It is clear that the government is working assiduously to create some shape out of the decision in the June referendum to leave the European Union. It is also clear that a huge number of questions that should have been tested out prior to the referendum itself have not been. Now it is a case of catch-up – a not inconsiderable task. It also demands that some proactive shape is made of the process, and not just a complaint about about the outcome. I remain pessimistic about many aspects of Brexit, but the debate must be engaged with.

So, following a question in the House of Lords this afternoon about the economic impact of the UK departure – which in turn was followed by a debate on the Children and Social Work Bill – there was a short debate on the implications of Brexit for peace and stability in Europe and beyond. My speech follows:

To ask HM Government what assessment they have made of the potential effect on peace and stability in Europe and around the world of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union.

My Lords, recognising that this debate and that to come on Thursday belong together, I offer this statement by the German theologian Jürgen Moltmann in a book I have just finished reading: “A free society is not an accumulation of independent individuals; it is a community of persons in solidarity.”

I quote this because the same might equally be applied to nations. It bears repetition that the language and discourse of the referendum – shamelessly fuelled by misrepresentations and misleading promises, now apparently acceptable in a so-called 'post-factual' world – paid little or no attention to the needs or securities of our international neighbours, but focused purely on the national interests of Britain. As if we can live in isolation or that we can be secure without ensuring the security of our neighbours. I invoke the poet John Donne: in a globalised world Britain cannot simply see itself as an island. Although the referendum campaign was dominated by immigration and the domestic economy (with wild promises that should always have used the language of “might” rather than “will”), questions about foreign relations and the security implications of a decision to remain or leave the EU were too often dismissed as if an impertinent intervention by an embarrassing relation.

So, the decision to leave the EU now raises questions that should have been identified and fleshed out before the referendum – questions that assume our place as a nation interdependent on a community of nations. If Europe has been focused for a generation or more on integration, it is surely now coloured by a hint of disintegration. But, to return to the questions…

For example: Brexit will be hugely demanding of energy and resources. What will be the impact of this on other areas of government? We hear bold promises that Britain will not retreat in on itself; but if revenues are reduced, costs increase, the pound continues to fall, and the focus of resource is on Brexit, what will happen to work with the UN Security Council, NATO, G7, G20 and the Commonwealth? Furthermore, is it not inconceivable that this diversion of energy, focus and resource might just create the space for mischief-making by those who are not our best friends?

Peace and stability cannot be achieved by an approach that is rooted in us simply looking to our own best interests. As we see around the world, particularly in the Middle East, security, peace and stability must be mutual. To seek the security of neighbours is costly.

But, I have further questions. The last Strategic Defence and Security Review was published in November 2015. Yet, the brave new post-Brexit world will look different from the one assumed a year ago. It is likely, for instance, that increased and enhanced EU Defence cooperation – potentially intensified outside of NATO – will impact both on the UK and NATO. In turn, if we invest more in NATO, this will have an impact on our relationship with and towards Russia, and this will impact on our response to threats to Poland and the Baltic states. Or, to put it differently, how might greater EU Defence cooperation impact on the government's stated SDSR ambition to “intensify our security and defence relationship with Germany” and to “further strengthen the U.K.-France defence and security relationship”?

It would beggar belief that such questions have not been thought through in detail before now. Or, to put it less charitably, where were the experts when we needed them?

To change tack a little, we recognise that the UK is one of the biggest contributors to the European Development Fund, currently contributing £409 million (which makes 14.8% of total contributions to the Fund). Has the Government yet assessed the impact of Brexit on the EDF? Will Brexit lead to a narrower disbursement of UK aid to a narrower geographical reach than currently channeled through the EDF? And can the Government give an assurance that the UK's Overseas Development Aid will continue to be spent on genuine ODA purposes and not be used as sweeteners for trade deals – given that trade deals have been represented as the highest social good – a questionable anthropological priority at best?

My Lords, peace and security are not merely notional aspirations, but demand a broader and deeper vision of what a human society actually is, and for whom it is to be ordered. Peace and stability cannot be empty or utilitarian words to be thrown around carelessly in a post-factual world. They demand the prioritising of mutual international relationships and detailed costings – not merely financial or economic, but human, social and structural.

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Etched onto my memory is the line by the German theologian Jürgen Moltmann, cited during a lecture in Cambridge several years ago:

God is our happiness. God is our torment. God is the wide space of our hope.

Hope needs wide space in which to expand and thrive.

I am reading Glaubensrepublik Deutschland: Reisen durch ein religiöses Land by journalists Matthias Drobinski and Claudia Keller. Bestehen als Minderheit: die Hoffnungsgemeinde (p.61) begins with a simple mention of hope:

Hope is the gift of hearing amid the cacophanies of the present the music of the future.

That's it. The haunting melody of the future – with the resurrection shining back into the present – echoes faintly in the subconscious of a world deafened by the noise of violence, hopelessness and power.

Christians are to be those who, unable to escape this haunting melody, dare to sing it – even when it sounds absurd or frail or unreal.

 

Talk about mixed feelings. I was back in Liverpool for my mum’s 80th birthday great-big-family bash on Friday and listened on the car radio to the harrowing accounts of Anders Behring Breivik‘s cold-blooded murdering of 77 people in Norway last year. I know our minds do weird things sometimes, but while this was happening I had the Beatles going through my head. Norwegian Wood. But for those (mostly) young people on the Norwegian island, the woods were no place of sanctuary, but of agony.

It has been interesting listening to the commentaries and reading the commentariat on this appalling massacre – which cannot be easily attended to while the killer is given so much air time to describe his activities. Some commentators seem to think that he must be insane to have done these things – that a normal, rational person could not have done them, let alone contemplated them. This, of course, is nonsense. Breivik had a perfectly rational construction to his ideology – but to speak in terms of ‘moral evil’ is too inconvenient for some world views.

Fifteen years ago I half-wrote a book on the pastoral care of people bereaved through suicide. One of the things I found interesting (before I ditched the project) was the response of too many people: that anyone who commits suicide must be (literally) out of their mind. Perish the thought that this might be an act consistent with a particular world view that sees life as painful and pointless.

This is also on my mind because yesterday I returned to the parish where I became vicar twenty years ago. We moved to Rothley, Leicestershire, in April 1992 and left in April 2000 when I became Archdeacon of Lambeth in the Diocese of Southwark. It had been (for us, at least) a wonderful eight years, and I wept when it came to the leaving. I was asked to preach this morning on the parish’s text for 2012, taken from Jeremiah 29:11, and all about ‘a hope and a future’.

My problem in preparing to preach was twofold: (a) the text is neither bland nor obvious; (b) I know too many of the people listening to it – I have buried their husbands, walked with them through their traumas, celebrated their triumphs and wept through their griefs. So, I didn’t know if I could ask the obvious question provoked by the text: what do you do when your world falls apart? To cut a long story short, I managed to overcome the emotional poignancy and say what I think needed to be said from that text.

Jeremiah 29 sees the people exiled to Babylon being offered hope instead of ear-pleasing fantasy. Another prophet has told them what they want to hear; but, Jeremiah – never a populist – tells them the truth. Sitting on the banks of the Evil Empire’s rivers and being mocked as defeated fantasists, how do we keep ‘singing the Lord’s song’ – when all the evidence of our eyes and experience tell us a different story? Jeremiah simply tells the truth. Which is?

  • No one is exempted from all that the world can throw at us – especially not those who claim to see through God’s eyes and try to live his way. As we see in Jesus, God opts in to the stuff – the muck and bullets – of the world and does not exempt himself from it. His people should learn from this.
  • Hope has always to be vested in the person of God and not in any formula for ‘making everything better’. And why trust God? Think ‘resurrection’…
  • God will not be rushed (as Asian theologian Kosuke Koyama constantly reminds us). We live in time, and time takes time. We need to learn to wait and be faithful during the waiting. (We also need to be honest with God and one another and scream when we need to; there is no place for pretence with God. Look at the searing honesty of the Psalms.)

Underlying all this is the simple stuff: God’s grasp of us is more important than our grasp of God. So, relax and take the pressure off. A future with hope is not the same as a hope for a particular future. As Timothy Keller has written: “Christianity is not advice, but news.” Christians should never be embarrassed to announce the news that God has not abandoned us – learn to wait and be faithful, even if you will be long dead before the deliverance comes. And God’s not abandoning us must compel us to demonstrate this by us not abandoning anyone else – which goes well beyond the Christian community itself and into the wider world.

I recall Jürgen Moltmann’s great lines: “God is our happiness. God is our torment. God is the wide space of our hope.”

Life is sometimes total rubbish and we cannot simply escape it. Indeed, being Christian might actually be the cause of it sometimes. But, we can learn to help each other by creating the space in which the suffering can be lived with and not rushed. And the church can learn to provide its people in worship with a vocabulary for those times of complaint, lament, argument, questioning and pleading… as well as for those times of resolution, praise and celebration.

I miss being part of a community like Rothley.

(And I have come home to Liverpool’s latest home defeat. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, oh dear…)

I cannot read the haunting lament of the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas without hearing his voice from an old recording:

Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

A gorgeous, warm, bright spring day brought out the tourists in droves yesterday – baring substantial amounts of unsunned flesh. Driving through the Dales, it looked and felt like summer was on its way (so, it’ll probably snow next week). The beauty and the nascent new life bursting from trees, flowers and hedgerows seemed incongruous, however, with what I was going on to do later in the afternoon.

The excellent and wonderful Marie Curie Cancer Care trust has moved its annual bereavement service in Bradford from October to March. At least this aligns the appearance of real daffodils with the symbol of the Marie Curie charity. Everyone in the congregation of a couple of hundred had two things in common: (a) they were bereaved in the last eighteen months and (b) they are mortal. The service creates space and a vocabulary for loss and grieving and thinking about our mortality – in a place that gently reminds us of it anyway. For over 700 years people have worshipped, lived and died in this place. On the way in to begin the service I noticed a memorial plaque on the cathedral wall which poignantly recorded the deaths of the three infant children of a bereft couple in the early nineteenth century. This cathedral has witnessed the living, suffering, celebrating and dying of generations of people like us.

Cutting through the potential verbiage to the heart of the matter, I tried to account for Christian hope in a way anyone could understand it. Based on Revelation 21 three things seemed pertinent:

1. Christian hope is rooted in the God who comes to us. We talk about us ‘going to heaven’, but it is the other way round. In the Genesis 3 narrative it is God who goes walking in the garden in the cool of the day asking ‘Adam, where are you?’ – the same searching question that confronts every human being. Adam and Eve do not seek him out; he seeks them out. God makes the first move. In the Incarnation it is the same – God comes among us. And the imagery of Revelation 21 tells the same story: the heavenly city comes down from heaven to earth, not vice versa.

2. The resurrection is key to Christian hope. Jesus did not spontaneously come back to life in some great act of resuscitation: as Paul notes, ‘God raised Christ from the dead’. And this points to…

3. … Christian hope is not located in a scenario or a formula or schedule of what happens when the body closes down. Christian hope is rooted in the person of God. That’s all. I turst and hope in God, not heaven or some expectation of what happens after death. I trust in the God who raised Christ from the dead – and the rest is detail that doesn’t need to bother us very much.

The old Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins, put it like this:

God is. God is as he is in Jesus. So there is hope.

The great German theologian, Jürgen Moltmann, put it like this:

God is our happiness. God is our torment. God is the wide space of our hope.

Which, of course, is the beginning of a conversation and not the final word.

This evening we had a reception for those being ordained as Deacons and Priests in the Diocese of Southwark next Sunday, 4 June. They are a mixed bunch of people – evidence that God doesn’t call clones and honours the flawed humanity we bring to the party. As I left I wondered what the future will hold for these people who have given up much in order to respond the call of God on their lives. Where will they be (and what will they be like) in ten or twenty years from now?

No idea. Not a clue. I have given up trying to imagine people’s future trajectories – experience has taught me to be open to surprise. But it has also taught me to be open to hope. I was reminded of Jürgen Moltmann‘s wisdom:

God is our happiness. God is our torment. God is the wide space of our hope.

These people soon to be ordained will need to discover (if they haven’t done already) the need for hope to be a wide space and not narrowed down by their own prejudices or theological/ideological straitjackets. Experience (as well as our reading of the Bible) tells us that God will not be pinned down to suit our own comforts; we must beware of trying to shape God in our own image.

Tomorrow I will be leading a Quiet Day for clergy at Worth Abbey and will be basing my addresses on the story of Jonah from the Old Testament. Many people think it is a kiddy’s story about a weird bloke being sicked out of a whale’s stomach; it isn’t. It is about a man discovering (but not very well or willingly) that God’s love and mercy cannot be limited by our own limitations or desire for God only to behave well to the people of whom we happen to approve. God has a habit of never sticking to our moral formulae – which can sometimes be embarrassing.

I recently read the book about Anglicanism and the future, called The Hope of Things to Come. Like most edited books, it is a mixed bag. The first two chapters by Dr Charlotte Methuen are very interesting, but spoiled by lack of proofreading by an editor: there are loads of typos and words transposed. But, these chapters and the book as a whole repay careful consideration as they address a generally Christian and specifically Anglican approach to tradition and change in both world and church. Charlotte Methuen quotes Sir Thomas More (1478-1535):

Tradition is not holding onto the ashes but passing on the flame.

However, the flame of hope – indeed, of confidence – can only be passed on if it has first been received and held. And that confidence has to be rooted not in a particular tradition, but in the person of the God whose character and activity the tradition is supposed to be about.

My own hope for these ordinands is that their experience of the church will blow oxygen onto the flame and make it dance… and not let the flame die out in order to preserve and honour the wick. I hope they will play like Brazil against Chile (full of flair, creativity, enjoyment and imagination) and not like England against Germany (er… you know what I mean…).

The job of the bishop is to fan the flames, keep the fire burning, feed the embers when they are in danger of dying. In the words of the great Bruce Cockburn song/prayer (sort of):

Love that fires the sun keep them burning.

The weather in Munich is terrible. So, all those who think I have come on a jolly will have to think again. I spent today meeting people and getting cold. But I was determined to hang around the enormous Messestadt (Trade Fair Centre) waiting for a unique opportunity to hear two old men have a conversation in the evening.

Hans Küng (82) and Jürgen Moltmann (84) are two giants of late-2oth century German theology. The former is a Roman Catholic who had his permission to teach in the Catholic Faculty of Theology at the University of Tübingen withdrawn by the Pope; the latter is a Protestant whose Theology of Hope breathed new life into german theology and inspired a generation of theologians and preachers. Both have never got stuck, but have developed and applied their theology to the realities of a changing world as they have aged.

This evening was remarkable. Thousands arrived early to ensure a place in the auditorium – I got there for 6.30pm thinking it began at 7pm only to find it was scheduled to start at 7.30pm and didn’t in fact get going until 8pm. More people were locked out than could get in. The excluded crowds chanted ‘Wir wollen rein’ (‘We want to come in’) to listen to these two elderly men talk together about church.

Can you imagine that ever happening in Britain? Most of the excluded were young people eager to garner the wisdom of these two theologians. Why? Because their theology is neither dry nor ‘merely academic’, but engages with the real world of economics, politics and culture. They bring to their subject the intellectual rigour that is associated with German philosophical thinking. Yet, they speak with simplicity, clarity and passion – eschewing theological cleverness in order to communicate accessibly with all-comers: they are remarkable men who show no sign of being ego-driven.

A critical but appreciative audience heard them address five questions:

1. Who are the laity?

2. Who are priests and pastors?

3. Who is the Church?

4. What is ‘ecumenism’ and where is it at today?

5. What does it mean to have fellowship in the name of Jesus Christ?

What ensued was a fascinating and impassioned plea for the Church to get real (in the light of the realities of the world in which we live) and recover its vocation (to be found in the Scriptures we have always had with us). This emerged from introductory statements which had Küng calling for a new Reformation in the Roman Catholic Church – one which unites the Church rather than splitting it further. Moltmann pointed out that the Kirchentag is a lay conference in which the role of bishops is to listen to the laity. I took this to heart…

It is impossible to summarise the contributions of the two men in a way that does justice to their contributions. Küng wants the Roman Catholic Church to change, embracing women priests, abolishing imposed celibacy and uniting the Christian churches in mission and sacramental ministry. For his part, Moltmann sees the future of churches in lay people taking responsibility for their own faith and organising the church in house groups that come together sacramentally. Christians are not ‘customers’, there to ‘visit’ the church, but members who take responsibility for the life of the church. As Küng put it:

A church for the people needs to become a church of the people.

Moltmann wants Christians to maintain a critical solidarity with the church whilst Küng sees exit from the Church as irresponsible (if understandable in the light of the current abuse scandal). Both think all churches need to be reformed in the light of the Gospel. Küng even went so far as to claim that the Pope’s title ‘Servant of the servants of God’ has become in practice ‘the Lord of the lords’ (Herr der Herren).

Both believe that there should be eucharistic hospitality between the churches – Moltmann claiming that generous hospitality is the hallmark of a real church, regardless of the role of the priest/pastor.

Perhaps the most interesting element of the conversation was their agreement that Christians belong together whether they like it or not. “What belongs together grows together” – as Moltmann put it. Jesus’ prayer for the unity (in love) of his people is being answered; the church needs to recognise this and make it visible. Baptism is the fundamental element in our common belonging.

Experience of interreligious dialogue has taught us that Christians need to speak with a single voice in a complicated world – a speaking that must follow on from and not precede genuine humble listening. Both agreed that there is no theological or doctrinal reason for continuing the lack of mutual eucharistic hospitality and both called for an end to the nonsense of ‘excommunication’. Moltmann spoke of the absurdity of mixed-confessional marriages in which at shared services eahc partner goes to a different priest to receive Communion:

What God has joined together let not man divide…

Küng very pointedly criticised the Pope for his recent ‘offer’ to Anglicans and noted that the younger Josef Ratzinger had taken part in eucharistic practices that are inconsistent with the line he now appears to follow. (They were academic and priestly colleagues for many years and still maintian contact.) Moltmann took the view that Christians should be like human beings: eat and drink together first, then discuss theology afterwards. It is a nonsense to do it the other way round…

Both made concluding statements of generosity towards the other’s church. But what will remain in my mind is Moltmann’s contention (not opposed by Küng) to the effect that Protestant should welcome ‘communion with Rome’, but not ‘communion under Rome’. Renewal and a new Reformation are needed as ever.

At the end the two elderly men stood on the stage looking bemused as people like me took photographs. We may never see their like again.

brucedart2I have been out in parishes morning, afternoon and evening every day for the last couple of weeks and love it. But I was driving home slowly this evening from licensing a new priest in a Surrey parish and was feeling reflective. I had a Bruce Cockburn CD on and the haunting Bone in my ear filled the space while I drove:

There’s a bone in my ear
Keeps singing your name
Sometimes it’s like pleasure
Sometimes it’s like pain
It’s a small voice and quiet
But I hear it plain
There’s a bone in my ear
Keeps singing your name
MoltmannIt’s actually a love song. But those first lines hint at the experience of loving the God who loves us: haunting, longing, sometimes painful, often searching or feeble. It reminds me of the words of Juergen Moltmann, the great German theologian:
God is our happiness. God is our torment. God is the wide space of our hope.