1. Why is my fantasy league team rubbish and getting worse?

2. Why did Education Minister Michael Gove recently accuse education in Bradford of having been appalling for decades when (a) education in Bradford had been run by a government agency for the last ten years, and (b) the failed Kings Academy in Bradford is a free school – independent of the local authority, set up by Gove and accountable only to him?

3. Why did the ECB cricket selectors still send Jonathan Trott to play the Ashes series in Australia when they knew he was suffering from 'stress-related' problems?

4. Did the ECB not learn anything from the Marcus Trescothick saga?

5. What qualifications does one need to chair the board of a bank?

6. Why are some commentators incapable of understanding the difference between (a) the Church of England “voting for women bishops” (which it did years ago) and (b) the General Synod of the Church of England voting on the form of legislation to actually make it happen?

7. When will the Daily Mail accuse Ed Miliband of being behind the enslavement of three Maoist women for thirty years in Brixton?

8. Why has George Osborne suddenly changed his mind on capping pay-day lenders?

9. Who is right about the deal with Iran on nuclear development?

10. Is there a better 'live' gig than Bob Dylan (in Blackpool… last Saturday?

 

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Well, would you believe it? A whole day at the General Synod in York without bishops being on the agenda. (Don't worry, Monday's coming.)

The mission of the Church of England makes it essential for us to open the door to women bishops – although there now seems to be a greater determination in the Synod itself to get it right rather than to get it quick. Yet, today we debate matters that affect the lives of huge numbers of people in the communities our churches are called to serve and reach in the name of Christ: (a) safeguarding (following up the Chichester commissaries' reports), and (b) welfare reform and the church.

Naturally, our appetites will be whetted by worship in York Minster in the morning and some wonderful legislative material in the early afternoon: The Faculty Jurisdiction Rules 2013 and other stuff I am not even going to begin to describe. All important, but, in some way, opening the door to the heavy debates later.

The Church of England is determined to be transparent regarding safeguarding matters. There is determination in these papers to face the historic problem and make sure abuse or grooming cannot happen again. No complacency or illusions, but real determination. It has to be a good thing, surely, that more survivors of abuse are feeling able to come forward – even if this causes institutions like the church massive embarrassment, humiliation, reputational damage and loss of moral authority.

Indeed, when I spoke to a group of young leaders in Ilkley last week, one young woman put it to me that the church had forfeited any moral authority because of such scandals – a charge I took very seriously. I hope this will be the start of a conversation about 'moral authority' and what legitimises ethical comment and judgement.

Welfare reform is causing misery and devastation in many of our communities. I have written on this many times before now. Suspend your ideologies and political allegiances for one minute and it becomes possible to see the effects of the cuts (as, if you like, observable phenomena) aside from justifications or condemnations.

The numbers of people using food banks is growing by the day. These are not 'skivers' or 'scroungers' or people whose “chaotic lives (not shortage of cash) cause parents to send their children to school without breakfast” – as Education Secretary Michael Gove put it so generously last week. Meanwhile the misrepresentation by the powerful of poor people continues unabated.

The Synod will debate these matters not in order to boost its self-referential credibility or its self-justifying sense of righteousness. It will debate these matters on behalf of those whose voice is not heard and whose plight is too often ignored or misrepresented. And it will do so because of a biblical mandate to “open your mouth for the dumb” (Proverbs 31:8-9) and because Jesus said/did things that were good news for poor people and bad news for the cushioned rich.

The church can do no other than articulate what it sees and experiences every day. Synod brings together the stories and the analysis and places a magnifying glass over both. Not for the sake of the church – just for the sake of those whose life is tough.

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.

Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.

 

Excellent news, if it is true. Apparently, Education Minister, Michael Gove, thinks that every child over the age of five should learn a foreign language in school.

Now we need to wait and learn more about:

  • how it is to be costed
  • which languages will be prioritised
  • whether or not a language will later be made compulsory at GCSE level
  • and if the teaching of languages might be changed in order that children can actually learn not just how to repeat things, but to initiate independent thought and speech.

In the course of this we might also urge him to consider whether French is still the most appropriate ‘first’ foreign language to teach in the UK. Boys in particular find it hard to get their mouth around French pronunciation and clearly don’t like the ‘acting’ that is required to do it. Spanish is easier, German harder to learn but easier for Brits to pronounce. German is spoken by over 100 million people in Europe (more than any other language) and Spanish is useful in various parts of the globe. And French? Er…

The real problem in the future, however, is where the competent language teachers are going to come from when the numbers of those already learning a language has plummeted in the last ten years. The consequences of previous policies will be felt for a generation or more.

Which is why I get worked up about it.

It is interesting reading from the distance of the USA the analysis of the riots in England. There is a clear tension in which only ‘either-or’ judgements are allowed – particularly by government politicians. I’ll explain in a minute.

In Fulbert Steffensky’s book Schöne Aussichten, he faces a similar issue which illustrates the need to hold together views that appear contradictory. Texts must not be tamed or reduced to comfortable caricatures of uncomfortable narratives. In this case he is addressing the apparent differences in the view of God given by different parts of the Bible. He dismisses the easy alignment of ‘nice, friendly God’ to the New Testament and ‘ nasty, frightening God’ to the Old Testament. Both have to be held together in tension. The former leads to informal mateyness with the Creator and a loss of the ‘holy’ awe; the latter leads to fearful distance and the denial of intimacy. God has to be both strangely distant and lovingly close. (And both are needed in our liturgies and songs.)

Steffensky then goes on to invoke respect for contradictions. “This God has revealed himself, and he speaks to us in many voices. Despite this, what we don’t know is greater than what we do know.” Referring to the tension between ‘grace’ and ‘works’ – that which goes to the heart of the Reformation tradition, he asserts that both Catholics and Protestants have much to learn from the other’s traditions, practices and emphases. He concludes: “The sayings need to be held together, even if they cannot be systematised.”


Now, what does this have to do with what is going on in England this week? Well, it’s tangential, but emanates from the lens through which I am watching events in England.

Take a look at the dispute on BBC’s Newsnight between Harriet Harman and Michael Gove (which I cannot embed on an iPad). Gove wants to damn the violence of the riots and not engage with any discussion of possible causes being rooted in government policies, particularly the speed and severity of the cuts. Harriet Harman wants to condemn the violence, but not run away from the possible causes. It turns into a dialogue of the deaf.

However, Gove cannot hold out with blank condemnation for long. Harman might be premature in her conclusions (though I suspect not entirely wrong in the analysis that got her there), but she is, at least, trying to hold together condemnation of the violence and discernment of cause (or stimuli). Gove wants ‘either-or’ – Harman wants ‘both-and’.

It might be a hard act to hold onto, but the wise will follow the Harman line – not in any way excusing the violence on any grounds – but, at least trying to think about why it happened… and to do so with a little less of Gove’s simplistic denial.

I wonder if the Daily Mail might now run a rethink of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s New Statesman warnings?

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Philadelphia, USA