I haven’t exactly been blogging alot in the last few weeks. I haven’t lost my nerve (or my interest), but there hasn’t been time to give attention to it. Loads of meetings, some wonderful visits to wonderful places to meet wonderful people and just a bit of problem stuff. A six-week series of Lent Addresses, a lecture last week on Christianity & the Media, loads of sermons and a Quiet Day tomorrow (Telling Tales: Recovering our Scriptural Nerve): very creative.

But the world isn’t boring, is it?

  • Today the USA and Russia have agreed a massive reduction in nuclear missiles/warheads.
  • The Pope is under fire, as is his Church, because of historical sexual abuse and a flood of apologies.
  • There is about to be regime change in Iraq (again)
  • The General Election has all but begun.
  • And the future of Rafa Benitez remains uncertain (despite the protestations) – look at the face and behaviour of Gerrard and Torres.

What’s interesting about these matters is that they all have something to do with power.

Mutually Assured Destruction was as mad as it sounds – and now belongs in the 1980s. Post Cold War generations can’t believe that this was ever seriously considered a reasonable approach to global security. So, Obama adds a foreign policy victory to his domestic (health care) achievement of last week and thus puts another question mark over what many Americans understand by ‘freedom’. And about time, too.

The Pope is in a mess, but so is much of the criticism of the Roman Catholic Church. The particular criticism I refer to has to do with the knee-jerk stuff about celibacy, homosexuality and priesthood. I don’t believe in celibacy as a dogma (I think my wife is relieved), but it is ludicrous to say that celibacy itself turns priests into paedophiles or abusers. What does that say about single priests whose celibacy is a definite (and often costly) vocation?

Surely the problem is with people who abuse their privileged access (to people), trust and authority to exercise power over vulnerable people. Removing the insistence on celibacy might make some priests happier, but it won’t address the essential problem of those who abuse the power they have – and rightly attract the opprobrium of those who are betrayed. (Bishops asking for ‘forgiveness’ sounds a bit too easy…)

Like everyone else, I feel horror at the abuse exercised by priests over a long period of time. But, seeing Rome squirm is not a reason for vicarious mocking (as is being heard in some quarters); it is a tragedy and a crime and the focus should be on restoring those whose lives have been wrecked by abuse. Both they and the abusers need our prayers, but our prayers should be realistic.

I was reflecting on all this while visiting the excellent Cross Purposes exhibition at Mascalls Gallery in Paddock Wood, Kent. We went there after visiting All Saints’ Church, Tudeley, the only church in the world to have all the windows decorated by Marc Chagall. The windows are beautiful, powerful, moving and challenging. Go from there to the exhibition at Mascalls and you are confronted by representations of crucifixion that make you stop and stare.

Chagall’s drafts for his Tudeley windows are also there, but it is his Apocalypse en Lilas, Capriccio (1945) that speaks most arrestingly – even today as we think about power (and its abuse) in all its guises, and especially as we face increasingly confident right-wing parties gaining ground in the forthcoming election. Here’s the picture:

The Jewish Chagall has the crucified Jesus blocking access to the blackened Nazi as ruin lies around. Here we see the confrontation of two contrasting concepts of ‘power’.

One far-right party in England asks (in its attempt to attract naive Christians to its causes): ‘what would Jesus do?’ I think Chagall offers an answer.