This is the basic text of a sermon I preached this morning to the judges, magistrates and diverse lawyers of Bradford at the so-called Legal Service at Bradford Cathedral. Not many jokes. And, to those on Twitter who asked if all the other services I do are illegal, I just call for a moment’s silence…

LEGAL SERVICE BRADFORD

You don’t have to be a Christian or a Jew to recognise that the English legal system is based on and derived from the Judeao-Christian tradition seen in the Scriptures. Justice lies at the heart of God’s character and is measured by how the powerful and the powerless are treated in society.

If you break justice, you are left with just ice. So says Scouse poet and Radio 4 presenter Stewart Henderson. I am glad he has come to that realisation as one of my earliest memories of him was being beaten up by him and Billy Mason when I was nine. Not that it still hurts, you understand…

wpid-Photo-17-Aug-2011-2351.jpgThe point he makes in his poem is a suggestive one: it is a cold world where justice is a commodity to be bought and sold, or where lip service is paid to justice, but it has become a means of privilege to those who either are powerful or have the skill to manipulate it.

I speak here from experience – not here in Bradford, I hasten to add, or even in England. In my previous post as Bishop of Croydon in the Diocese of Southwark I had a close link with the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe. Some years ago the then Bishop of Harare, Dr Nolbert Kunonga, tried to take control of the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe, was deposed from his post – and no longer recognised by the Anglican Communion as a bishop in the church – and, declaring UDI from the wider church, took possession of all the assets and finances of the Diocese of Harare. Of course, he didn’t do it alone: he used armed henchmen to attack anyone who tried to gain access to churches, threw out clergy and their families from their homes if they had not supported him, and, with unchallengeable hubris, declared war on the province, the Archbishop of Canterbury, all colonialism (which was defined as disagreeing with him) and anyone who stood in his way.

The problem with Dr Kunonga, however, was that he was backed by Robert Mugabe, who rewarded his faithfulness by awarding him expropriated white-owned farms and full support in the public sphere. And the public sphere included the system of law. Even when the courts found against Kunonga, the police and security services simply ignored the courts and defended the status quo.

It was evident, in all the complexities of my engagement with Zimbabwe, that no progress would or could be made in rebuilding the economy or renewing politics until the rule of law was re-established and allowed to stand at the heart of Zimbabwean life. To twist the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Where there is no justice, the people perish.”

wpid-Photo-15-Jan-2013-1056.jpgHaving moved from Croydon and a link with Zimbabwe, I am now in Bradford where our diocesan link is with the five dioceses of Sudan. I had hoped for somewhere like the Bahamas this time round, but Sudan is now beginning to make Zimbabwe look tame. My wife and I spent just over a week there this month. I discovered a couple of days ago that immediately after we had left the guesthouse where we had been staying in Khartoum – at one o’clock in the morning – the place was raided and everyone taken in for interrogation by the security services. The building has now, apparently, been held by the security services.

The rule of law, impartially administered, is clearly fundamental to any free society or system of justice. Both Zimbabwe and Sudan – where indigenous people are now being disappeared and foreigners expelled – demonstrate clearly what happens not only when justice is corrupted by the fear and greed of the powerful, but also when any anthropological undergirding of human value is diminished to the point of tyranny.

While in Sudan I was reflecting on a line written to Katkov by Fyodr Dostoyevsky: “Juridical punishment for crime scares a criminal far less than law-makers think, partly because the criminal himself requires it morally.” Isn’t that interesting? Dostoyevsky doesn’t see the need for justice and juridical punishment simply in terms of society’s need to keep the peace, deter the wrong-doers or fulfil a bureaucratic requirement in order to keep elected politicians happy with their harshness. Rather, he appeals to something far more fundamental: criminals require justice because only this takes seriously their humanity, their moral accountability, their very being as moral agents who have both rights and responsibilities in a human community of mutual obligation.

Now, in one sense, this shouldn’t need to be spelled out. But, in a society which is shaped by media headlines that scream for the blood of ‘people not like us’ – who remove criminals from the moral page by categorising them as ‘monsters’ – we have to keep reminding ourselves of the anthropological assumptions that underlie our practice of justice. What is a human being and why does anyone matter? Why, ultimately, does it matter that some people break the law and put themselves beyond the reach of mutual or civil society?

Which, I guess, is what unites us here today. Lawyers, magistrates, judges – all those involved or employed in the justice system assume certain fundamental things: that a good society is one that is properly ordered; that law is not sufficient of itself in securing an ordered society, but is indispensible to it; that the common good demands a common legal system that shows no favour and cannot be manipulated by those who would gain personal advantage at the cost of social integrity or coherence. However we might articulate it, we believe that good law is essential to justice and that justice does more than simply ‘keep things on the rails’. Justice demands more than mere pragmatism – it rests on an assumption about virtue being essential to human and societal character.

wpid-Photo-30-Oct-2012-1057.jpgI haven’t time – and this isn’t the place – to go into contemporary debates about what is called ‘virtue ethics’, but it starts from an understanding that rules and regulations are not enough to shape or guarantee ethics; virtue has to do with the making of character, and it is character that shapes behaviour and ethics… whatever the rules and regulations might actually be. I am assuming here that good ethics require just such virtue, if they are to be more than ‘rules of engagement’.

Perhaps surprising, then, that the reading from Job 28 speaks not of justice, but of wisdom. And, perhaps, surprising that a question asked three thousand years ago in a context of abject suffering in an obscure place in the Middle East should cry out to be heard even in Bradford in 2013: “But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding?” This man, Job, whose world has fallen apart in every aspect, cries out here not for mere practical solutions to his problems, not for a quick way out of his predicament, not for an anaesthetic to dull the pain of apparent hopelessness, and not for a panacea imbued with the complexion of fantasy. No, he cries out for wisdom and understanding.

Now, I realise that this sounds weird to a generation brought up on instant gratification, fast knowledge, bewildering amounts of information and the wallpaper-like surroundings of immediate judgement and dramatic analysis. Why wait? Why dwell in a space of indeterminate questioning or unsatisfying waiting? Why not, as the credit card advert once tempted us, “take the waiting out of wanting”?

Well, wisdom is learned, not bought. And it is learned by paying attention to what makes the world what it is, what makes people who they are, what gives meaning to what appears to be formless and void, what makes sense of lived experience in community with others, many of whom have no interest in becoming wise at any price. Wisdom – which is more than the product of information plus knowledge plus judgement – lies at the heart of any consideration of justice… precisely because justice can never be subject to whim or trend or fashion or even mere popularity. If Benjamin Disraeli was right when he said, “Justice is truth in action”, then it must be truth driving the action and not simply action defining what is deemed to be true.

I am sorry if all this sounds a bit abstract or academic, but justice is not a simple thing which can be claimed without examination and argument. Justice has to be seen to have a deeper foundational rationale, rooted in and emanating from a clearly understood anthropology… which knows why it thinks people matter essentially. And I’d like to say briefly what this looks like in a Judaeo-Christian narrative – indeed, the very narrative which gave birth to and has shaped the system of justice developed in England over the centuries.

To do this I need to tell a story. Way back in the Hebrew Bible the people who saw themselves as God’s people lost the plot – in more senses than one. First they lost sight of the story that had shaped – and was intended to motivate – their common life and relationships. Then, second, they lost their place in the land they took for granted as their own, and found themselves learning the lessons that can only be learned in the desert of exile.

Yet, right at the outset of their settlement of the so-called Land of Promise, they had been instructed to actively and religiously re-tell the story of their liberation from oppression in Egypt. The year and the seasons were dotted with festivals during which the community and its constituent families would rehearse story-telling and ritual, all bound up in the production of food and the economics of trade. The point of these was not to make life miserable for them, trapping them in a dour-but-romanticised myth of past generations – a sort of Monty Python’s Four Yorkshiremen, vying with each other for how bad their childhoods had been. Rather, this active and costly re-telling was designed to hold the people to truths that wisdom depended upon: they themselves had been dispossessed and landless slaves – and so should treat the poor and destitute with kindness and generosity; they themselves had been captive and unable to save themselves – and so should set people free and give undeserved grace; that they themselves had had nothing to call their own – and so should never forget that the accumulation of stuff, the acquisition of status and the appropriation of land must never be ends in themselves, but a means of generous and wise common flourishing.

Bradford CathedralIn fact, one of the most vivid of these festivals is described (or perhaps prescribed) in Deuteronomy 26 where the first ten per cent of your harvested produce should be brought to the priest whereupon you would recite a creed. How exciting is that? And the creed would begin: “My father was a wandering peasant…” In other words, the opening line of the story is a blunt articulated reminder that none of us can simply depend on the very things we think give us meaning. (We behave differently towards the homeless if we remember that once we were homeless.) In other words, regularly check that you are building the foundations of your life on something durable and not the shifting sands of material stuff.

Now, the point of this is simple. What unites both judge and accused, advocate and prisoner, is a common humanity which, if morality is to mean anything and justice is to have any currency beyond the pragmatic, not only imbues the legal process with dignity – building toward the common good – but also establishes the moral value of every human being. Justice takes people seriously, refuses to make excuses, but sees the dignity beneath the flawed and often appalling surface of greed, cruelty or selfishness.

And for this to flourish – for people in a community to flourish – those who frame justice need to remember their story, the story of mortal human beings in a contingent world, and to look wisely and deeply into the assumptions that make us think the whole justice project is worth investing in in the first place.

In other words, we need to think deeply about what we believe makes justice matter, and not allow justice to be shaped by political whim, economic pressure or media fashion.

Now, you, like those of us who serve through the church, are often on the receiving end of the media’s ‘wisdom’ (which, being meant ironically, I put in inverted commas) – usually in those unusual cases where fine judgements are hard to explain in simple language. You, too, are subject to a public that doesn’t understand legal process and shows little consideration of the consequences of their opinions. For example, if we did lock ‘em up and throw away the key, someone somewhere will have to pay. Not seeking rehabilitation or re-education will probably end in recidivism where there is no incentive or opportunity for changing one’s life or company. But, like bishops – who apparently do nothing all day other than dress up and argue about sex – you have to press on with your vocation whether you are understood, respected or liked… or not.

This service is evidence of the value placed by both church and civic authorities on the work you do and the way you exercise wise judgement on behalf of the rest of us. We thank you for the service you do.

And I would join those who wish to remind you of the seriousness of your task, the import of maintaining and securing a system of justice that is never capricious, and the essential need to dig deep into our corporate memory where we find the foundational narratives that give our justice system its very meaning.

I also hope, of course, that the bloke we caught on CCTV burgling my house and nicking my car and computer last August will one day appear before you in order to discover afresh that wise lawyers and judges have a responsibility on behalf of the rest of us to give him his full moral value as a human being.

May God bless you and us as we serve the common good, rooted in a conviction that justice goes to the heart of the character of God himself and should, in one sense, be (pace Disraeli) God’s character in action.

I remember the days when I could write blog posts almost every day. But there seems to be a limit to how much writing I can do in the time available. This weeks has seen me writing radio scripts, a lecture four sermons and more besides. So, with another week looming and a full day out tomorrow, I simply ask five questions provoked by the last week:

 

1. Does James Murdoch have a future? His dad did a messianic drop-in to News International this week without the boss-boy and with boss-boy’s previously disconnected brother. Is James leaving the building?

2. Is Rupert serious about the Sun on Sunday? Probably. It all makes sense and was predicted when the News of the World shut down. But, the loin-girding bravado of Rupert’s presence and journalist-endorsing email might sound tough and supportive while being drowned in the swamp of arrests, suspicion and public outrage. Will the Sun survive?

3. Does anyone have any idea what is likely to happen with Iran as they send military ships through the Suez canal into the Mediterranean Sea for the first time since the revolution in 1979? Western policy in relation to Iran has not been… er… exactly inspiring during the Ahmadinejad years. In fact, Iran has been handled weirdly (in my humble opinion) ever since the revolution – especially when we backed Saddam Hussein’s ethical fight against Iran and in favour of democracy and human rights during the 1980s. What next for Iran – especially with Syria and the Falklands kicking off (in different ways, obviously)?

4. I am writing this while half-watching Keanu Reeves being persuaded to save the world in The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008). But, my real question is whether Arsenal can be saved – along with the career of Arsene Wenger. I find this hard to say (as a Scouser), but I like Arsenal and admire Wenger. They were hopeless against Martin O’Neill’s resurgent and exciting Sunderland in the FA Cup today. But, Wenger hasn’t suddenly turned into a bad manager. I hope, for football’s sake, that he survives. Am I a romantic optimist?

5. Will I make any sense at all of the need for religious institutions to be open to change and challenge when I do my ‘Faith and the City‘ lecture at the University of Bradford on Monday? Entitled Questioning Faith: Religion, change and challenge, I manage to get Rowan Williams, Dostoyevsky, Critical Muslim and the Church of England into a questioning of ends and means, language and fearlessness. I’ll let you know after Monday.

The Keanu Reeves film has just finished. It was rubbish.

One of the reasons time has been too short for decent blogging (or, for that matter, indecent blogging) is my having taken on too many speaking engagements which required proper preparation. One of them was a contribution to a multidisciplinary conference on The Rhetorics of Moderation at the University of Huddersfield last night. I had been invited to deliver a keynote address at the final conference of a three-year project initiated by the Universities of Nottingham, Edinburgh and Huddersfield.

The draft text (not quite as delivered) is available on the Bradford diocesan website. But I will try to sum up the key bits here and see what sort (if any) of response it gets.

When I (finally) agreed to do this gig I wasn’t sure what the title of the series really meant: ‘The Rhetorics of Moderation’. I initially wondered if it might be an academic conference on how to talk about exam invigilation – clearly misunderstanding both ‘rhetoric’ and ‘moderation’. But, I eventually offered the title The Moderation of Rhetoric, so I could bang on about ‘language’ again. As a non-academic it is always a little intimidating going into such a context, but everyone was kind and the conversation was, I thought, quite stimulating.

My basic point – developing Helmut Schmidt’s argument (in Außer Dienst) that in order to understand your own culture you have to look at it through the lens of a different culture… and you can only do that if you understand something of the other language – was simple: language shapes both thought and behaviour. Therefore, language (or rhetoric) is not neutral. As  put it in my introduction:

So, my simple contention here is that language matters – that before reflecting on the ‘rhetorics of moderation’, we need to pay attention to the moderation of rhetoric and the ways in which we use language in our common human discourses in a complicated globalised world.

It is essential for good public discourse that interlocutors learn the language of ‘the other’ in order (a) to understand, (b) to know how to respond, (c) to see how this response will be heard and understood by ‘the other’, and (d) to keep the conversation going. This point is helpfully addressed by Rowan Williams in his brilliant book on Dostoyevsky where he writes about the corruption of language. Here are a couple of quotes from the Introduction to the book:

The novels [of Dostoyevsky] ask us, in effect, whether we can imagine a human community of language and feeling in which, even if we were incapable of fully realizing it, we knew what was due to each other; whether we could imagine living in the consciousness of a solidity or depth in each other which no amount of failure, suffering or desolation could eradicate.

[Dostoyevsky as narrator] sees language itself as the indisputable marker of freedom: confronted with what seeks to close down exchange or conflict, we discover that we can always say more… When we have nothing with which to engage, we stop speaking and stop developing.

Williams goes on to tie language and freedom to a responsive experience of ‘otherness’ and he challenges the Hegelian ‘freedom of the void’ – that is, as Williams puts it:

…the dream of a liberty completely without constraint from any other, human, subhuman or divine; because it has no “other”, it can also have no content. But this means that the hunger for such freedom can only manifest itself in destruction, flinging itself against existing limits… …the Dostoevskian novel is… an exercise in resisting the demonic and rescuing language.

So, Williams takes from Dostoyevsky the notion that language is not neutral, that human beings use language to close down or open up relationship, that language is the key to and fundamental expression of freedom… and that when we reach the end of ‘having something more to say’, we have constrained genuine freedom and closed down the possibility of development or coexistence. (Perhaps this also explains his approach to those contentious issues in the Anglican Communion where people want to close down conversation and force a conclusion that saves them from the pain of engaging with ‘the other’.)

I took from this that “we might derive the imperative (for human flourishing in a good society) of human beings and human communities learning the languages of ‘the other’, not as a virtuous end in itself, or even an altruistic means of keeping a relationship going, (or even for knowing which beer to order on holiday), but as a non-negotiable and essential feature of human freedom and dignity. We have to be multilingual (in the sense of paying attention to and learning to understand what is both being said and what is being heard) in order to survive, but also in order to thrive and enable ‘the other’ to thrive in a way that guarantees mutual flourishing. In other words, language at the very least provides the space in which relationship and responsibility can grow.”

I went on to illustrate (from personal experience of media, social media and interfaith dialogue) the importance of getting the language right. It won’t come as any surprise to readers of this blog that my unease with some of our media language got a run-around again. Not only do I think a strong democracy demands a strong, informed, intelligent and independent press, but I also think that those who hold the rest of us to account should themselves be held to account for the professionalism (or lack of it) with which they operate.

Finding people who have learned how to think about how to think – or how we know that we know what we know (epistemology, if you want the posh word) – is clearly becoming more rare. It is trivial engagement in creating conflict that drives the media agenda. Of course there are exceptions to this, but it is hard to pretend that democracy is served by what we are currently served up. The point is, however, that those who use language to persuade, influence and inform also need to be held to account for how they manipulate the powerful tool at their disposal.

My fear here is that the crass diminution of encouragement of and support for arts, humanities and social sciences in both school and university means that not only are we creating a culture that values mechanics, but doesn’t do ‘deep’ thinking. Not only are we in danger of depriving the current generation, but we are cutting off the expertise and enthusiasms we need for a future generation of teachers. We can lose in one generation what will take several generations (at least) to recover. To see the arts and humanities as ‘unproductive’ in terms of balance sheet bottom lines is more than myopic; it is dangerously and narrowly stupid.

My conclusion was not very startling:

If we take social cohesion seriously, we must pay attention to the language we use. Our rhetoric needs to be moderated, challenged, thought through. This is not pedantry or a form of distraction therapy; language shapes behaviour and shapes the lens through which different people see differently the different worlds within which we live. The diminution of attention to language – now seen in the paucity of language teaching and learning, the demotion of arts and humanities, does not augur well for having good public moderators of rhetoric in the decades to come. But the task will not go away.

It is worth considering that I delivered this address (and discussed questions arising from it in a stimulating Q & A session afterwards) immediately after visiting a Church of England primary school. The school serves one of the most challenging and deprived communities in Bradford and is outstanding in all respects. Contrary to the sloppy reporting in the media about ‘faith schools’ – either ignorant of or deliberately disregarding of the distinction between ‘faith schools’ and ‘church schools’ – this school works wonders for families, local communities and commands the determined loyalty of staff and governors. The headteacher told me she didn’t want moderately interested or interesting teachers or visitors to the school; she wants people who are passionate about what they do, how they think and what they believe. This school would be an inconvenient embarrassement to those who wish to pretend that church schools are divisive, privileged, sectarian or damaging.

Here again, the language is crucial.

Every time I hear a politician or journalist use the phrase ‘making your mind up’, awful memories of Buck’s Fizz come flooding into my memory. Not the rather tame (but refreshing on a hot day) drink, but the of-its-time pop group who defrocked themselves while singing the chorus.

Observing the election campaign, I am beginning to wonder whether people have actually already made their minds up and the next ten days will just get a bit tedious with the repeated mantras that are supposed to invade our subconscious and steer our hand in the ballot box next week. Labour sound defeated, the Tories sound panicky/desperate, and the Liberal Democrats sound confident about changing the political landscape in the UK.

What I can’t make my mind up about is precisely which ‘Britain’ is being remembered when the parties – Tories (mainly) and UKIP/BNP/English Democrats/etc (manically) – promise to restore to Britain the greatness that is its birthright. The BNP have even superimposed Nick Griffin (looking as if someone is squeezing his balls below the picture to make him look serious) on Sir Winston Churchill – a ludicrous association if ever there was one. But, my question is a serious one: when was the ‘golden age’ to which we might aspire to return or re-create?

Of course, this goes hand-in-hand with the other question around at the moment: are Christians being marginalised or persecuted? The link between this and the first question is that both make assumptions about the past and both indulge in a rather embarrassing (and baseless?) romanticism.

I am still wading through Dostoyevsky‘s The Brothers Karamazov: 400 pages so far and nothing has really happened. (Only another 600 to go…). Before dying at an appropriate moment, the elderly monk (Staretz) Zosima speaks about the decline of Russia and how Russia, destroyed by her leaders, will be saved by her Christian people. And the divine destiny of the great country will be restored and guaranteed as the old, corrupt order falls apart. The future, however, also contains threats that must be avoided. Published in 1880 (when Lenin was 10 years old), it is hard not to read it with half an eye on subsequent (and then unimaginable) developments in Russia and beyond. There is too much to quote here, but you could read some of this stuff and no one would blink if you applied it to today – the same old romanticism.

Why do we all do this? We romanticise the past, bringing a certain order out of the chaos that we actually lived through, and fear the ‘monsters’ that lie in wait for us in the future. Every generation fears it might be the last. Every generation worries that it has sold its inheritance and that everything is now in decline. “AND IT IS SOMEONE’S FAULT!” But, look back in England to the post-war years of growth, optimism and massive technological advance in just about every field – the promise that reconstruction brings and the energy it commands. But also look at what became known as ‘the permissive society’ and the obvious fact that we write the script of history as we go, not always clear about the implications until much later.

While on sabbatical a few months ago I did a quick, inexhaustive and not-very-thorough internet trawl of newspaper reports and headlines going back a century or so. Every headline seems to imply that the world/country/government/society/Church is going to the dogs and the world is about to fall apart. It hasn’t. I did the same for Germany and its world did fall apart on more than one occasion. Most Germans do not romanticise the past century or more; the Brits do. And it is mindless.

As I have noted before, I used to baptise people in a Norman font and drink wine (Communion) from an Elizabethan chalice every Sunday in my old parish. During the time people have been living their lives in that community there have been civil wars, the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, European wars, colonial wars, the rise and demise of the British Empire, the birth and death of the Soviet Empire, and so on. When this chalice was first used, America didn’t exist (except for the Indians who already lived there, but apparently don’t count when it comes to remembering American history). This is the sort of perspective we need to recover – not some romantic notion of a golden age that never existed other than in our ideological or emotional ‘memories’.

The election candidates will continue to frighten us with the fearful future and promise a recovery of the elusive past. All nonsense. The more the leaders bang on about the dangers of a hung Parliament, the more I want one. Call it a ‘coalition government’, have a look at some of our European neighbours (Germany, for instance) and ask what the fuss is about? Maybe the fear is only in the minds of party leaders who fear losing control and having to argue their case for policy implementation. I’m beginning to think that might be far preferable to some of the alternatives.

Making my mind up? I’m getting there. But I’m also getting fed up with the self-regarding fear-mongering being put about. We could just grow up and try something different for a change. Which, actually, is what happens all the time, in every generation, in some part of life or other. We make it happen as we go. There is no other way.

Another year, another decade. The sky is blue, the sun is shining, it’s freezing cold and it might just be the beginning of Liverpool’s long post-Christmas unbeaten run to fourth place in the Premier League. (Well, I can dream…)

I was thinking yesterday about the past and the year to come and my mind turned to Dostoyevsky. This doesn’t happen often. I once told the Archbishop of Canterbury that I found Dostoyevsky boring and long-winded, only for Rowan to tell me that he was about to write a  book about the great writer. I decided that I should be a bit more intelligent next time we spoke about Russian literature and began to read all Dostoyevsky’s books. I am now on the The Brothers Karamazov – then I will read Rowan’s book on Dostoyevsky…

Near the beginning of The Brothers Karamazov there is an encounter in a monastery between the Elder (Starets) and a woman. The woman bewails her lack of faith and, in response, the Elder tells her of an intelligent and elderly man who once said the following to him:

I love mankind, … but I marvel at myself: the more I love mankind in general, the less I love human beings in particular, separately, that is, as individual persons. In my dreams I would often arrive at fervent plans of devotion to mankind and might very possibly have gone to the Cross for human beings, had that been suddenly required of me, and yet I am unable to spend two days in the same room with someone else, and this I know from experience. No sooner is that someone else close to me than his personality crushes my self-esteem and hampers my freedom. In the space of a day and a night I am capable of coming to hate even the best of human beings… To compensate for this, however, it has always happened that the more I have hated human beings in particular, the more ardent has become my love for mankind in general.

Human history tells us that the old man was not alone. It is always easier to love in general and to hate in categories than to work these out with individuals. Read the Gospels, however, and Jesus seems to bring these together: loving humanity in general whilst making that love real for individuals. (That love also brought hard challenge for the haters and he paid the price for exercising a strong love.)

As I look to the year ahead – with all its uncertainties and unknowns, its threats and its promises – I think I want to work at bringing the general and the particular closer together: both personally and in the life of the Church. I am conscious of a million failures (often evident in this rather fallible blog), but the challenge is there for me and the Church.

Perhaps in the Church we can stop speaking of people in categories (‘gays’ are the obvious example) and have our easy generalities subjected to the sometimes embarrassing particularities that challenge our prejudices and self-defences.

A happy new year for me will be one in which I make some progress along the general-particular spectrum – one in which other people come to be judged less by my own imbalances and more by grace.