric of English life and law and into our assumptions about public service.

For this reason, then, I want, on your behalf, to thank those who serve our Metropolitan District of Bradford: those who stand for election and are rejected by the voters; those who, once elected, have to do the hard work of shaping the common good with the limited resources available to them – setting priorities that will always be deemed to be wrong by someone -, and giving their time to serve our wider community; those who are paid to make the whole thing work – the Chief Executive and all those who work at City Hall, carrying public responsibility and often seeing themselves kicked around in the public discourse.

In this context I think it right to note the service of the former Leader of Bradford Council, Ian Greenwood, who served this place for seventeen years and lost his seat at the last election. Many may disagree with his politics, but we would do well to recognise his service along with that of others who have been rejected by the electorate.

As we thank Naveeda and look to pray for the incoming Lord Mayor, Councillor Dale Smith, we conclude by remembering those demanding words of Jesus to his friends on the mountain when he went away from the crowds. Here he pulls us back to check the integrity of our own motivations and the focus of our own priorities and behaviours. Who, we might ask ourselves and each other, will be blessed by our particular form of public service? Who will find earth to inherit, who will be comforted, who will receive mercy, who will be filled, who will discover the freedom of the kingdom of God, who will ‘see God’ in and through us? And, the hardest question of all: when judgement is reached by future generations on our stewardship of our community, will we be seen to have been a blessing or a curse?

May God bless all those who serve in public office, in building civic society, and for the common good.

This service was followed two hours later by a Service of Thanksgiving for the Church Urban Fund. in the last 25 years the CUF has invested about £2 million through 159 grants to projects in the Diocese of Bradford. From January 2007 to December 2011 CUF provided 51 grants totalling £305,554.11 ( and that 11p matters!). The CUF-sponsored Near Neighbours scheme has provided 50 grants totalling £166,887.95 to the Bradford district – £243,390.85 in 71 grants across West Yorkshire. Churches in the metropolitan district run more than 125 community projects, supported by around 3,000 volunteers. According to the figures, the churches now support more youth workers than the statutory services do. Projects include work with some of the most vulnerable people and communities: asylum seekers, refugees, street workers, people who are homeless, single parents, elderly, disabled, unemployed, youth and children, parents and toddlers, parenting classes, education, sport and community relations, environmental and English language (ESOL) learning.

Impressive or what?

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