There is an excellent article by Ed Stourton in today's Sunday Telegraph about the importance of good media understanding of religion (and a strong reference to the Sandford St Martin Awards which I chair).

As I keep saying (I know, I know…), the need for journalists to understand religion has nothing to do with whether they believe any of it, but because you can't understand the world without it. This is a matter of intellectual wisdom, not of evangelism. If you don't take religion seriously, you are not taking the world seriously – its politics, economics, traditions or people.

And, if you want to see just how unintelligent we have become, look at the comment thread under Ed's article.

I noted recently how the BBC was getting a new Religion Correspondent at the same time as the Times was losing theirs. And look what happens…

I went to St Paul's Cathedral in London on Saturday to see the new Bill Viola video installation, Martyrs. Later I caught up with the newspaper coverage of the launch and was pleased to see how positive most of it was. But, then I got to the Times, from whom one expects.

The article hails the victory of the powers of culture over the reactionary forces of church after ten years of wrangling to get Viola's video piece into the cathedral. Typical – the church has to be dragged kicking and screaming into a brighter cultural age. Other non-specific references are made, but unattributed and without evidence.

The heavy hitters of Britain’s art world have been deployed in a decade-long battle to persuade St Paul’s Cathedral to accept a permanent video installation in its hallowed interior, it can be revealed.

The artist and his supporters, including the directors of Britain’s most prominent galleries, almost gave up their fight to persuade elements within the Church of England to allow the first ever moving image artwork to be permanently displayed in a British cathedral or church.

See that? “Battle”. “To accept”. “Revealed”. “Fight”.

Really? So how does the reviewer David Sanderson cope with the fact that the work was commissioned by the Cathedral in the first place?

Just asking…

The video is superb: powerfully moving and commanding. Just go and see it.

But, remember the story.

 

 

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It was announced early this morning that the Dean of Bradford, Dr David Ison, is to be the next Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral in London. Great for London, but a real loss for Bradford and the glorious north of England.

David is brilliant and has been a superb colleague in the year since I began the move up north from Croydon. He will bring immense gifts to St Paul’s at a crucial time in its life. He has led a transformation of Bradford Cathedral and demonstrated great skill, wisdom and determination in reconnecting the cathedral and diocese with the city. (The cathedral was made bankrupt at the beginning of the decade.) The announcement reads as follows:

Dr David Ison (57) been Dean of Bradford since 2005, where he has enabled the Cathedral to play a significant role in the life of the city and the diocese of Bradford.

The Bishop of Bradford, the Rt Revd Nick Baines says, “I am delighted that St Paul’s Cathedral is to have as its new Dean a man of such warmth, ability and stature as David Ison. I am sad that Bradford will be losing a Dean who has done extraordinary work in the last six and a half years for the good of the Diocese, the city and its diverse people. David leaves a strong legacy for the next Dean of Bradford and moves to London with my deep personal gratitude for his friendship, advice and support in the short time I have been the Bishop of Bradford. London’s gain is Bradford’s loss, but it is good to know that a deep affection for and knowledge of Bradford will now be resident at the heart of the City of London. David and Hilary go with my love, my prayers and the gratitude of all in this diocese.”

David is married to Hilary, who is also an ordained priest and works in London for the Church of England’s Ministry Division, in the selection of prospective ordinands. They have two married daughters and two sons, and became grandparents two years ago. His interests include history and current affairs, interfaith relations, DIY and scuba diving; and he drives a kit-car he made himself.

About his appointment, David Ison says:

“My appointment as Dean of St Paul’s has been as unexpected for me as the vacancy itself was unanticipated. The upheavals of the last few months at  St Paul’s, and the underlying spiritual, social, economic and political  issues which they highlight for our country, are very much on the agenda  for the Cathedral in London; but they are also issues for people, churches and cathedrals across the country. Even Bradford has had an Occupy camp, although it was in front of City Hall rather than at the Cathedral. 

“Bradford is a special place, with a rich diversity of people, faiths and experiences. There is a huge amount of commitment to the future of the city, and a humour and realism which makes it a very rewarding place to be. The people of Bradford Cathedral are marked by their warmth, faithfulness and prayerfulness; and this is reflected in the city as a whole. It has been a welcoming place to come to, and it is a hard place to say goodbye to.

“I have always been clear that I would only leave Bradford for a post which was equally challenging and fulfilling. Having been strongly requested to explore the Church’s call to London, I can see how it will make use of my skills and the experience and learning I have had in Bradford and before: the call of the Church fits with my sense of God’s call to me. I will go south holding Bradford in my heart: and I will take the perspectives of working in what are considered more marginal areas, in London and the Midlands as well as Yorkshire, into the heart of the capital. It is an exciting and daunting prospect.

“I am glad to begin my work at St Paul’s while a Bradfordian, David Wootton, is Lord Mayor of the City of London; and I look forward to working together with colleagues in the Diocese of London, at Westminster Abbey and Southwark Cathedral, in other Christian churches and in different faith traditions, and with partners in civic and business life, in private, public and voluntary sectors, with rich and poor, alternative and establishment, organised and marginalised. I particularly look forward to getting to know the staff and community of St Paul’s Cathedral, and exploring with them and with all the Cathedral’s stakeholders the particular ways in which the Cathedral can serve the whole city of London and the wider nation in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

About his time in Bradford, David Ison says:

“When I came to Bradford Cathedral, I had no great blueprints or strategies in place: but I came to listen, to pray and to love, and to see what God would do. I will go to St Paul’s knowing that I have much to learn, and much listening to do. I want to build on the good work done in cathedral, city and diocese by my predecessors, and in particular by  Dean Graeme Knowles and his colleagues.  And I also have confidence in God, who calls us together to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with Him.

“When I came to Bradford in 2005 people asked me why. The reasons I gave then have stayed the same since. Yes, it’s a place of challenges and there are some difficult issues to deal with, and the Cathedral too has had its share of sorrows and failures in the past. But there are great people here, and a city which has some simply wonderful buildings – I take visitors to look at the ceiling of the Santander bank and they’re gobsmacked! I love the cultural diversity, and the potential for people of different cultures to learn from and work with each other. There’s so much good will and friendliness when people really meet together. Bradford’s a small enough city to be able to get to know people well, and large enough to offer all kinds of possibilities, and I think its future is looking more hopeful than for some time. Being here has been testing and stretching and fulfilling in all kinds of ways, and I’m so grateful to have had the chance to work here. 

“What will I regret about moving? Of course I’ll miss the curries, and all the other good food around here too. I’ll miss the great countryside, and the buzz that comes when one of the Bradford sporting teams is doing well. But above all I’ll miss the people here: the friends we’ve made from many different communities, the basic honesty and down to earth nature of life, the way in which talking about God and faith is natural rather than an embarrassment, and the determination that, come what may, Bradford will get through it. It’s a world-leading place in its own way, and it’s been a real privilege to be part of it.

“And why am I moving in 2012? Going to St Paul’s Cathedral in London isn’t something I’d have thought of. But I’ve been asked to go, and I can see how what I’ve done and learned here is relevant to the situation in which St Paul’s now finds itself. I don’t see it as leaving Bradford behind, but as taking the spirit of Bradford with me to our capital city. I look forward to finding out more about London and its cathedral, and seeing how God is at work there as well as here. If you pray, then I’d be grateful for your prayers – and I’ll be praying for you and the city and diocese of Bradford as it goes forward into the future.”


David Ison was born and brought up in Brentwood, Essex. After taking a Combined Studies degree at the University of Leicester he trained for ordination at St John’s College, Nottingham. He served his curacy at St Nicholas and St Luke Deptford in the Diocese of Southwark (1979-1985), while also writing a PhD in church history at King’s College, London to develop skills to work in training people for ministry. From 1985 to 1988 he was Lecturer at the Church Army Training College in Blackheath. In 1988 he became Vicar at Potters Green in the diocese of Coventry, where he worked to physically and spiritually rebuild the church. In 1993 he moved to Exeter as Diocesan Continuing Ministerial Education Officer to take on a variety of roles in training and supporting clergy in their ministry, and in 1995 he also became a Residentiary Canon at Exeter Cathedral. Since 2005 he has been Dean of Bradford, where he has enabled the Cathedral to play a significant role in the life of the city and the diocese of Bradford.

Just for the record, I note the following:

1. On BBC Radio 4’s excellent ‘The Report’ programme, broadcast last night, I was introduced as having been a vicar in Southwark before moving to Bradford. Not true. I told them I had been Archdeacon of Lambeth for three years and then Bishop of Croydon for eight years.

2. In the same introduction to my contribution to the same programme it was said that I had kept in close touch with clergy at St Paul’s Cathedral – which was part of the theme of the programme (whcih was really about the Corporation of London). In fact, I had said I had been in touch with Giles Fraser on the day of his resignation announcement and that I had met Graeme Knowles several times in the past, but didn’t ‘know’ him. I had also said that the Cathedral Chapter was autonomous and that the Diocese of London was not the same as the Diocese of Southwark – and that my real connection with St Paul’s was having been consecrated there in May 2003.

3. During the chit-chat on the Chris Evans Show on BBC Radio 2 yesterday morning I said that we can see toward Ilkley from our house in Bradford. Well, that’s true in the same sense that you can see towards the North Pole from where I live in Bradford. I meant to say Bingley – and the moors that lead over eventually to Ilkley. Locals who listened must have thought I am seriously geographically challenged.

Neither of those is a moan about the media! Although the first two need clearing up in case anyone connected with St Paul’s wonders what is going on that they don’t know about. It wasn’t me who said it, guv.

But, here’s a plug:

4. My daughter and son-in-law gave me a CD for my birthday which I listened to in the car today. Called simply Kitty, Daisy & Lewis, it is a brilliant, atmospheric recording of some great (almost primitive) rock and roll. It says on the back:

We took a year to record and mix this album in our back room. Over a period of time we collected a lot of ribbon microphones, tape recorders and ancient sound equipment and eventually built a workable studio inspired by Sun studios in Memphis and Chess studios in Chicago along with the makeshift chaos of Joe Meek’s studio in the Holloway Road in London. Our main objective was to capture the energy of our live gigs.

It is excellent, moody, raw – and I would never have come across if it hadn’t been given to me!

It looks like the conversion of St Paul’s wasn’t exactly a Damascus Road experience after all.

The delayed publication of the latest report by the St Paul’s Institute shows that, even if the City was unaware of it and the Occupy protesters ended up on the cathedral steps more by accident than design, the Church was already well underway with serious questioning of the values that drove City culture in the 25 years since Big Bang. The Value and Values report (subtitled Perceptions of Ethics in the City Today) was published yesterday.

Contrary to the press accusation that this report had been ‘suppressed’ for a couple of weeks, it should by now be blindingly obvious what criticism (of naff timing and incoherent process) would have been levelled at the Church if it had gone ahead and published according to the schedule. Given that the report is fronted by both Dean Graeme Knowles and Canon Dr Giles Fraser, it would have been kind of hard to put it out with both of them in the process of resignation.

Of course, that inconvenient truth won’t satisfy those who revel in selective amnesia – the same condition that slates the Archbishop of Canterbury for questioning the values of our dominant economic and political culture, then forgets he had done so when the later story breaks and they can’t get him to feed the hungry media machine with further repetition.

Anyway, the report makes clear that there are some good people in the City – people who are already sensitised to the disconnect between the Square Mile and the real world. Indeed, the report makes clear that many of those who work in the City do understand the reasons behind the rage against perceived injustice. It highlights the way technology has dehumanised financial transactions. It recognises that reward has become divorced from work and that the Big Bang created a failure to drive value with values that assumed a common humanity. Money has become an end instead of a means to a greater end that we choose.

I was once asked to give an after-dinner speech at London’s famous Mansion House to a company of insurers and financiers. These people, among whom there was a plethora of motivations, had raised enormous amounts of money for a range of charitable causes and I wanted to recognise this and thank them for it. But I also wanted to reconnect this generosity with a humane appraisal of the transaction. I think I said something like:

this is not a case of the strong giving to the weak, but of the ‘weak who have’ giving to the ‘weak who have not’.

(I finished by quoting Jesus who said “it is easier to get a needle through your eye than for a rich man to pass a camel”… or something like that, anyway.

The point is that wealth can create a security that hides basic human frailty. We all weep and bleed and feel lonely in the universe on a dark night when our relationships have failed or we find ourselves wondering what it is all about. What unites us is the common humanity that has somehow got lost in the scrap for money.

Perhaps the Church is in a good place to stand between the City and the rest of the world. We ‘do’ people and we ‘get’ the people who live in both worlds. It is our business – confusing and compromising though it sometimes feels – and a church that follows Jesus Christ (who opted into this compromising and material world) can do no other than stand where the fault lines fall and try to hold it all together.

Read the report and the critique that concludes it. This wasn’t a craven cathedral at all – it had opened itself up to judgement. The tragedy is that the protestors didn’t turn up just a few days later, once the report had been published.

I have just taken part in a rather frustrating remote discussion on BBC Radio 4’s Sunday programme. Frustrating only because (I think) Ed Stourton was in Manchester, Eric Lonergan was in London, Professor John Milbank was in Nottingham and I was in Bradford – so, none of us could see each other… which makes interruption, eye contact and real engagement rather difficult.

Naturally, the theme arose from the events in London and elsewhere and the questions raised by the Occupy movement. Away from the heat of the particular (how St Paul’s Cathedral was handling the ‘crisis’, for example), it was possible to take a step back and ask some of the important questions about money, markets and morality. The programme can be located here, the particular discussion coming over half-way in.

It seems to me that the key to discussing these issues lies in nobbling the assumptions behind the language we use. Markets are never ‘free’ in the sense that they are neutral: they are shaped by human choices, values and priorities. The question is: which choices, according to which priorities, derived from which values, shaped by which assumptions about who we are and how the world should be?

John Milbank spoke of the ‘disconnect between the City and real people’, but this disconnect also exposes the vacuum in identifying and shaping the moral framework within (and from) which our financial business should be done. This is not anti-capitalist. Rather, it is a recognition that capitalism needs effective regulation, a shared set of moral values, a framework of mutual accountability and honest language.

City workers were asked if there is a moral framework within which the City or the markets operate. Odd question. Of course, there is – there is no neutral space shaped by value-free (or self-evidently noble) morality. The question simply has to do with the questions I cited above. I was a little unnerved to hear City workers saying things like, “We work incredibly hard” and “We are just doing a job”. I can think of other (incomparable) circumstances in history where such disclaimers are disallowed.

Anyway, I have to go to work on the sabbath. There clearly needs to be a more general debate within society about who shapes the moral framework for our business and economic life and how we better engage wider society in ownership of those choices. But, for this there has to be a growing experience of mutual responsibility at every level, reduced abstraction of economic life, a rehumanising of business, and a re-definition or re-articulation of public economic morality.

And we need to re-examine the connection between individual moral choosing and the common moral framing of our common life. After all, the economy exists not for the sake of the market, but in order better to shape our common life for the common good.

 

During the last couple of weeks the media focus in London has been on the handling by St Paul’s Cathedral in particular and the Church of England in general of the Occupy camp. Three questions were asked repeatedly by journalists, for whom this story must have presented itself with bells and ribbons attached:

1. Why isn’t the Archbishop of Canterbury saying anything?

2. Shouldn’t the focus be on the bankers and the real object of the protestors’ ire (and not on the cathedral’s management of the situation)?

3. Why aren’t other bishops speaking out?

Now the Archbishop of Canterbury has contributed specifically to the current situation. And the church has turned the debate to the real object of the protestors’ ire. And other bishops are speaking out about the issues raised.

So, what am I being asked in the media now?

1. Is it the place of the Archbishop of Canterbury to intrude in questions of politics and finance?

2. How many marks out of ten would I give to the handling by St Paul’s of the situation on their doorstep?

3. Shouldn’t bishops be attending to what is going on in their own diocese?

Now, call me naive, but isn’t that a bit odd?

OK, it’s a bit of a game for the media: how to find new angles on a story that is in danger of becoming a bit boring. That’s fine and I fully understand it. But, let’s not pretend it isn’t what happens. (And, for the record, I think some of the media reporting of and comment on this stuff has been excellent and very important.)

The other interesting element from a media point of view is the immediacy of the hungry 24 hour media beast – which requires feeding on demand. Memory of previous meals disappears. The fact that the Archbishop of Canterbury hit the headlines just a few months ago with his New Statesman editorial is simply fogotten – he has to speak now. The fact that the Government lambasted him for suggesting that there might potentially be unrest because of the lack of attention being paid to reform of the financial world is simply forgotten. The fact that many bishops and other commentators have been raising these questions for years and have been either ignored or called ‘sensationalist’ simply doesn’t hit the radar. Is this not just a little bit ironic?

If I were a journalist, I would be trawling through the last couple of years of the Archbishop’s speeches and writings and ask if he was being clever, prophetic or just wild. I would then go to the Church of England’s ethical investment material and poke around some of its (probably by now) decade-long concerns about excessive remuneration in the boardroom. There I might even discover in the annual reports of the main investing bodies (Church Commissioners, Pensions and CCLA) an analysis of voting against excessive pay, which (I am told) is consistently the most frequent issue to do with corporate governance. In the last 12 months the EIAG has written to all top 350 UK companies who break the Church’s EIAG framework, explaining in detail why they will vote as they do (in some marginal cases they abstain, rather that vote with management).  When they meet with companies as part of their active engagement programme with UK Boards, remuneration is often one of the topics on the agenda.

Even the Pensions Board annual report said:

In our proxy voting the main issue on which the Board did not back management remained executive remuneration. The EIAG and the Board share a deep concern about excessive increases in recent years in the amounts payable under variable remuneration schemes – both annual bonuses and longer term incentive plans – and will be considering in 2011 how to step up engagement with business on this.

If I dug a little deeper into the St Paul’s Institute I might even discover that it has been fostering dialogue between the City and Church for several years – that is, taking a proactive lead in raising and debating the matters of serious concern now. In fact, (and I only learned this the other day), only days before the current events began outside St Paul’s the Chair of EIAG was there at the cathedral launching his new book – an examination of the causes of the Credit Crisis and subsequent Western world recession. (Not that I have read it…)

None of this takes away from the serious questions raised about the church’s handling of the St Paul’s situation – and it isn’t an attempt to shift the spotlight onto the media… except to suggest that some fruitful areas of exploration have not been spotted and that we should also be canny about the reporting of the story itself as it develops.

Has anyone asked the Archbishop of Canterbury yet why he wasn’t listened to when he predicted exactly what is happening now?

I hope the media keep pushing us on all fronts.

So, yesterday St Paul’s Cathedral Chapter dropped its legal action against the camp protesters – not all of whom are anti-capitalist per se, despite the media shorthand categorisation – and the Corporation of London ‘paused’ their action to evict. This has allowed a fresh approach to the whole issue.

This morning I woke up to two stories: (a) the Archbishop of Canterbury writing in the Financial Times about the need now to move from general protest to specific solutions and (b) the Bishop of London doing a good job on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

The point of both of these was to push the agenda away from the protests themselves and on to the reason behind the protests: the frustration of millions of people around the world that the people who caused the global financial collapse continue as if little has happened (bonuses, etc.) and everybody else suffers. These questions – regardless of how we got to them in the last couple of weeks – will now be centre-stage as the particular ‘issue’ of St Paul’s and its handling of matters steps back into the less interesting shadows.

It would be interesting to see where the imagination is to be found within the spheres of pension funds, banks, financial institutions for re-shaping a global financial system in which reward is based less on numbers and more on ethics, and in which the distribution of wealth is driven by a vision of the common good and less by the compulsion to ‘have more’. The concept of ‘reqard’ might be significant here.

The world we are now in demands unusual business. That is to say, responses to the current crisis seem mostly to be technical and within current assumptions of what an economy is and how an economy works. It is at the level of assumption that the protests are directed.

What is now required – while these questions are on the front page, as it were – is a re-visioning of what an economy is for. Surely the mantra of the last thirty years, that we are economic beings in an economic market, is being seriously challenged. We do not exist for the market (the market economy); rather, the economy exists for us (a human economy).

This now needs to be cashed out in technical terms (bank taxes, challenges to assumptions about ‘attracting the right people by paying the hiughest salaries, etc.) and the advantages, costs, etc. identified. Many of us won’t understand the financial technicalities. But, we can certainly contribute to the articulation of an alternative vision.

Off to another day of meetings…