Monday, July 14, 2008


Peacemaking after Christendom, Simon Barrow, Ekklesia, 13.07.08

[excerpt] After Christendom there is both fresh hope and fresh challenge for Christian peacemaking. The core question is: “how is peace written into the fabric our lives and our Christian commitment?”, not “OK, I’m a Christian. Now, what sort shall I decide to be, a pacifist or a just warrior?”

If 'just war' means “just another war”, the defence of “Christian Empire” or the overwhelming conformity of the church to an ethic promulgated by the modern delegates of Caesar, then it is the wrong path.

If, however, it is a way of moving away from violence ... a kind of Christian equivalent to the lex talionis (the Jewish law for limiting retribution), then it has a role to play. Not as an end in itself, but as part of a journey whose destiny is the shalom, the just-peace, that is ... shaped by Jesus and the great Hebrew prophets.

The point is this: the Body of Christ is a broken body offered unconditional life by God, not life grabbed at the expense of entrapping others in death. To be baptised into this body is to share a life in Christ that is brought about by grace not guns. More here.

Friday, July 11, 2008


"Only when the well has dried up, do we realise the value of water." -- Benjamin Franklin

Wednesday, July 09, 2008


"[I]n our highly competitive and greedy world [..] we often live as if our happiness depended on having. But I don't know anyone who is really happy because of what he or she has. True joy, happiness and inner peace come from the giving of ourselves to others. A happy life is a life for others." -- Henri Nouwen

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


Times religion correspondent Ruth Gledhill has been maintaining an admirably informative 'live blog' from the Church of England's general Synod, as the decision on women bishops is taken. Dave Walker has been doing a good job, too.

Viewed from the outside, these proceedings can seem rather bizarre. This is something the C of E has partly brought upon itself by pompously setting up its central body as a quasi-parliament. That means living in the blinking headlines of a constant media culture, so that moments of decision and emotion which might previously have been conducted with public eyes averted are now available for all to stare at -- often uncomprehendingly, since mere sight does not necessarily equal understanding of what is viewed. The distinction between privacy and secrecy is also lost. I'm in favour of public scrutiny, especially when power which otherwise might be unaccountable is being deployed. But there are losses, too, in terms of human and spiritual process.

Last night, for example, Jeremy Paxman (on BBC2's Newsnight) heaped ridicule on the idea that Synod had passed a motion without full resolution of all the details - as if the notion of going through a dispute process was inherently absurd. The idea of trying to accommodate rather than crush dissent is thereby portrayed as weakness and vacillation. It can be, of course. But compromise based on principle rather than expediency, where this is possible, is not to be despised and can make a real difference. It's difficult to get at when every move is being politicised, however.

That said, I am nervous about the word "statutory" attached to the 'code of conduct' idea. The Church having decided, at long last, to consecrate women as bishops, the purpose of pastoral measures should be to aid reception with sensitivity, not to set up road blocks or assist those who wish to do so. That is a crucial distinction. In the long run, those who cannot recognise women in positions of authority cannot expect (or be expected) to live in permanent ecclesiastical "no fly zones", and it is cruel as well as unhelpful to pretend otherwise. That is not conflict transformation, it's the institutionalisation of incurable pain - to everyone's harm, as the disastrous Act of Synod preceding the ordination of women in 1994 has demonstrated.

Monday, July 07, 2008


The good news from the Church of England (for once) is just emerging (22.53 GMT). But watch out for the small print... this on Ekklesia: Church of England makes historic decision for women bishops (23.34 GMT).

I have just been watching a very moving C4 documentary, The Miracle of Carriage 346, on the aftermath of the London bombings on 7 July 2005. The term "miracle" is often misused (by religious believers and non-believers alike) as a synonym for arbitrary magic. A better definition would be "a potent sign of life". This programme used it with dignity - not positing a deus ex machina protecting some and ignoring others in the midst of tragedy, but highlighting the life-giving and death-defying significance, as Gill Hicks put it, of "every person who touched me and who I touched that day." Gill, the last person to be rescued alive from the train carriage in which 26 died, has gone on to be a vigorous advocate for the excellent NGO Peace Direct, and talks of her post 7/7 existence as "my second life" which she will use to work for humanity because "it did not come without preconditions": a sense of responsibility she has willingly embraced through and beyond her disfigurement.


"[The] love of God for the world does not withdraw from a reality into noble souls detached from it, but experiences and suffers the reality of the world in the harshest possible fashion. The world takes out its rage on the body of Jesus Christ. But he, tormented, forgives the world its sins. Thus does reconciliation come about." -- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Saturday, July 05, 2008


It being Church of England Synod and all that...

"Becoming Christ-like swings on keeping close to Christ himself, being part of his living body. This means constantly coming close to his bread-body lying on the table as his breathing-body standing around the table. The table of Christ demands that we grow up, and growing up means learning to live with those we find awkward and uncongenial as well as those we warm to naturally. It means living in a community where we don't always get our own way." -- David Wood, writing in Fear or Freedom?

[The picture is the former mural from Santa Maria de Los Angeles, Managua, Nicaragua.]

Friday, July 04, 2008


I'm really sad to hear of the death of veteran correspondent Charles Wheeler - though, as they say, he had "a good innings", and contributed more to the integrity of reporting and journalism than almost anyone else in Britain over the past six decades. That his demise became news on 4 July, given his long years in Washington, seems strangely appropriate. BBC Radio 4 will be paying tribute with a special 45-minute programme, Charles Wheeler In His Own Words at 1100 BST on Saturday, 5 July 2008 or afterwards for a week at the Listen Again page.

Responding to the broader concern attached to a high court judgement issued on 2 July 2008 ('Faith Schools judgment fails to consider human rights angle'), Simon Barrow, co-director of the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia, commented: "It is time that both religious communities and government were more direct in tackling the issue of discrimination in admissions and employment in faith schools, with a view to eliminating such practices." Our concern about this is theologically grounded. What message does this kind of thing send out to people looking for integrity, love and fairness from Christians and other people of faith?

Without doubt, I am a 'political animal'. Always have been. But political processes can easily become overbearing, distorting, disconnected and over-determining of the many features of life that they touch upon. In my latest Wardman Wire 'Thinking Aloud' column, which I have entitled 'The Limits of Politics' , I explore how and why the church might play some role in generating alternatives in this area. There's also an anecdote about Nelson Mandela at the 9th WCC Assembly in Harare ten years ago, illustrating my point that "grace as well as power is needed to triumph over injustice, and to hold on to the vulnerable dream that a different world is possible."

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


Deep disagreements between followers of Christ over the nature and mission of the church are not new. In fact the recent goings on in Jerusalem may remind us of the Council that Acts of the Apostles records as the first in the early Christian movement's history. It came up with a classic Anglican-style fudge (which was at the same time rather radical), unlike the Anglican one held last week, ironically enough. Here is my recent sermon tackling these issues for the Feast of St Peter and St Paul: Whose mission is it anyway?

Tuesday, July 01, 2008


Meanwhile, the nascent Fellowship of Confressing Anglicans hasn't quite made its acronym stick on the net yet. If you Google FOCA you get a whole variety of intriguing alternative possibilities, including cuddly seals (very, very cute and quite unschismatic-looking), an appealing holiday destination in France, and the Federation of Cottagers' Associations in Ontario, which to those who believe that Canadian Anglicanism has now been irreversibly taken over by a "gay mafia" may sound rather more sinister than it actually is.

Sorry, couldn't resist that one. Nor could Andrew Brown, I see. I am travelling at the moment, and so only logging in fitfully (yes, it does happen), but I see that Riazat Butt writing on the front page of the Guardian this morning, no less, reports an "unusually robust" response from Lambeth to the declaration from GAFCON - one that Theo Hobson describes as more of a coup than a schism: an observation which is both politically true and theologically literate... it seems that most people who use the latter term have nary a clue as to what it really means, assuming it just to be a synonym for 'split', when historically it has referred to a major uprooting of the tradition, not simply a division within a denomination (which, in the case of Anglicanism, has never claimed the kind of permanency that would be necessary to make sense of this kind of description).

That said, there are many evangelicals (including some quite conservative ones) who are unhappy with the attempted putsch, so while Theo is right on one paradigm, he is in danger of succumbing to another mistaken one. Anyway, it is all rather unpleasant and diversionary to the major challenge Christianity faces in an era where a top-down, institutional version of church is being threatened as never before. In all this, a certain kind of bogus anti-colonialism has arisen, where the abuse of power and attempts to impose a new version of the old imperial order is disguised with guilt-tripping rhetoric about liberation. About which more, later.