Sunday, 28 April 2013

We will finish the race

This is the powerful front cover for Boston magazine put out within a few days of the Boston marathon bombing.


The shoes were collected from runners who took part in the race and the accompanying feature ‘The shoes we wore’ told the stories of fifteen owners of the shoes. Great job and great response.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Skin in the game

No, this is not a post about the eating habits of Luis Su├írez during a football match. The phrase ‘skin in the game’ was coined by Warren Buffet ‘referring to a situation in which high-ranking insiders use their own money to buy stock in the company they are running’. It has a wider application in that it can refer to the need for people to have a stake in the work they are doing as an incentive to better performance. The classic example of this is the insistence that top financiers need massive bonus incentives in order to perform well; the better the company does, the higher their bonuses. Unfortunately, it seems in some cases that even when the companies performed disastrously the high-ranking insiders still expected the bonuses and other financial benefits on top of the salaries.

welbyThe phrase ‘skin in the game’ was referred to several times by Justin Welby, the present Archbishop of Canterbury, in his role as a member of the parliamentary commission into banking. Questioning HSBC’s top executives shortly after HSBC had been fined £1.2bn over the money laundering of drug money, Welby asked the following:
I'm increasingly baffled at the discussion we are having. What is it essentially about bankers that means they need skin in the game [bonuses]? We don't give skin in the game to civil servants, to surgeons, to teachers.
There's a whole range of people who don't have that. It seems to me that you are putting huge effort into a values-based organisation and yet at the end of the day, particularly for your most senior staff who are most important as regards setting values and culture, you seem to be saying the only way you can motivate them to any significant extent is with cash.
The Archbishop continues in his role as a member of the commission and in a BBC radio interview to be broadcast later today sets out his reasons for continuing to address the issues afflicting the City of London. He clearly and succinctly explains his mission as Archbishop before linking it to his concerns about ethics in the City:
My key mission is to lead the Church in worshipping Jesus Christ and encouraging people to believe in him and follow him. That's my mission.
The Christian gospel has always had strong social implications and one of them is around the common good and it's one of the key areas in which the Church of England focuses.
So issues of how the City of London, which is so important and so full of very gifted people, how that behaves in relation to the common good is very key, not to the whole thing that I'm about or the Church is about, but to how we express the implications of that in day to day life.
Not surprisingly the Archbishop’s engagement with the finance sector has drawn much attention and comment, some critical and some more positive. The BBC’s Robert Peston concluded a piece on Welby stating:
But why should anyone care what this man of the cloth says about the men - and occasionally women - who provide vital credit to businesses and households?
Well he was a relatively senior businessman in his earlier incarnation (that said, he self-deprecatingly and amusingly pointed out that he was the only innumerate treasurer of one of the UK's biggest companies, and his employer, Enterprise Oil, paid someone to check all his numbers).
Also, he is a member of the influential parliamentary commission on banking standards, although his remarks to the Christians in Parliament All Party Parliamentary Group were personal, rather than representing those of the commission (I should perhaps point out that I was the token non-observant Jew on the panel that then responded to the Archbishop's reflections).
But perhaps more germanely, the UK's economic malaise shows no signs of being fixed any time soon by the supposed experts in the Bank of England or Treasury, so there may be a case for looking elsewhere for wisdom - and it is no longer eccentric to argue that what went wrong in the financial system was as much ethical as technical.
What Justin Welby is doing is demonstrating that as Christians we have ‘skin in the game’, we always have. We are called to live out our faith as followers of Christ in the world we inhabit; we are as invested in it as anyone else. We are not immune to the trials and difficulties of life and we are as affected by the financial crisis as our neighbour. If our faith had nothing to say about the ethics of the City then it is not much good to us or to our society. Of course the present situation and the particular gifts of the Archbishop in the financial sector makes this more apparent, but it should be as true for every other aspect of our common life.

One final thought. We have just celebrated Easter and been reminded afresh that we are called to follow one who had ‘skin in the game’ literally. Jesus gave himself completely for the benefit of humanity and his skin was scourged, nailed and pierced for the sins of the world; including the structural sin of economic injustice and oppression. As followers of Christ we are called to have ‘skin in the game’, to be so committed to the values and priorities of the Kingdom of God that we are willing to invest our very lives for him.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

IF… we slay the monsters

There are some great resources out at the moment in support of the Enough Food For Everyone IF campaign. One of the supporters of the campaign is Tearfund who state:
We believe in a God of abundance and justice who wants to see the hungry fed. And we believe God can use the church to speak to our nation.
That's why we are joining the IF Campaign to speak out against one of the biggest injustices of our time: Hunger.
In June the UK is hosting the G8 and David Cameron has a special opportunity to take action.
Together we can make 2013 the start of the end of world hunger.
Here are a couple of excellent videos explaining the campaign.

IF… we slay the monsters.

And IF… the G8 were kids.

You can join the IF campaign here.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Belief+Doubt=Sanity #SH2013

Looking back on my notes from Gerard Kelly’s excellent Spring Harvest Bible Readings on 1 John, I was drawn afresh to his referencing of Barbara Kruger’s art. It came in the context of some reflections on 1 John 2:15-17:
Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. 16 For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. 17 And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.
New Living Translation
Gerard asked the question ‘Where does our identity come from?’ The point being that our identity comes from what holds our heart and he used some of Kruger’s art to illustrate. So I went back to look up some of her work which I find both challenging and illuminating. Kruger’s iconic image is:

i shop

But the image that really grabbed my attention and got my mind buzzing is this one which Gerard also referenced:

Kruger-Belief DoubtSanity

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Whose church is it anyway?

A few days ago a local election leaflet dropped through my letter box. It was for a Tory candidate and would have been 'filed' in the same way as other posted spam if it hadn't been for a photograph that caught my attention. The picture showed the candidate standing in front of our church. My first reaction was to rack my brains to try and think when I had seen this person in the church. Now she might have been at the Remembrance Day service, when we get quite a few visitors we don't see the rest of the year, or at one of the major festivals when we average over 350 and I don't get to meet everyone. I can't say with certainty that this candidate hasn't been to the church during my time as Rector but she is certainly not a regular member of the congregation and not known to me. I found myself asking what right has this person to use a photograph of the church as part of her political propaganda? Looking at the rest of the leaflet and some of the boasts in it about the achievements of her party in local and national government and the pledges for the future disturbed me and I wouldn't want the church to be identified with these claims. A couple of examples of my misgivings are the way in which the leaflet frames issues of welfare reform and immigration.

As I thought about this leaflet I began to consider what place the church building had in the community, why the candidate chose to use this picture and what they hoped to communicate by using this particular image? I also began to ask myself who the building belongs to and what rights there are, for example, in terms of image control?

I haven't worked through all these questions but one thing does strike me. The candidate obviously thought it was a good thing to be identified with the church, or at least the church building, otherwise why use the picture? My concern is whether it is a good thing for the church to be identified with the policies she and her party espouses not least in the leaflet which was shoved through my front door.

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Tuesday, 9 April 2013

That’s how the light gets in #SH2013

Arrived home from this year’s Spring Harvest at Minehead after a surprisingly smooth journey to discover Essex is much warmer than Somerset. As in previous years, I’ve been reflecting on some of the memorable quotes that I picked up from speakers. The theme The Source: Be, Say, Do was in some ways a back to basics focus.

Gerard Kelly led the Bible readings each day on 1 John and did an excellent job of opening up the text and relating it to life, mission and ministry today. In my last blog post I mentioned something that Gerard said during the first evening Big Top celebration talk which stirred up much discussion with some of my twitter pals. One of the characteristics I’ve always enjoyed about Gerard’s talks is his use of imagery, poetry and music to open up a thought or insight and this year he didn’t disappoint. Referring to 1 John 1:8 ‘If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us…’ Gerard spoke about the brokenness at the heart of each of us and he then quoted this chorus from Leonard Cohen’s song Anthem:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
This beautiful lyric stayed with me throughout my time at SH and I’ve been doing some reading around it. The song is complex and took Cohen a long time to write. In various interviews he has sought to explain the lengthy period of the composition and its meaning. This is what he had to say about the chorus in 1992:
...That is the background of the whole record, I mean if you have to come up with a philosophical ground, that is "Ring the bells that still can ring". It's no excuse...the dismal situation.. and the future is no excuse for an abdication of your own personal responsibilities towards yourself and your job and your love. "Ring the bells that still can ring" : they're few and far between but you can find them. "Forget your perfect offering" that is the hang-up that you're gonna work this thing out. Because we confuse this idea and we've forgotten the central myth of our culture which is the expulsion from the garden of Eden. This situation does not admit of solution of perfection. This is not the place where you make things perfect, neither in your marriage, nor in your work, nor anything, nor your love of God, nor your love of family or country. The thing is imperfect. And worse, there is a crack in everything that you can put together, physical objects, mental objects, constructions of any kind. But that's where the light gets in, and that's where the resurrection is and that's where the return, that's where the repentance is. It is with the confrontation, with the brokenness of things. (from ‘The Future Radio Special’).


Friday, 5 April 2013

Should I stay or should I go?

Yesterday I tweeted a comment from Gerard Kelly's evening talk at Spring Harvest Minehead. Gerard was speaking on Jesus as The Source of our faith. In the course of his talk he drew attention to the way in which Christians can contradict the Good News they seek to proclaim by their behaviour. Gerard mentioned how he observed the way some Christians spoke about each other on-line, including Christian bloggers. I thought this a fair point and tweeted a quote as follows:
@philritchie: Gerard Kelly laying into Christian bloggers 'saying things to each other we'd never dream of saying if we were in the same room'. #sh2013
Gerard also referred to the way some interacted on Twitter and Facebook and wondered how good friends he knew could end up at the point where they even questioned if the other was a Christian anymore. Some people were surprised and annoyed by this and wanted to challenge the assertion. I must admit this surprised me because I have been dismayed again and again at the way some Christians have attacked one another on-line. I think of some of the comments and posts flying around on-line following the General Synod vote on Women and the Episcopacy; the tone of discussions over equal marriage and more recently responses to George Carey's comments over Easter about Christians and persecution. Let me be clear, my dismay has not been about the merits of people's position but the tone and language of some of the discourse. This of course is not limited to blogging and social media interaction but let's not pretend it doesn't go on.

Gerard was not attacking Blogging, Twitter and Facebook. He is a blogger, uses Facebook and is one of the most imaginative writers on Twitter as the author of @twitturgies. He was simply pointing out what I took to be blindingly obvious. I did wonder why some were so defensive about the comment and its questioning of on-line behaviour. It is not unreasonable to ask people to step back and reflect on the way they interact with others on-line and to question why they feel free to say things to others via digital communication that they would not say face to face. Again this is not about avoiding argument and disagreement, it is about how we engage in these controversies.

As the discussion on Twitter developed some of us switched to discussing the merits of blogging as Christians. I mentioned that I was ambivalent about continuing to blog and had 'sort of lost heart'. In part this is because of what I have mentioned earlier in this post. I recognise in myself the danger of firing off self righteous and intemperate posts which do neither myself and those I am writing about much good. I shudder to think about some of what I have written and then deleted before hitting the publish button.

As it happens I have only published one post on my blog since Christmas and to be honest I haven't missed it as much as I thought I would. However, I have been surprised and encouraged by some of my blogging colleagues' comments and challenged to think again about chopping down the Treehouse. I want to thank them both for this debate and for their blogging which I continue to value and frequently link to via Twitter and Facebook.

For Doug Chaplin's reflection on the same discussion check out Is blogging worth it?

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