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So, the PM is prepared to go to war on Spain over the status of Gibraltar, is she? (Well, “showing the Falklands resolve” isn’t quite the same thing, but you get the point.) We will fight for the rights and sovereignty of Gibraltar, will we? And what exactly is this to look like? The referendum result has dumped Gibraltar and the government now has to try to square a very round circle.

About ten days ago there was a debate in the House of Lords on the question of Gibraltar in the wake of Brexit. The report itself was good, clear and helpful, but one or two of the questions arising from it needed (I believed) to be pressed. Members of the Gibraltar government sat in on the debate. I have never been there and have not previously had a great interest in the place.

However, the challenge to Gibraltar seemed to me to focus on one of the major problems we face as we negotiate our departure from the European Union: realism. The government keeps issuing bland statements of optimism, but neglects to articulate clearly the fact that it has little or no control over delivery of a desired outcome. So, this is the text of my speech:

My Lords, I endorse all that has been said so eloquently. The report is excellent, but for me it raises a number of questions. The main one concerns the fact that throughout the referendum campaign, and subsequently, we have repeatedly heard statements such as, “We will get a good deal”, and, “We will do this and we will do that”, when in fact we do not hold the power in a lot of this—it will have to be negotiated.

Despite urging that we get the best for Gibraltar, I want to be assured that the Government is stress-testing all the scenarios, including the worst-case ones. We owe it to the people of Gibraltar to do that because it was not done in preparation for the referendum itself.

If you look through the eyes of Spain, you find that it is not good enough for us simply to say, “We mustn’t compromise on sovereignty”. What if the Spanish hold out sovereignty, play a long game and say, “We’ll just sit this out. We won’t give equivalence”? What if the EU does not give Gibraltar equivalent status? What if Spain wants to use sovereignty or cross-border access and frontier issues as a bargaining chip? We cannot simply stand there and say, “Well, you can’t”. I want to know that we are stress-testing this. Who has the power? After all, we have spoken of having a clean Brexit; what if the Spanish take us at our word? That has to be thought through and our response to it considered.

Particular questions are raised here. As I indicated, if the EU declines to give equivalent status after Brexit, what then? What is the cost to the UK, already alluded to in this debate, if Gibraltar is given no access in future to EU programmes? Has that been costed out? In paragraph 29 of the report, we read about the strong economic links to the UK, specifically the City, should the single market be infringed in some way. But what if the City effectively moves to Frankfurt or Paris? We keep saying, “Well, it won’t”, but what if it does? We do not hold all the cards.

Paragraph 36 says that, if access to the single market is restricted,

“the rest of the world beckons”.

So does outer space. It does not mean that we can get what we want. Where is the realism that comes from looking through the eyes of those who do not hold the best interests of the UK as their priority?

Paragraph 50 says that, for Spain to intensify border controls would be regarded as an “aggressive act”. Frankly, why should it not? It did not choose this. I suspect that, if the boot were on the other foot, we might be rather aggressive as well.

I just want to be reassured that these scenarios are being stress-tested in the way that they were not before we went into this business in the first place. We owe it to the people of Gibraltar.

I pressed similar questions a day or two later in respect of the environment, agriculture and the ending of subsidies for farming in parts of my diocese.

My point (not as articulately put as it should be, I admit) is that we need all scenarios stress-tested – including the worst-case ones – in order not to feed people with false promises that we cannot deliver. The triggering of Article 50 has not “taken back control”, but has handed it to the 27 EU countries who will, rightly, now look to their own best interests (as the UK would have done if, for example, France had unilaterally decided to depart).

If the UK is to prepare – and that does not mean just government – then we need to know the best and worst options that lie before us.

A meeting of bishops from the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Churches is coming to an end here in Birmingham. It has been a stimulating, encouraging, challenging and good time together. In brief, we have looked at the international scene, the European scene, prayer and evangelisation, and where we go from here together.

Haunting the meeting is the spectre of a Trumpian revolution in the United States – with considerable implications for the rest of the world – and the debate about Brexit.

One of the interesting features of debate about the USA and Brexit is the constant attempts to close down debate on detail on the grounds that “we won, so shut up and let the winners get on with it”.

Politics cannot be run only by politicians. Politics is about people who hold different views, different values and have different priorities. In other words, all of us. A vote does not end the conversation. Had the UK voted to remain in the European Union, there is little chance that those who ‘lost’ would be accepting the status quo and going quiet; nor should they.

The referendum on membership of the EU delivered a decision to leave. However, almost half of those who voted did not vote that way. It was not overwhelming or decisive (as has often been stated). The country is divided – almost in two – over the matter. So, how we proceed from here must take seriously the concerns of the half the country that does/did not want to leave the EU. How we leave matters. The language we use in the course of the debate (on how to leave) matters.

From my own experience – and despite some of the public posturing – some of those in government take the 48% seriously and understand the need to hold the country together.

I have not changed my view that much of the language of certainty and promise is at least speculative and at worst fantasy. This means that we have to be prepared for huge disillusionment and further resentment when many of the Brexit promises turn out to be unfulfilled. Yes, the gains must be identified, too, it is the deficits that will provoke the reaction.

Donald Trump might well be doing what he said he would do – which is his prerogative – but democracy means that the debate continues. If lies are told, this matters; and the nature of the lies must (if we believe truth has any value) be named. However, not everything inconvenient to my preferences are necessarily lies.

It is right that serious questions are asked about policy from any democratically elected government. Protest must be legitimate. The questions we must ask about the questions raised pertain to very basic stuff: what is a human being? why do people matter? what is a good society? from what (theological) anthropology do our values and moral judgments derive? what responsibility do I take as a citizen for shaping our collective common life?

For Christians the answers will be rooted in the nature of the world as God’s creation, people as made in the image of this creator God, and neighbourliness being rooted in more than seeing others as commodities or merely economic entities.

 

This is the text of an article published today (and written in haste) in the Yorkshire Post following the attack in Berlin last night:

Any pretence at optimism about the world must surely lie bleeding in the ruins of the Christmas market at the Breitscheidplatz in Berlin. If the assassination – live on social media – of the Russian ambassador to Turkey was not shocking enough, the blood continued to flow in Germany. Remarkably, even before facts were known, the commentariat leapt to judgement on the causes of this latest atrocity.

I know Berlin well. I walked across the Breitscheidplatz only a few weeks ago while attending a conference on freedom of religion and belief. It adjoins the iconic church (the Gedächtniskirche) recognised around the world as a symbol of destruction and reconciliation in the 1940s. Yet, here, in a place of celebration and mercy a lorry is driven into crowds of innocent people, bringing death and injury. What are we to make of this?

Well, it demonstrates that there is no escape from a globalised world. That is to say, the small planet does not provide any private annexe for people who wish to live in a way that is disconnected from the lives of others. What happens in Syria impacts on Ankara and Berlin; what happens in Iraq and Yemen impacts powerfully on Italy and France. What happens in Pakistan impacts on Bradford and Dewsbury. Whether we like it or not, there are no hiding places in an interconnected world.

But, what is sobering about the latest attack (following on from the atrocities in France since the Charlie Hebdo shootings) is that conclusions were being drawn before facts were known. The suspect is a Pakistani asylum seeker … or have the police arrested the wrong man? They are unsure if the man arrested is the right one. Which means that the murderer is still at large. He might be an asylum seeker and might be an Islamist terrorist, but we don’t know. Yet, there is an explosion of assumptions. In a post-truth era it appears that any opinion will do.

Anyway, whatever the identity and motive of the perpetrator in this case, here is a sobering fact: if he is an asylum seeker who entered Germany last year when Angela Merkel opened the doors, that still leaves another million asylum seekers who have not committed a crime or abused the hospitality of the host country. What conclusions should we draw from that?

The violence in Berlin does raise other questions, however. What are we to make of people who are willing to inflict misery on others in pursuit of very particular ends? And how are we to address our own fears in the face of such shocking events – where people going about their Christmas business are mown down indiscriminately? (Discriminate murder would be no less morally offensive, of course.)

There is little comfort to be given in a world in which we are deeply connected but often in ways we don’t understand. We can cope with watching violence on the screen when it is happening far away; but, when it happens to us on the streets of our own cities we struggle to understand. Yet, if you are on the receiving end of British-made cluster bombs in Yemen or a rogue lorry in Berlin, the misery and injustice of it all seems indifferent. I suspect there will be more to come – grievances go deep across the planet, and they last for a long time.

So, is there anything to be said that doesn’t just resort to platitude or escapist wishful-thinking? I think there is.

I am a Christian – that is, a follower of Jesus Christ. Some people assume this is a bit feeble in the modern world. But, there is nothing feeble or romantic about a baby born into political and military oppression under the heel of the Roman Empire. There is nothing sentimental about growing up, firstly, as a refugee in a place that represents everything you ever wanted to escape from (Egypt) and, secondly, getting abused and ultimately executed for loving the wrong people and saying the wrong things.

Christmas brings this home. Christmas is about God opting into the world as it is with all its violence and contradiction, and not exempting himself from it. We shall move from the manger in Bethlehem to a cross at Easter and find ourselves challenged by an invitation that looks ridiculous if put in a religious box and removed from the real world: we can be driven by fear or drawn by hope. Christian hope comes to us and grasps our imagination. It comes from a God who is no stranger to suffering and who doesn’t turn his face from horror. It is a hope rooted in a refusal to see death and violence and destruction as having the final word. And we are invited/challenged to commit ourselves to being this sort of hope-bearers in the face of all the misery and fear.

I suspect we might have to cope with more atrocities as the world has become a more dangerous place. How we respond will determine whether we are agents of hope or not.

I pray for the people of Berlin. And Turkey. And Russia. And Syria. And England. And so on. But, it is prayer that commits me not to withdraw, but to engage with the mess of it all.

Here is a photo from last week of a young friend from Austria standing beside a road sign in Liverpool last week.

Penny Lane is famous the world over because the Beatles sang about it. But, when I was a kid, it was the place we went to the barber’s or the shops. The ordinary became the extraordinary. And, despite the Beatles tours, it still is a place ordinary people go to the bank, the barber’s, the shops… and engage in the stuff of ordinary life.

Why start with this? Partly because it formed the starting point for my book Finding Faith: Stories of music and life – in which I try to write about life and God and the world in ways ordinary people can understand. In other words, I am not writing for academics or people familiar with church. Secondly, however, is the reminder that there are two ways of addressing human questions: one is to start with God or the Bible or texts and go from them to our experience, the other is to start with human experience and then relate it to the other things. The former is OK for people already ‘in the club’, or who ‘speak the language’; the latter is where most people naturally start – with the experience they have, the questions they face, the life they live.

(In writing this I am reminded of my initial attempts as a vicar to write baptism preparation materials for our baptism preparation teams to use with the parents of those wanting their children baptised. The first materials failed – they began with biblical texts and were largely alien to those unfamiliar with them. I re-wrote them, with each session beginning with the experience of the parents, and then finding a biblical story or analogy that provided a vocabulary to express – or a framework in which to play around with – God, the world and us.)

Having watched the remarkable, soulful, poignant, funny, colourful, magnificent triumph that was last night’s Olympic Games Opening Ceremony (our Austrian friend was there), I turned to a book by Rosemary Lain-Priestley which she had kindly sent me, and which is called Does My Soul Look Big in This? I have a problem with books that look as if they will indulge in introspective narcissism and the title and cover didn’t encourage me. The reality was different.

Rosemary Lain-Priestley is a well-known broadcaster and writer, and I know her as a trustee of the Sandford St Martin Trust which I currently chair. She begins where people are, uses her own experience as a springboard for ruminations on spiritual development that is rooted in the real stuff of life, relationships and society. Taking the whole person seriously, she muses around the things of life that make or break us, that build or demolish us. She starts with real human experiences, real questions, then digs down a bit and rummages around what is thrown up. She draws on biblical (and other) stories to illustrate or amplify, often bringing to life images that had become over-familiar.

En route she quotes from people like Richard Rohr, Andrew Rumsey, Purple Ronnie and others. She considers what feeds the soul when we endure or enjoy experiences such as change, loneliness, depression, pilgrimage, joy, connectedness and gift. It brought to my mind people such as Mike Riddell and evoked Leonard Cohen’s “there is a crack in everything – that’s how the light gets in”. Like Danny Boyle’s Olympic representation of Britain, it is self-deprecating and humane throughout.

Written by a woman, most illustrations are self-consciously female. But, as a bloke, it is always vital to be compelled (or invited) to look through the lens of someone ‘not like me’. The Church of England gets a kicking I would want to argue with, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I would commend the book to anyone – it offers a recognition of common experience and invitingly suggests a way of living in and from that experience.

The last three weeks have seen me in Kazakhstan (interfaith conference), Brussels (round-table with Herman van Rompuy), then Dresden (preaching at the Frauenkirche). All good gigs, but all it does is build a backlog of work at home. It has also squeezed out any blogging – or any creative thought, for that matter. And I’ve missed almost all the football in Euro 2012. And I forgot to change my fantasy team in time and am now doing rubbish.

Of course, had I had the space to do so, I would have blogged about women bishops, Church of England PR, the Telegraph’s useless commenting on the C of E’s input to a consultation on Europe (don’t these guys bother to read the originals before launching their self-important second-hand opinions), Euro 2012, the poignancy of preaching in Dresden’s Frauenkirche (especially when the tourists leave in droves before the sermon), the Euro-crisis and Angela Merkel, the Greek elections, developments in Egypt, destruction of a church in Sudan, the future of the Diocese of Bradford (in the light of proposals to dissolve it), lots of other stuff, and the price of milk.

Actually, I really did want to write about the price of milk. I was shocked to hear further evidence recently of how the power of the supermarkets to control milk prices now makes a bottle of water more expensive than a pint of milk. And who gets screwed? The farmers. What do you make of this:

  • Currently dairy contracts allow milk purchasers to make significant changes to the terms and conditions in the contract and lower the milk price paid, often with less than 30 days’ notice, whilst the producer is often locked in to the contract for the next 12 to 24 months. No wonder the National Farmers Union (NFU) is calling for (a) clear price determination, and (b) shorter break clauses / right to terminate. (The NFU believes this is not solely about milk price – it is about establishing a functional market place which has true liquidity and therefore incentivises milk purchasers to offer a competitive milk price.)
  • The farmer should know at any time what their milk price is. Isn’t it rather shocking that they don’t? Shouldn’t the price be specified in the contract between purchaser and provider? Isn’t that rather obvious? At the moment many milk buyers have the ‘discretion’ to change the price a farmer receives at will and potentially retrospectively.
  • Recently farmers in my neck of the woods were informed that the price they received for each litre of milk would be reduced by 2p. The average farmer around here works that out around a staggering sum of £20,000 per annum. One farmer in my diocese stands to lose £10,000 this year – from a small farm.

What I find amazing is that (a) this can happen without the farmer having any recourse to negotiation and (b) that most of us drink the white stuff without any recognition of where it comes from or who pays the real price for it.

I’m no expert, but I now understand why the General Synod of the Churhc of England has so often banged on about the power of supermarkets. I’m not against them – after all, I use them. But, there is an issue of economic and social justice here. And we can’t blame the cows.

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.

I have just taken part in a rather frustrating remote discussion on BBC Radio 4’s Sunday programme. Frustrating only because (I think) Ed Stourton was in Manchester, Eric Lonergan was in London, Professor John Milbank was in Nottingham and I was in Bradford – so, none of us could see each other… which makes interruption, eye contact and real engagement rather difficult.

Naturally, the theme arose from the events in London and elsewhere and the questions raised by the Occupy movement. Away from the heat of the particular (how St Paul’s Cathedral was handling the ‘crisis’, for example), it was possible to take a step back and ask some of the important questions about money, markets and morality. The programme can be located here, the particular discussion coming over half-way in.

It seems to me that the key to discussing these issues lies in nobbling the assumptions behind the language we use. Markets are never ‘free’ in the sense that they are neutral: they are shaped by human choices, values and priorities. The question is: which choices, according to which priorities, derived from which values, shaped by which assumptions about who we are and how the world should be?

John Milbank spoke of the ‘disconnect between the City and real people’, but this disconnect also exposes the vacuum in identifying and shaping the moral framework within (and from) which our financial business should be done. This is not anti-capitalist. Rather, it is a recognition that capitalism needs effective regulation, a shared set of moral values, a framework of mutual accountability and honest language.

City workers were asked if there is a moral framework within which the City or the markets operate. Odd question. Of course, there is – there is no neutral space shaped by value-free (or self-evidently noble) morality. The question simply has to do with the questions I cited above. I was a little unnerved to hear City workers saying things like, “We work incredibly hard” and “We are just doing a job”. I can think of other (incomparable) circumstances in history where such disclaimers are disallowed.

Anyway, I have to go to work on the sabbath. There clearly needs to be a more general debate within society about who shapes the moral framework for our business and economic life and how we better engage wider society in ownership of those choices. But, for this there has to be a growing experience of mutual responsibility at every level, reduced abstraction of economic life, a rehumanising of business, and a re-definition or re-articulation of public economic morality.

And we need to re-examine the connection between individual moral choosing and the common moral framing of our common life. After all, the economy exists not for the sake of the market, but in order better to shape our common life for the common good.

 

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