The forecast was awful, but the reality turned out nice. The weather in York, that is. Yesterday's torrential rain gave way this morning to blue skies and a big yellow thing in the sky. If yesterday reflected the mood of people arriving for the General Synod, today shines a different light into our concerns… despite all the shouty 'noises off'.

I spoke with a journalist recently who suggested that we arrive at Synod, keep behind our battle lines, then start arguing about sex and women. The reality is a little less dramatic, hugely less violent, and considerably more interesting. This morning, for example, we met in 40 groups of a dozen people for worship, Bible study, discussion and thinking. The conversation in my group led my thinking towards the 'debate-everyone-is-waiting-for-and-shouting-about': women bishops. What follows isn't a dig or a pretence at a solution, just a suggestive reflection derived from the reading we were looking at.

In John 18 Jesus has prayed for the unity of his 'body'. (Presumably, he included Judas the betrayer, Peter the denier, and Thomas the doubter in this.) He then waits with his feckless friends in the garden of olive trees – olives being destined for crushing if the life is to flow from them for the nurture of others. What is remarkable is that Jesus, having taken considerable time to pray and think, now waits for the moment of truth (literally). Three things struck me about him in John's description of this most agonising moment:

  1. Jesus was in control of himself. In modern psychospeak he was 'centred'. Judas, the religious authorities and the Roman soldiers might think they are in control of him, but they don't see that they have no power over him. He knows, he owns what is to happen, he chooses to be here and nowhere else. They can kill him, but that's all.
  2. He didn't play the victim. Contentious church debates too often revolve around emotive language and hierarchies of victimhood. This gets us nowhere. If some circles cannot be squared, someone is going to be 'hurt'. Someone is always going to be hurt when decisions are made about anything of any import. But the decisions need to be made without accusations rooted in perceptions of victimhood. We then move on and take responsibility for what we do in the light of those decisions.
  3. He didn't blame anyone else. He didn't start throwing olive stones at the guards. He took responsibility upon himself and refused to blame others for the situation in which he found himself or the decisions he was now bound to take.

This applies today because too much talk is about perceived (even if not intended) threat. The synod needs to take stock, make its decisions and then see where we go from there. There will be both positive and negative consequences whatever we decide in relation to the women bishops legislation. But we need to eschew the language of blame, of victimhood and of threat, if we want to connect this morning's Bible study with Monday's synodical debate.

Anyway, today has also involved a good debate about engagement with the wider church in the world and how to encourage even more links with other provinces, dioceses, parishes and sister churches. Among the many fringe lunches, I went to hear more about the Near Neighbours scheme at work in several of our cities. The afternoon was taken up with legal matters relating to money, Europe and the Church Commissioners. I had a good hour with the excellent German ecumenical guest before dinner with the Children's Society and an evening on the ecclesiology of Fresh Expressions.

In other words, most of what we are doing here is not about women bishops or sex and there is little conflict about. Contrary to popular reportage or assumption, the church is facing outwards and looking at its engagement with the many worlds that make up the world. Monday will come – with all its immense challenges – but so will Tuesday. And Wednesday. Life will carry on, new challenges and opportunities will present themselves, new conflicts will emerge and new alliances be forged. And God will still be God, the church will still be Christ's, and our Christian vocation will not have changed.

I managed to get home from a very positive Bradford experience (putting in a new vicar on a large estate) in time to see the second half of the first Make Bradford British programme. Having posted a media literacy lesson the other day, what is my response? I would simply make the following points:

1. Focus on the naff title is fair – especially as this first programme, if anything, is clear that Bradford is British. The question is: what does it mean to be British? It seems that when we try to identify identity we look to the past. But, ‘Britishness’ is not some sort of product we inherit and then try to keep in a cultural box; rather, it is evolving as time moves on. We are creating Britain as we go. In this sense, perhaps, the title of the series unwittingly opens up a more productive debate – or provides a better-shaped lens through which to look at local culture: how do we take our responsibility in shaping at every level the Britain we are becoming?

2. A friend who lives near the canal in Shipley was amused to see how the conversation between the white retired policeman and the Muslim ex-rugby player was edited. They were on a long boat on the canal – somewhere I haven’t yet been. The conversation seemed to be seamless, progressing from one expression of mutuality to another. However, according to my friend, for this conversation to have been played out the way it appeared, the boat would have had to have gone forward, then leapt backwards, then picked up further down the canal before sliding back again to a point they had already passed. Now, I don’t know; but, it wouldn’t surprise me if this were true. What we see on our screen is what I called ‘mediated reality’ – a narrative for which the evidence or illustration is then identified and edited into place.

3. The programme did portray some interesting encounters. I thought it showed strongly the important stuff of people realising through personal relationship the need for good listening, hard learning (about one’s own prejudices and practices), mutual respect and generosity. That’s good, isn’t it? Put aside some of the tacky stuff (like the title and the dramatic trailers) and the programme had some quite interesting stuff in it – certainly stuff worth thinking about and debating further. Such as how to create more such encounters so that people meeting together can challenge and be challenged.

4. It will be interesting to see whether the second programme points to how all the above is already going on in Bradford. There are loads of initiatives aimed at bringing people from different communities together. The Church Urban Fund sponsored Near Neighbours scheme (to name but one) is funding dozens of such imaginative initiatives – but they aren’t dramatic or sexy enough to hit the headlines. There is some great stuff going on here already, and in Bradford we know this.

5. So, if the picture of Bradford offered by the programme is of more interest outside the city, what might be the response so far? Well, inevitably the local media proclaim ‘fury’ locally – Bradford being ‘hit’ again, misrepresented by outsiders who then just walk away. Outsiders who know the city have rightly complained that it represents the place as a single-issue city in which ‘race’ is the only lens through which all else must be seen. This, of course, clouds the multifaceted richness of the place… and the other challenges we face which are identical to those faced by neighbouring cities such as Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool. It would be more helpful to have a focus on Bradford that went beyond race. Such an approach would be enlightening for everyone and would demonstrate a maturity and intelligence on the part of media production companies (rather than a rather lazy stereotyping or recourse to tired cliche that a more media-literate and sophisticated audience simply sees through).

6. I might (again) be in a minority of one on this, but responses from around the country also demonstrate that how Bradford responds to a programme such as this also forms part of how Bradford is seen. The response is fairly cross so far. Yet we should have confidence in Bradford and its people to be able to watch a programme such as this and not be taken in. Confidence allows us to take the hits, turn the focus, shine a different light, and shape the debate as we go forward. Complaining makes us sound like weak victims when we certainly have it within us to take some control.

Bradford is a brilliant place. It is facing questions in the public spotlight that other cities face in a more hidden way. The microcosm we saw last night points to the source of hope: that people in relationship can see themselves more clearly, be ashamed by their prejudices more readily, and find themselves changed by their encounters. Relationships lie at the heart of how we shape our future – not just of Bradford, but of the Britain (and Britishness) we are now creating. After all, today’s ‘Britain’ will be tomorrow’s ‘inherited Britishness’.