‘For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek to do you good,’ (Psalm 122,9).
For the last few weeks the notion of ‘goodwill’ has been on my mind, and dare I say it, my heart. Goodwill is, of course, one of those vague and wonderfully ill-defined terms. We know by intuition when it is in the ether and, we also know when it’s not.
We all know people who are agents of goodwill just as we all know folk whose first, and sadly ongoing, response to any initiative is cynicism. Goodwill produces hope and optimism. It is healthily contagious. Cynicism, left unchecked, is viral and results in destructive behavior. Goodwill enhances returns whilst cynicism depreciates the value of an idea, or material investment. Goodwill, like trust, is a generative and re-productive intangible asset.
I have a feeling that the Church of England requires its members to exercise goodwill on an unprecedented scale if it is to achieve the aims of Renewal and Reform. I have long liked Marshall Field’s suggestion that:
‘Goodwill is the only asset that competition cannot undersell or destroy.’
Fortunately the Church of England isn’t in the business of competition, or is it?
Perhaps we all need to be ever so slightly honest and accept that we can become a little too tribal at times? Sometimes such tribalism results in a sense of triumphalism or its inverse victim-hood. Goodwill, authentically deployed, is not only an agent of hope and optimism but, also the eraser of tribalism.
If R&R is to be effective we need to reduce the level of tribalism prevalent across the Church of England; slowly rubbing it away. This doesn’t mean foregoing our own sense of identity or ecclesiology, it doesn’t mean ignoring various geographies, it doesn’t imply some form of passive and stoical acceptance of perceived inevitability but, it does mean caring about the whole of one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church in England.
Goodwill invites us to throw off our own protective clothing and, to make sure that whatever our own individual preferences we refuse to allow ourselves the luxury of hunkering down, and carrying on in splendid isolation. Goodwill demands that we extend and relate.
We need to remember that although R&R will invest in individual mission initiatives it will only do so for the good of the entire Church of England, for its purpose is to re-evangelize England through the thoughtful deployment of resources, both human and financial. In the words of Charles Fletcher Dole we are asked to recognise that ‘goodwill is the mightiest practical force in the universe.’ Goodwill isn’t just about being nice, it’s about getting the job (of re-evangelizing England) done!
The hope must always be that the ‘success’ of any single initiative is visible beyond its immediate boundary or context. Projects are interesting only to the extent to which they contribute to the whole.
Earlier this week my good friend Lucy Edhouse Dallas, the Vicar of St. Nicholas Elstree, wrote a highly moving open letter to the Church (not the House of Bishops, simply the Church) in which, drawing on her story, she described how, for her own spiritual health, she needed to remain in communion with conservatives, liberals, progressives, evangelicals, charismatics and, mystics alike, for the simple reason that they all add to the vibrancy and mission of the Church of England. If you would like to read her letter its available through her blog:
I found Lucy’s letter both moving but also haunting. I am not sure I feel her sense of need. I understand cognitively where she is coming from, but perhaps not, as yet, emotionally and spirituality. I am just a little too tribal for my own liking, as yet ill-equipped to assert with the Psalmist ‘for the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek to do you good.’ Yet, I know this is where I must get to, not out of a sense of niceness, but for the ‘sake of the House of the Lord our God,’ and for the sake of the re-evangelization of England! And, the only way I can see that this might become possible is through the purposeful exercise of goodwill.
Goodwill is, I have come to believe, as hard as teak and as supple as ply. It is also something that has to be worked at, in the absence of natural inclinations and sympathies. Good will is about looking for the good in people and ways of doing things that fall outside of our natural and innate preferences, groups, tribes, cliques, ecclesiologies and geographies and, then willing them; willing them through prayer and, practical support. Goodwill looks beyond imperfection – real and perceived – for the good. Goodwill asks us to ‘take the log out of our own eye’, so that all we see in the other is a speck of imperfection, amidst a greater sea of goodness. Goodwill calls us to humility and realism. Goodwill asks us to see beyond narrow boundaries and, behind the edifice of style, forms and patterns of worship and, ‘being church.’ No easy task!
Goodwill, is a duty and an obligation, it is a job of work; hard and committed work. My hope is that as I get better at exercising goodwill my need for others will grow, that I will grow into Lucy’s maturity, that I will become an agent of hope and optimism and a net contributor to the aims and aspirations behind R&R and that with the Psalmist I will be able to look at difference and say:
‘For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek to do you good.’