Eddie Jones for PM?

The world is a bizarre and strange place at present. In fact it appears, at least to my mind, to have gone stark raving mad. So, I thought I would add a little to the overall climate of lunacy.

Why not make Eddie Jones P.M.? We would have to get over the fact that he is not actually British and, has no automatic right of residency, but where there’s a will, there’s a way. Of course we don’t know the precise nature of his political convictions, but maybe in the current climate that is entirely beside the point?

So why should we consider him for the highest job in the land? What are his credentials?

Well, he did wonders with the Japanese rugby team; don’t forget this minnow of the game beat one of the true giants of the oval balled game, the mighty South Africa, in the Rugby World Cup (an even more astonishing win that Iceland’s over England in the round ball game, me thinks).

He then inherited an England squad that had been embarrassed beyond the norms of decency in the Rugby World Cup, in our own country, and we invented the game for goodness sake!

And now, his team have won nine straight games in a row.

There is obviously something about Eddie.

But seriously he has done something incredible. He has taken a group of journeyman and transformed them into the second ranked team in the world. He achieved a Grand Slam and now he has gone back to his home country and won a test series three nil!

How has he done it? Well, who really knows. It is impossible to say without being in the camp.But, we can observe a few overall characteristics of his leadership:

He clearly puts the team and not himself first, (Boris!)

He will not accommodate talented but self obsessed mavericks (Chris Ashton).

He encourages talent, but protects it, keeping his young stars entirely focused on the job in hand (Maro Itoje).

He has managed to breath new life into careers that were starting to look like they were petering out (Chris Robshaw, James Haskell, Courtney Lawes).

He acknowledges his own mistakes and acts quickly to correct them (substituting Luther Burrell and Teimana Harrison after only 25 minutes).

He nurtures young talent and exposes it, in a controlled way, to the harsh reality of the test match environment (Paul Hill, Jack Clifford).

And, he is responsible for the redemption of an entire career, turning Dylan Hartley from sinner to saint.

And he smiles and cracks jokes (not always in the best of taste, mind).

He is the sort of leader we need; let’s make him P.M. !

 

 

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Plus ca change?

Well we now know the result of the referendum. For some the result will be received as good news, for others as a catastrophe. One persons ‘glorious opportunity’ is another’s potential ‘armageddon.’

I am sad, I was a remain voter and a fairly convinced one. So how should I react or respond, as a Christian? I have been pondering this thought for several weeks now, in anticipation of a possible leave vote.

First and foremost I think I need to face up to some of my own inconsistencies. I voted remain despite holding an innate suspicion of large institutions and their tendency to assume supererogatory powers. I am in many ways a passionate advocate for the principle of subsidiarity (especially in the life of the church!)

Are any of us entirely consistent? Probably not.

But, I also need to be clear and honest about my concerns. I simply don’t buy the ‘back in control’ argument. I think it is a myth and a fallacy. The world and its systems are simply too complex. And, I do worry, a lot about what I perceive as a tendency by political leaders to encourage folk to regard themselves as ‘victims’ of the European Union. Victims require scapegoats. I am also deeply concerned about the plight of the poor and vulnerable. For me too much of the debate (and I would level this accusation at campaigners on both sides) was self-centered. The notions of good neighbourliness and the common good hardly got a look in.

Secondly, I think it is really important to keep my eye on the ‘main thing;’  the thing that never changes whatever social and political reality we find ourselves inhabiting and, whatever the consequences of that system.

The emerging social and political reality, whether it has good or bad consequences (and clearly I think it likely that for the most part the consequences will be bad) will be the emerging reality. This is a statement of the obvious!

So what becomes important is how we as the Body of Christ carry ourselves in the midst of the ’emerging reality.’ If we don’t keep our eyes on the ‘main thing’ could it be that we are doomed to a never-ending cycle of blame, bitterness and, recrimination; cancer to the common good?

So what is the ‘main thing?’ 

Could it be that it is simply this: to be a blessing to the world? To be agents of reconciliation and peace. To make sure that we constantly talk, in the public square, about the common good and, to allow ourselves to be inspired and energized by Jesus’ own manifesto commitments (Luke 4, 18 &19):

‘To bring good news to the poor…..to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ 

As Christians we are free to vote how we chose, but we also have a responsibility to love our neighbour, to exercise true charity and radical hospitality to the poor and oppressed, to work ceaselessly for the common good, and to a blessing to the world.

This is the ‘main thing’ and its a changeless thing; plus ca change.

 

Faith, community and humanity; some thoughts following recent atrocities

This weeks reflection is my sermon for the week and is based on the set readings for the Eucharist.

Trinity 4; Galatians 3, 23-end and Luke 8, 26-39

Sometimes, as a preacher, I look at the lectionary readings and my first thought is err, what have these readings got in common? This happened this week. The reading from the epistle at first glance looks to have little, or nothing, in common with the Gospel.

But, maybe it does.

I also think the epistle and gospel readings also have real significance post the horrific and homophobic murders in Orlando, and the appalling murder of MP Jo Cox. Jo’s husband Brendan said on Thursday ‘hate doesn’t have a creed, race or religion, it is poisonous.’

The epistle is possibly one of the most quoted, most loved passages from St. Paul. It is Paul at his theologically most radical; it is Paul seeking to make sure that he hammers home the message that ‘in Christ’ there is no room for hatred based on any aspect of our humanity. It is Paul saying that as long as we are focused on Christ, through faith, there is room for plurality of ideas, so long as they conform to the standards demanded by grace and mercy. It is Paul saying that it is not legitimate to impose our thoughts, sub doctrines, ideology and preferences on others.

It is important to remember that Paul writes as a Jew, but for the Gentiles. Paul inhabited a world where the law, and the micro details wrapped up in the law, counted for everything. In Paul’s world there was little room for diversity and inclusivity; hospitality even. Who you were and how you behaved counted for everything and, especially your salvation. If you were deemed through the law to be an outsider in this world your lot would continue into the next.

And yet, Paul stresses that faith and not the law is the universal route to salvation. Paul it should be noted is not suggesting that faith means throwing away the law, and collapsing into the worst excesses of moral relativism, but he is saying that faith and its implications come first. It is our faith that unites us with Christ and allows us, the Body of Christ, to be a blessing in and for humanity; to be a blessing to and for the world is our religious vocation. Yours and mine.

Faith, for Paul, changes everything. Without faith all we are left with is technique, a long and impossible list of does but more importantly don’ts. Without faith we are, like the demonic, trapped. The Demonic, who the religious community deemed to be the ultimate outsider, shows us that no one, no one at all, stands outside of God’s radical hospitality and grace.

Faith changes our very conception of God; ‘therefore now faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian.’ Grace and mercy now become the watchwords. Through faith we receive God’s grace and His mercy. That is the good news.

It is the good news that set the demonic free, for the demonic, in stark contrast to the religious elite, with their insistence on the law and human rankings, recognised that Jesus is the ‘Son of the Most High God.’ Belief in Jesus sets us free; all of us, without exception.

But free to what end? Free, again like the formerly demon possessed man, to proclaim the gospel, to ‘declare how much God has done,’ to be a blessing to all. Free to fulfil our true vocation.

Faith, and faith alone, is our entry ticket into the communion of saints, God’s holy family. You, and I, are members of God’s family simply because we are believers, because we have faith. Faith it seems goes hand in glove with inclusivity and acceptance. Faith and faith alone bring us back to the hospitality of God. And such radical hospitality is open to all, irrespective of human and temporal identity markers.

‘There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And, if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.’

The problem is that so often the world, and the religious world in particular, doesn’t want to believe this, preferring tribal identities leading to schisms. We sometimes prefer the minutiae of the law to faith, the consequence of which is mercy, grace, inclusivity and the radical hospitality of God, first made available through us in the here and now. That is our vocation as people of faith.

Legalistic thinking can be far easier to deal with, offering fixed points of artificial certainty whereas the consequences of faith grace, mercy, inclusion, hospitality are ever fluid, ever progressive, ever challenging and, ever disquieting. Faith cannot leave us securely in one place, instead it leads us on eroding all certainties save one.

All faith gives us is the one great certainty; Jesus. And, we know that Jesus disbarred no-one from his love, mercy and grace. The story of the demonic tells us so.

The concept of ‘there is no….’ is open to misuse. Some suggest that because ‘all of you are one in Christ Jesus,’ we need no longer own or claim or temporal identity markers. For me this is a cruel and depersonalizing theology, one which refuses to accept that all of our differences are held together in one larger family, the family of faith, even the family of humanity. Paul never ceased to own his own Jewish background, neither did Jesus. No one should be forced to disown their basic core identity.

As people of faith we need to ask ourselves what it means to celebrate – not merely accommodate or tolerate – diversity and, to exercise radical hospitality. St. Paul was writing to a highly polarised community in Galatia. He was keen to stress that Jews, Greeks, male, female, slave and free were all to be afforded the hospitality of God. Paul was addressing the big issues of his day, for in his world Gentiles, females and slaves were all regarded as second, even third, class citizens.

Paul’s basic point is simply this: before God there is no such thing as a second, or even third, class citizen. Each and every one of us is first class: ‘in Christ there is no….’

So our contemporary challenge , and I think it is a global challenge, is to identify those groups who some, mistakenly and catastrophically, deem to be outside the hospitality of God, and then to challenge ourselves: ‘are we still acting as disciplinarians, asking people to live under the force of man-made and depersonalizing laws?’

For our role, calling and vocation, as people of faith is to be agents of grace, mercy and the radical hospitality of God, extending his love and blessing to all, for that is what it means to live as a person of faith. That is what it means to be the Church.

Amen.

Dear Primates, following Orlando

Dear Primates,

When you met together in January you made various pledges. These were communicated to the Anglican Communion and the world at large through a communique issued immediately after your gathering.

The communique was entitled ‘Walking together in the service of God.’ The desire for unity was central to your discussions. You imposed ‘sanctions’ against the TEC for redefining their marriage canon on a unilateral basis. It seems as though some form of sanction will now be imposed on the SEC (Scottish Episcopal Church).

There is nothing wrong, in fact there is something very right, in striving for unity. Jesus after all prayed that his disciples ‘may all be one,’ (John 20, 21). Of course unity is a contested subject, or motif. You expressed the notion of unity by reference to the tradition of the church viz a viz the doctrine of marriage and, the concept of pilgrimage; walking together.

 But, surely unity is much more than this?

Many have questioned the legitimacy of the sanctions you sought to impose,the argument being that as a group you don’t possess legal and canonical powers. However, most would accept the argument that the Primates should be expected to exercise moral and spiritual leadership. The Anglican Communion has traditionally taken episcopacy seriously.

You now have an opportunity to exercise such leadership, together, in a single act of unity. Let me remind you of some the words you all agreed on in your communique:

‘The Primates condemned homophobic prejudice and violence and resolved to work together to offer pastoral care and loving service irrespective of sexual orientation. This conviction arises out of our discipleship of Jesus Christ. The Primates reaffirmed their rejection of criminal sanctions against same-sex attracted people.

The Primates recognise that the Christian church and within it the Anglican Communion have often acted in a way towards people on the basis of their sexual orientation that has caused deep hurt. Where this has happened they express their profound sorrow and affirm again that God’s love for every human being is the same, regardless of their sexuality, and that the church should never by its actions give any other impression.’

I accept that your wording leaves plenty of wriggle room open to you.

You could argue that all you have pledged to do is offer individual pastoral support to people, irrespective of sexual orientation (and what this means may also be open to interpretation.) As Primates you cannot, of course, be expected to offer pastoral care to each and every member of the flock.

How you deliver together, and in unity with each other, on your pastoral promises is therefore an interesting question. It is one you must answer because you have pledged to ‘walk together in the service of God’ in addressing the problems, and appalling consequences, of homophobia.

You also pledged to (publicly?) reject the use of criminal sanctions against same-sex attracted people. Again, this phrase is sufficiently ambiguous to allow different interpretations. You could also argue that the communique only relates to issues that directly relate to the Anglican Communion and, the Provinces in which it operates. You could further suggest that it is up to each individual Primate to offer their own individual response. But, would this pass the ‘togetherness’ test you have set yourselves on the issue of tackling homophobic violence?

You have accepted that the crimilization of same sex relationships is an act of violence and injustice, which no Christian should support or endorse. You should therefore have few problems in rejecting all other forms of homophobic hatred.

I hope that you will not be seduced by the potential for any such reductionist ambiguity provided by your wording.

If you are serious about the eradication of discrimination and violence towards same-sex attracted brothers and sisters will you issue a joint ‘pastoral communique’ (as evidence of your togetherness) condemning the atrocities in Orlando? A joint and global communique would speak both into, and beyond, provincial concerns.

Pastoral communiques (letters, epistles) are one way the church has traditionally, communicated with its members. Tradition, I understand, is something you value highly?

Justice, and perhaps wisdom, demand that you issue a strong and compassionately worded communique. The Secretariat for the Anglican Communion provides a mechanism for a quick and decisive response. The pastoral communique should be signed by the relevant primates and not by the secretariat on their behalf, in the interests of transparency.  There is nothing as yet (13th June) on its website.

A joint communique would demonstrate that your commitment to pastoral care is a serious commitment. It would represent solidarity with the TEC and, that the communion is really committed to walking together. A joint communique would reassure the global LGBTI community, and the fathers, brothers, sisters and friends of LGBTI folk, that you care about all people and that you take the sins of the world seriously; that you are genuinely committed to the common good.

A joint pastoral communique would show that you continue to provide moral and spiritual leadership on a global basis. A failure to respond may well render any such claims implausible.

Will you act, togethein unity as an expression of solidarity?

I hope and pray that you will.

In Christ,

Andrew

 

 

From the C of E with love: two presents for Her Majesty

For the last week or so I have been thinking about what present, or presents, we Anglicans might give the Queen for her ninetieth birthday.

Her majesty after all is doubly important for us, for not only is she the monarch but also the C of E’s ‘Supreme Governor,’ and her life has been, and continues to be, a living apologetic for the Christian faith.

She has been in many ways our evangelist ‘par excellence.’ Who can forget her 2012 Christmas day address in which she suggested that we might like to consider giving Him (Jesus) our hearts?

I think we could give the Queen two very real gifts:

First, we could make sure that we continue to reflect on the role of the Church of England in our national life, and make sure that the C of E genuinely exists for the common good.

It strikes me Her Majesty has a very clear understanding of what might be meant by ‘Anglican Identity.’ This was clearly stated in her opening address to the 2012 Lambeth Conference:

‘The concept of the established Church is occasionally misunderstood and, I believe, commonly under-appreciated. Its role is not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of other religions. Instead the Church has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country. It certainly provides an identity and spiritual dimension for its own many adherents. But, also, gently and assuredly, the Church of England has created an environment for other faith communities and indeed people of no faith to live freely. Woven into the fabric of this country, the Church has helped build a better society – more and more active in co-operation for the common good with those of other faiths.’

Wow! What a model:

Established and secure in its own identity and spirituality, ‘evangelical’ yet always hospitable, gentle and inclusive, dutiful and co-operative, irrevocably  committed to the common good. A church built on these values would be a genuinely national church.

Does this list of characteristics describe the C of E as is? Maybe in parts, but I would suggest with plenty of room for improvement?

Would  such a C of E be a fitting tribute to Her Majesty, a real legacy, a wonderful ninetieth birthday present? I think so.

The second present we could give to the Queen would be the promise of our continued prayers, each and every week. This, I am sure, is the gift she would most appreciate for as the Queen has recently written (in the Foreward to ‘The Servant Queen’):

‘In my first Christmas Broadcast in 1952, I asked the people of the Commonwealth and Empire to pray for me as I prepared to dedicate myself to their service at my Coronation. I have been – and remain – very grateful to you for your prayers. and to God for His steadfast love.’ She then adds, ‘I have indeed seen His faithfulness.’

This is not a trite, well meant, statement. It is instead a straightforward testimony to the efficacy of prayer.The Queen believes, beyond doubt, that our prayers have both shaped and strengthened her.

So what prayer might we offer, as a present? Surely something from the C of E’s own distinctive liturgy? Perhaps, the Prayer for the Queen from BCP Morning Prayer:

‘O Lord our heavenly Father, high and mighty, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, the only Ruler of princes, who dost from thy throne behold all dwellers upon the earth: Most heartily we beseech thee with thy favor to behold our most gracious sovereign Lady, Queen Elizabeth; and so replenish her with the grace of thy Holy Spirit, that she may alway incline to thy will, and walk in thy way: Endue her plenteously with heavenly gifts; grant her in health and wealth long to live; strengthen her that she may vanquish and overcome all her enemies, and finally after this life she may attain everlasting joy and felicity; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.’

So, there you have it two presents we in the C of E could give to Her Majesty:

A commitment to reflect on and build (or do I mean rebuild?) a national Church based on the values she advocates and, an ongoing commitment to pray for our Supreme Governor and her life and witness.

 

 

More leaders? Yes, but….

Well the official figures are out and available for statistical analysis. The bottom line is that clergy numbers are down and that the trend is set to continue. The rate of decline matters, from a head office perspective because ‘ambitious plans’ in the R & R programme are, in part, contingent on an increase in ordinations ‘by half by 2020’ ( Church Times  – Clergy: fewer on a stipend, and older – 3rd June.)

To be clear I have no issue with a goal to increase clergy numbers. I accept the argument that churches grow where there is ‘focused leadership,’ and, I believe in the magnetic power of the dog collar. I wish the Church would make it far easier to recruit, train and ordain local ministers, I really do.

I do, however, have two worries:

First, what strategies is the church going to use to attract, identify and recruit a new cadre of ‘leaders?’

I do hope that it isn’t, through the use of words like entrepreneurial, strategic and so forth, thereby presenting ministry as ‘sexy,’ and the religious equivalent of ‘secular leadership.’

Sometimes, perhaps often in ministry, all we can do is get down on our knees before rising and simply getting on with the task in hand. The church, perhaps above all else, needs ministers committed to the dirty work of holiness. The dirty work of holiness often comes without manifest results and the feel good factor that can result from a strategy well crafted. Resilience should be one of the most important characteristics the C of E seeks in its ministers (or leaders, if you prefer).

Paradoxically ‘secular leaders’ for all the outward appearance of assurance and confidence are frequently highly insecure and, It is often their very insecurity that compels them to ‘succeed.’ The strange mix of insecurity and success gives rise to the cult and idolatry of the leader and, leadership. Success is in any case frequently transient, fleeting and short lived.

I have a strong sense that when the church starts using terms like entrepreneur it cheapens diaconal, priestly and even episcopal ministry and also the secular use of the term. Unless that is we really are seeking ‘leaders’ who put everything on the line for the sake of the Church, investing any personal assets they might have into their ministry and refusing to take any form of payment before growth is manifest and obvious?

The church needs to be very careful in its marketing of ordained ministry, so that it identifies, recruits and trains the right people. It is conceivable that the C of E manages to meet its ambitious plans for growth in the numbers of ordained ministers whilst, paradoxically, diminishing the aggregate quality of ordained ministry.

So, my second concern, which follows from the first, is that the C of E ordains the right people. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in ‘Not in God’s Name, ‘ (a fantastic read by the way) provides a really exegesis of the sibling rivalries in Genesis, which he concludes with the following observation:

‘Why then Isaac, not Ishmael? Why Jacob, not Esau? Because Ishmael and Esau are strong, resourceful (entrepreneurial and strategic? my addition)  people who survive by their own skill and dexterity. The people of the covenant are witnesses in themselves to something beyond themselves. Isaac and Jacob are not strong.’

 The C of E in its ‘ambitious plans’ to ordain 50% more ministers must ensure that it doesn’t end up attracting and ordaining the strong, successful, strategic, resourceful, ‘earthly’ and contemporary  equivalents of Ishmael and Esau; for this really would be to the detriment of the church and its mission.

The Church must always make sure that its ‘leaders’ point way beyond themselves.