Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Bishop of Stockport

Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit the Church of England today announced the appointment of a new Bishop of Stockton and guess what... she's a Manchester United supporter. May God richly bless the ministry of Revd Libby Lane in her new role in the Chester Diocese.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Plus ça change...

I'm ploughing my way through the Lord Green Steering Group report 'Talent Management for Future Leaders and Leadership Development for Bishops and Deans: A New Approach'. Now there's a title to excite you about the mission of the church in C21st. I first heard of the report in a Church Times article published last Friday and the report has been put up on the Thinking Anglicans blog. The Church Times also carried a robust critique of the report from one of those it is aimed at, Martyn Percy the  Dean of Christ Church, Oxford.

I'm not sure of the status of the report; some people have seen it and others are completely in the dark. Has it been published? Bishop Pete Broadbent has suggested that if you are in the loop on these things then you will have seen it. I'm fairly well networked in the C of E and I hadn't heard of it until last week, but then I'm just a parish priest so... . Is this how we handle significant reports in the Church of England these days? If so then plus ça change. The response across social media has been mixed and largely based on selective reporting. My own initial response was one of real disappointment, not because I don't believe that leadership training is important, it is, but because of the tone and language of the reports about the report. I will read the report thoroughly and discuss it with colleagues before commenting on its content further.

I would, however, make one observation. The report argues for a much more professional approach to senior church leadership, including change management. If the publication or not of this report is anything to go by, then the first people on the new courses need to be those who are responsible for the way this process has been handled because it has been nothing short of a joke.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Branded

It's been a long time since I watched BBC Question Time as I simply can't afford to keep replacing the television. Last night's line up looked set to make my blood boil, with Russell Brand pitched alongside the ubiquitous Nigel Farage, so I avoided it. Then this morning I read this by Russell Brand on Facebook. Though I don't agree with Brand's 'don't vote' agenda this is well worth a read.
Answer time
I’ve just got home from recording bbc tv’s political debate show Question Time and if you saw it and found it anti-climactic, I know how you feel.
Nigel Farage in the flesh, gin blossomed flesh that it is, inspires sympathy more than fear, an end of the pier, end of the road, end of days politician, who like many people who drink too much has a certain sloppy sadness. Camilla Cavendish who I was sat next to, seemed kindly and the two politicians from opposing parties, that flanked Dimbleby melted into an indistinguishable potage of cautious wonk words before I could properly learn which was blue and which was red. For my part I sat politely on my hands, keen to avoid hollering obscenities after a week of hypocrisy accusations and half-arsed, front page controversy.
Only the audience inspire passion or connection. Humanity. The usual preposterous jumble that you see in any of our towns, even if groomed and prepped by Auntie, they comparatively throb with authenticity opposite us, across the shark-eyed bank of cumbersome cameras.
The panelists have been together in “the green room” chatting, like before any TV show, and that’s what QT is, a TV show, a timid and tepid debate where the topics and dynamism of the discussion are as wooden and flat as the table we gamely sit around.
There is a practice question prior to the record, so the cameras can position and mics can be checked and the audience can practice harrumphing. In my dressing room at the modern Kentish theatre, before my sticky descent, I can hear them being prepped “ask questions, quarrel, applaud, keep those hands up”.
The practice question is a soft ball rhubarb toss about clumping kids or something and even though I’m determined to concentrate like a grown up, my mind drifts back to the Canterbury Food Bank I visited before arriving, partly to learn about it, as a researcher told me there might be question on them and first hand knowledge would make me look good, and partly because, y’know, I actually care.
In a warehouse in a retail park Christians and sixth formers assemble bags of what would rightly be considered “staples” in a kinder world. Tins of food and packets of biscuits and it’s good that we’re near to the “White Cliffs of Dover” because it feels like there’s a war on and the livid coloured packaging goes sepia in my mind as Dame Vera scores the melancholy scene.
The Christians are as Christians are, kind and optimistic. The donations come from ordinary local folk “We get more from the poorer people” says Martin, a quick deputy in a cuddly jumper. “More from Asda shoppers than Waitrose.” As I contemplate cancelling my Ocado (or whatever the fuck it’s called) order Chrissy, the lady who runs the scheme says that this year people who received packages previously have now donated themselves. Previous recipients often volunteer an all. Here older folk and the students diligently box off the nosh and I determine to give them and their heartening endeavor a shout out on the show and my writhing, nervous gut begins to settle.
Chrissy explains how the Caterbury Food Bank has brought people together, not just those it feeds but those who volunteer. “It seemed like a good way to worship Christ” she says. Martin, who I am starting to gently fall in love with, observes that supermarkets profit from the enterprise as Food Bank campaigns encourage their customers to spend more there. “Do you think there’s an obligation for the state to feed people?” I ask “or room for a bit more Jesus kicking the money lenders out of the temple type stuff?”
They smile.
Many who use their facility are people that work full time and still fall short, others have suffered under “benefit sanctions”. “They’re very quick to cut off people’s benefits these days” says Martin.
“People think that Canterbury is affluent, but all around us are pockets of the hidden hungry”. The hidden hungry. “I’m gonna use that” I tell him as I scarper. He makes a very British joke about charging me as I get in the car and I tell him I nicked some jammy dodgers, and we laugh so that’s alright.
I think about the hidden hungry as I settle into my QT chair and get “mic’d up”. Farage entered to a simultaneous cheer and jeer, they cancel each other out, like bose headphones and leave an eerie silence. David Dimbleby says something about it being panto season and someone in the audience says “oh no it isn’t” and I love him for it, even though I’m pretty sure he was one of the UKip cheerers.
And a pantomime it is, well not so entertaining, no flouncing dames or doleful Buttons or rousing songs, just semi-staged tittle-tattle and bickering. The only worthwhile sentiments, be they raging or insightful come from the audience, across the camera bank. The man who brings up politicians pay rises, the man who demands I stand for parliament (so that he could not vote for me judging from his antipathy), the mad, lovely blue hair woman who swears at everyone, mostly though the woman who says “Why are we talking about immigrants? It’s a side issue, this crisis was caused by financial negligence and the subsequent bail-out”. This piece of rhetoric more valuable than anything I could’ve said, including my pound-shop Enoch Powell gag. More potent than the one thing I regret not saying because time and format did not permit it. That the people have the wisdom, not politicians, that the old paradigm is broken and will not be repaired. That the future is collectivised power. Parliamentary politics is dead, they, it’s denizens, wandering from aye to neigh from Tory to UKip know it’s dead and we know it’s dead. Farage is worse than stagnant, he is a tribute act, he is a nostalgic spasm for a Britain that never was; an infinite cricket green with no one from the colonies to raise the game, grammar schools on every corner and shamed women breastfeeding under giant parasols. The Britain of the future will be born of alliances between ordinary, self-governing people, organised locally, communicating globally. Built on principles that are found in traditions like Christianity; community, altruism, kindness, love.
In the “practice question” Farage says it’s okay to hit children “it’s good for them to be afraid” he said. There is a lot of fear about in our country at the moment and he is certainly benefitting from it. But the Britain I love is unafraid and brave. We have a laugh together, we take care of one another, we love an underdog and we unite to confront bullies. We voluntarily feed the poor when the government won’t do it. These ideas and actions that I saw in the food bank and across the camera bank are where the real power lies and this new power is the answer, no question about it.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Strident atheists

An interesting comment popped up on my Twitter timeline in response to an article in The Guardian originally published on Monday. The Guardian piece argued, not very convincingly, that British fears about Islamists and Saudi fears of atheists are two sides of the same coin. Now this is a fairly typical Guardian Comment is Free piece and displays the lack of rigour in argument typical of the genre. However, I was interested by a comment tweeted in response to the piece by Douglas Murray in which he asked:
Can anyone name an atheist who has carried out a suicide bombing or beheaded someone in Saudi? Anyone?
The journalist David Aaronovitch, an atheist, whose writing I usually respect, wrote:
Sure atheists don't actually behead anyone, but you have to admit they can sometimes be a bit strident. 
Now this is a line that often gets trotted out by Richard Dawkins and his chums. 'Atheists are much less harmful that religious people. We might shout a bit from time to time, be a bit strident, but we don't harm anyone'. Except of course that isn't quite true. If you happen to be a Christian living in the self declared atheist state of North Korea you aren't just treated to a few harsh words, you are more than likely to end up in labour camp or worse. The intellectual western European atheist might argue that it is unfair to link his or her views with North Korea and suggest that those pesky North Koreans aren't really atheists anyway. It's the old Jedi mind trick 'These aren't the atheists you are looking for'. Fair enough but isn't this the same argument used by many religious people who argue that the worst manifestations of those claiming to be of their faith aren't really true believers. Consider, for example, the many Muslims who would denounce and reject the expression of Islam manifested by the IS in Syria and Iraq. Or consider the many Christians who would disown the nonsense regurgitated by the Westboro Baptist Church.

Some atheists are no more than a bit strident, not unlike some religious people. However, some atheists aren't averse to a spot of murder and mayhem, as anyone with even a basic grasp of political history knows, and pretending they weren't or aren't really atheists is frankly disingenuous.


Monday, 24 November 2014

No repsect

Yesterday I put up a post about a mark of respect between two international rugby union teams. Unfortunately over the weekend I also saw several incidents which left me feeling that some sports people have no respect for themselves, for their opponents or for their sport. Watching Match of the Day on Saturday night I was saddened but not surprised to witness several blatant acts of cheating.

First up was the highly lauded Everton and England youngster Ross Barkley. In the match against West Ham, Barklay took a blatant dive and was awarded a free kick much to the astonishment of just about everyone but the referee. Barklay's manager Martinez then defended the youngster by saying he wasn't a diver and 'expected contact' when he went down. If his manager isn't prepared to challenge Barklay's behaviour there is little hope he will cut this cheating out from his approach to the game.

In the same match there was a tussle between Everton's Kevin Mirallas and West Ham's James Tomkins. It ended with Mirallas pushing Tomkins in the chest only for Tomkins to hold his face and collapse as if struck in the face, usually a sending off offence. Here's that particular pathetic incident.

Just two examples of cheating to gain advantage and attempt to get an opponent punished in one match, and there were several other incidents in other Premier League games played the same day. It's hard to have respect for a game if the players can't even respect themselves.


Sunday, 23 November 2014

Respect

Occasionally I come across a picture that reminds me of what should lie at the heart of sport and this is one of them. The picture, published in several national newspapers, shows the England and Samoa rugby union players kneeling, linked together following yesterday's hard fought match. The picture speaks of mutual respect and a sense of camaraderie. It is a refreshing change as I have long feared that rugby union has been heading down the same road as football thanks to the impact of money on the game. It was also good to celebrate Ireland's victory over Australia yesterday and the result offers hope that the Boys in Green are on course to do well in the Six Nations and World Cup next year.


Monday, 17 November 2014

Front line hero

It only lasted a few moments each morning but it was one of the most powerful pieces of broadcasting I have heard in a long time. The BBC Radio 4 Today programme broadcast a daily audio diary by Dr Geraldine O'Hara, working for Medecins San Frontiers in Sierra Leone, at the heart of the Ebola outbreak. The impact of the broadcasts was aided by Dr O'Hara's straightforward style of delivery as she contained her emotions while recounting some heartbreaking situations. She is just one of many clinicians who have been prepared to put themselves on the front line of the battle to confront this terrible disease. I thank God for the courage and compassion of those people like Dr O'Hara who are prepared to risk so much to bring hope and healing amidst the despair in this part of West Africa.

You can hear Dr O'Hara's audio diary here.