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Advice For The New Archbishop Of Canterbury

If it is true that Justin Welby, Bishop of Durham, is to be the new ABC, then I wonder whether he will heed the advice that Rowan Williams is offering his successor (as reported in the same article):

Speaking in Auckland yesterday, at what aides said would be his final press conference, he was asked for advice for his successor.

Quoting the theologian Karl Barth, he said that the new Archbishop should preach “with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other”.

He said that it was vital that whoever is named must be able to make his message relevant to modern life and “like” reading newspapers.

“You have to be cross-referencing all the time and saying, ‘How does the vision of humanity and community in the Bible map onto these issues of poverty, privation, violence and conflict?’

“And you have to use what you read in the newspaper to prompt and direct the questions that you put to the Bible: ‘Where is this going to help me?’

“So I think somebody who likes reading the Bible and likes reading newspapers would be a good start.”

Valuable as this is, I just wonder whether ‘newspaper’ ought to be augmented with ‘social media’. The new Archbishop enters a world where communications are faster than ever, and social media reporting and campaigning (whatever the doubts about accuracy) has such a rapid effect upon events, that he will need to be strongly aware of that, too. Perhaps the ABC needs not only a press office but a rapid response social media office.

That said, who am I to advise? And perhaps it would be good to heed the thoughts of Adrian Chatfield on Twitter, who tweeted,

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The Archbishop’s Sermon At The Diamond Jubilee Service …

was online within moments of the service ending.

Now, I’d disestablish the C of E tomorrow were that feasible, because  I believe the church is meant to be a radical counter-cultural kingdom community. The consorting with power leaves me uncomfortable. All the pragmatic arguments about privilege leading to visibility don’t chime with the Gospel for me. (Besides, what kind of publicity does the Church of England get? You can’t tell me the reporting of Synods, debates and arguments advances the kingdom.)

But I rather liked the way the ABC used that in a subversive way in his sermon. Whatever the Queen’s wealth and privilege, I think ‘dedication’ is a decent word for her. Whatever happens to my pension, I don’t want still to be working at the age of eighty-six.

Then, after all the effusive words, he aims, fires and hits the target in the final two paragraphs:

This year has already seen a variety of Jubilee creations and projects. But its most lasting memorial would be the rebirth of an energetic, generous spirit of dedication to the common good and the public service, the rebirth of a recognition that we live less than human lives if we think just of our own individual good.

Listen again for a moment toSt Paul. ‘We have gifts that differ according to the grace given us … the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness … Outdo one another in showing honour … extend hospitality to strangers … Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another … take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.’ Dedication to the health and well-being of a community is all this and more. May we be given the grace to rediscover this as we give thanks today for Her Majesty’s sixty years of utterly demanding yet deeply joyful service.

At last, someone who understands that Jubilee goes beyond red, white and blue. Dr Williams, I never thought I’d say this when you took up office, but I’m going to miss you when you step down.

What Would Jesus Do?

The Archbishop of Canterbury has written a thoughtful piece in the Christmas double issue of Radio Times (some of which is reproduced here on his own site) where he takes on the way the Occupy movement has taken up the popular evangelical slogan, ‘What would Jesus do?’ (WWJD). Dr Williams points out that Jesus is often more about asking people questions than giving them answers, and when religion is like that, it is often at its most constructive. There is further background on the BBC website in a piece by Stephen Tomkins of Ship Of Fools.

What do you think? How easy, possible or desirable is it to answer the WWJD question?

MPs’ Expenses

I’ve shied away from this topic so far. So many of the obvious things have already been said. It’s easy to jump on the bandwagon. It’s easy to be carried along with a public tide of anger and bloodlust.

But today, I’ve caved in. The relentless daily reporting of the affair by the Telegraph has today hit on something that makes me hopping mad. It’s not another claim for cleaning a moat or a duck home, or another of life’s little essentials. No. The Chancellor of the Exchequer can’t do his own tax return. In fact, he is one of nine Cabinet members who have claimed accountancy fees back from the (now infamous) Fees Office.

Why does this touch a raw nerve with me? Because once again, they are doing something I can’t. My wife and I both have to endure the nasty process that is self-assessment of income tax. In my case, although the majority of my income is my stipend, paid through PAYE, I get the occasional (very occasional, here!) additional fees, and I can set a number of things against that as legitimate and honest business expenses. My wife is not in paid employment, but we have held onto her house, ready for retirement. In the meantime, we rent it out through a letting agent. That income has to be declared for tax purposes, and again certain things such as repairs, can be set against that income as a business expense. While she was still paying a mortgage on the property, that mortgage was not an allowable expense, even though a major reason for letting was to cover that cost.

Oh – and guess what – neither of us is allowed to claim our accountant’s fees as a business expense. Do you see why I’m angry? MPs have agreed to a system on the timeless principles of ‘One rule for you, one rule for me'; ‘Do as I say, not as I do’.

It’s not as if this is the only example. This Parliament passed legislation that made it more difficult for religious organisations to employ exclusively people of their faith. Jobs within a religious company now have to pass a ‘Genuine Occupational Requirement’ test if the organisation is to insist on employing someone who shares their faith. Guess which category of organisation was exempted from this legislation? Political parties.

So the first reason to be mad at the politicians is the old favourite of double standards. Politicians have faced a standard charge of hypocrisy for years; the expenses scandal is hard evidence. The politicians we will trust will be those who display transparency.

We also need representatives who will to some extent identify with their constituents. I do not mean that they should not receive a good income for doing a demanding and responsible job, nor that they should not be properly reimbursed for all genuine expenses, but the problem shows that several have lost touch with reality. We saw this last August when Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg announced that he and his wife were switching their shopping from Ocado to Sainsbury’s. Poor dears: they have to survive on his parliamentary salary and her pay as a lawyer. It must be tough keeping that £1.3 million house in Putney going. If this is how detached from ordinary life a party leader has become, then we’re all in trouble, and the expenses row only underlines that.

For as a Christian, I find myself using the words ‘representation’ and ‘identification’ closely. Not in a political sense,  but in talking about the life of Jesus. The incarnation and Cross both show his identification with humankind. Without them, he could not represent us and in any sense be a substitute in his atoning death. From a faith point of view, then, identification and representation have to be brought together. They have been forced wide apart in some Parliamentary circles, and the expenses stories only bring into focus an existing dangerous situation. MPs cannot truly represent us if they do not identify with us. For some, that ought to mean actually living (well, their main residences) in their constituencies. I notice in this scandal that a few don’t even do that.

But in the midst of this, something encourages me. It has been a common refrain among some of those exposed by the reporting to claim that everything they did was ‘within the rules’. I find it heartening that the public generally has not swallowed this as a reasonable defence. If the rules allowed such extravagant claims, then the rules are wrong. As I read what is going on here, the promising sign is that our society will not accept a defence on the grounds that MPs fulfilled the letter of the law. People are looking for an attitude that keeps the spirit of the law. Often I think our society is pretty sick: that strikes me as a healthy sign. If we follow this through, we shall seek not only reform of MPs but of the Fees Office, given that some have reported how it encouraged MPs to see the Additional Costs Allowance as an allowance to bolster their paltry £64,000 salary, rather than a limit of allowable expenses.

If we are to react healthily, though, we must ensure that not all MPs are tarred with same brush. Church leaders know all about that problem. To many in the outside world, I am either fleecing the flock (have they seen my tattered ten-year-old car?) or interfering with children. We have to keep level heads and not assume that ‘they are all at it’. My own MP, Simon Burns, has made large claims but nowhere has it been suggested that he has lacked integrity. (Contrast that with neighbouring MP Sir Alan Haselhurst, a deputy Speaker and possible replacement for Michael Martin as Speaker. His garden upkeep has cost £11,000.)

And integrity is a watchword for both public and Parliament at this time. Every case must be judged according to the evidence, not according to a desire for revenge or to meet a political agenda. It’s not about either party meeting a minimum standard, but longing to be the best people we can possibly be, as Rowan Williams said in a commentary in The Times.

Yet if that is to be the case, one big unanswered question for me is to wonder about the motives of the Daily Telegraph in reporting this day by day. They are known as a Conservative newspaper, yet having started by picking out Labour politicians, they have exposed Tories as well. Is that evidence of neutrality in the pursuit of truth? It would be good if it were. Is it just a professional desire to sell papers? Or is it something else? I don’t know.

However, I do notice that one MP who has been aggrieved by their coverage, the Conservative Nadine Dorries, has raised particular suspicions against the Barclay brothers who own the Telegraph. No sooner has she made allegations about them and the UK Independence Party than her blog disappears, with fingers pointed at the Telegraph. Tim Montgomerie reproduced the offending paragraph at Conservative Home on Friday. A Plaid Cymru blogger has suggested that timing is everything in this row. These expenses would have been reported publicly in July. Why report now? There are elections (including European ones) in June. If the Barclay brothers are as fiercely Eurosceptic as some have claimed, and if it’s also true they don’t consider the mainline parties Eurosceptic enough, you can see why Dorries would make her point about securing support for UKIP or the evil BNP. Certainly there has been widespread opinion expressed that disgust at the expenses scandal will lead to protest votes in favour of the smaller parties.

(In this respect, mainstream politicians should take comfort both from Rowan Williams’ Times article linked to above, where he calls us to move on, and his joint statement with John Sentamu, where he urges people not to vote for the BNP. And – in case you hadn’t gathered by now – I refuse to link to the BNP.)

Whether Dorries is right, I do not know. It is all based on circumstantial evidence, and I don’t really buy the shtick that used to appear on her blog along the lines of “I’m just a Scouser” or “I’m just a former nurse”. If that were all she were, she wouldn’t have made it to Parliament. Will she end up on Celebrity Big Brother? But for so long as the Telegraph and the Barclay brothers stay mum, suspicions will remain. The Telegraph is right to call for transparency from MPs, but that means it should itself be transparent.

Which means there is a right and proper place in this debate to consider not only the integrity of MPs and – as I have argued – the public, but also of the press. A fortnight ago, Bishop Nick Baines called for journalists to reveal their expenses, receipts and diary records. He said:

They might not be ‘public servants’, paid from the public purse, but they wield enormous power and don’t usually disclose their influences.

Don’t hold your breath.

And he has a point. It’s the integrity question again. If you accuse somebody of a misdemeanour, you’d better be sure you’re not guilty of it yourself. It has been only too easy, as I’ve shown above, to establish a case that some MPs have behaved hypocritically. Unpopular as it may seem, then, a Christian message at this time is not only to denounce injustice, but for all parties (not just political ones) to examine themselves. Logs and specks in the eye, that sort of thing. ‘Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner’ should be central in all our thinking at all times, but especially now.

UPDATE, Tuesday 26th May: I now gather that Nadine Dorries’ blog is back, minus the controversial post. Thanks to David Keen. She remains deeply critical of the Telegraph, and not just from her own personal experience. However, the more this particular individual incident goes on, the more you wonder whether the Barclay brothers are aping Mark Brewer and Nadine Dorries gets the Dave Walker rôle.

UPDATE #2, Wednesday 27th May: The BBC reports this morning that HM Revenue and Customs are to investigate those ministers who claimed personal accounting costs against tax, to see whether the law has been broken.

A Revenue and Customs spokesman told the BBC: “It’s a general principle of tax law that accountancy fees incurred in connection with the completion of a personal tax return are not deductible.

“This is because the costs of complying with the law are not an allowable expense against tax. This rule applies across the board.”

Exactly what I was saying above.

Furthermore, David Grossman of the BBC television programme Newsnight undertook some investigations. One quote from the piece regarding his work:

Mr Grossman said representatives of Foreign Secretary David Miliband had given a “confused” reply to the claims.

It suggested that because he had paid accountancy fees out of his taxed income, before receiving the money back from the Commons authorities, “there was no liablility”.

“We put that point of view to a tax economist who, quite frankly, just laughed,” Mr Grossman added.

It stinks.

Sabbatical, Day 79: Exile Or Revival; Ministry Patterns

After dipping into it over a couple of weeks, I’ve finally completed Patrick Whitworth‘s book ‘Prepare For Exile‘. When it first arrived in the post and I looked at the contents pages, I was disappointed. Ninety pages of history and only fifty of contemporary application: I wanted more of the latter. Further, when I read the final three chapters that concentrate on how we should prepare for exile in the western Church, I thought I was reading little I hadn’t encountered elsewhere or already concluded for myself. Many of the usual authorities are quoted: David Bosch, Walter Brueggemann, Michael Frost, and so on. 

Yet I think this is a significant book. Why?

Firstly, because the history matters. What Whitworth shows in those first ninety pages is just how fundamental the category of exile is to vibrant faith. Not only does he establish it as a much more critical theme of Scripture than we generally acknowledge, he shows from centuries of church history how it is often people and movements who have been forced into a posture of exile that have brought renewal to the church and society.

Secondly, because Whitworth writes as an Anglican. My guess is that being the Established Church has made it harder for the Church of England to come to terms with the thought that the Christian Church is going into exile in this country. For someone like him to write persuasively about a stance of exile is important.

Thirdly, because Whitworth seems to be writing as a charismatic, where one might expect him instead to write a book called ‘Prepare For Revival‘. However, revival gets scant mention in the book. I think its first mention comes only on page 134, where it is admitted as a possibility but Whitworth expects something different:

But if the historical process identified in the central section of the book still has some way to run (although arguably it could be overturned by an extraordinary Christian revival), which I believe it has, the process of secularization may well continue apace.

I don’t want to make it sound like the desire for revival is unworthy. At its best, it is a longing for a society suffused with the Gospel. However, in some charismatic circles, it has degenerated into something else. It is the cavalry coming over the hill to rescue the poor beleaguered church. Worse, it is the fantasy we indulge to prevent us thinking about painful reality.

…………

Next in my reading project for the rest of the sabbatical is to look at some of the stuff on ministry. Not the ministry and personality type stuff yet, for two reasons: firstly, the survey for ministers doesn’t finish until the 30th, and secondly, Waterstone’s still haven’t got my copy of Leslie Francis‘ ‘Faith and Psychology‘ that I need to accompany my thinking. It’s still out of stock at the publisher’s.

At this point, I want to look at whether traditional doctrines of ministry are fit for purpose in a world where, in Whitworth’s expression, we have to prepare for exile. That is, a world where the church needs to be missional. A diverse culture that calls for varied Fresh Expressions as well as some continuing forms of traditional church. That is, the ‘mixed economy’ church of which Rowan Williams has spoken.

In this world, emerging church and missional church thinkers have criticised our inherited understandings of ministry. They say that ordination to a ministry of word, sacrament and pastoral care might make sense if we lived in a true Christendom where all were believers and the task of the church were to call people back to a faith from which they were lapsed, but it is not our situation. So writers like Frost and Hirsch in ‘The Shaping Of Things To Come‘ call for churches (not necessarily individuals, note) to express the fivefold ministry of Ephesians 4: apostolic, prophetic and evangelistic as well as pastoral and teaching.

I want to examine the strength of this critique. If it is valid (my gut feeling is that in some form it probably is), then what does it mean for those of us in the historic churches? To do this, I see the need to look at three key areas.

Firstly, New Testament understandings of ministry and leadership as a foundation. However, that is not necessarily simple. Is there one pattern of New Testament leadership? Many think not. You can pick the ‘fivefold pattern’ out of Ephesians, and you can pick ‘bishops and deacons’ from Philippians. Which (if any) do you choose, and why?

Secondly, I need to look at the tradition. In my case, that means Methodism, with its official stance and varying views – some of it difficult to pin down, because our approach is rather pragmatic.

Thirdly, it means looking again at the missional literature and practice. Neil Cole‘s ‘Organic Church‘ and (when it arrives from Amazon) ‘Organic Leadership‘ come highly recommended, and I’ll be tackling them on top of my already wide reading in the emerging and missional area.

Obviously, this is going to occupy me beyond the sabbatical, and I’m going to want to read other things that interest me too! In the long term, this could well be the core of the PhD dream.

Starting out with a book from the first of these phases means that today I’ve begun to tackle ‘Stewards, Prophets, Keepers of the Word: Leadership in the Early Church‘ by Ritva H Williams. It’s not simply an aggregation of texts: she says in the Introduction she is going to argue that the early church took some of the social conventions about leadership and subverted them for their own purposes. If that is the case, then we might have an interesting foundation for creative approaches to Christian leadership and ministry in our culture. It could make the case for Methodist pragmatism being extended beyond what we say we have ‘received’, which is sometimes treated in a rather fixed way, despite our pragmatism.

All this talk about ministry could be so introspective, and that would fit my nature as an introvert (but then we’re back to the Myers Briggs stuff again!). However, I want to offer something to the church, not simply clarify my own thinking. If all I do is sort out my own thoughts, I’m still left with tensions and frustrations with the institution.

 

Sabbatical, Day 10

Two miracles in the last twenty-four hours: first of all, I slept well last night. Moving the bed away from the wall helped. I still can’t understand why the college thinks it’s a twin room, though. Not unless Snow White was moonlighting as an architect for friends. Thankfully, I’m alone in the room.

Second miracle: a meal tonight in the refectory that actually came with vegetables. After three consecutive meals accompanied by salad, this was a cause for thanksgiving. Not that the salads were bad at all – they were fresh and edible – but it’s good to have some balance in the diet. Besides, excess salad while snow is still around seems a tad strange.

Lectures have been good today. Two this morning from John Finney, the retired Bishop of Pontefract on the subject of personal and church renewal. Wisdom from an experienced church leader.

Two later from Stephen Skuce, the postgraduate tutor here. Controversial and provocative. He thinks the British church is done for, rather like the North African and Turkish churches of past centuries. We need to learn survival strategies, he says, in the way that the Chinese and Russian churches did under communism. He sees the emerging church movement as a group of lifeboats getting as far away from the sinking Titanic of the mainstream church as fast as possible. However, he thinks there are only twenty emerging church congregations in the UK. He should be in a position of authority on this, as Cliff College is the only place in Europe to offer an MA in Emerging Church studies. He doesn’t rate the idea of the ‘mixed economy’ church advocated by Rowan Williams as part of the Fresh Expressions movement. Fresh Expressions don’t generally count as emerging churches – I think I’m inclined to agree with him on that point.

Tonight he taught for an hour on William J Abraham‘s book ‘The Logic of Renewal‘. As much as anything, though, his purpose was to show the MA students how to research an author and a book. He happened to use a book that is on the theme of the week. It was interesting to see the students being taught these methods.

This evenng, I’ve been indulging my pleasure of offering technical support to someone with her laptop. I managed to get her wirelessly connected when the computer was hiding from doing that. I’ve also been listening to nervous students who’ve had tutorials today where they’ve had to present ideas for their next assignments. I made a suggestion to one woman about a possible book, but the tutor ripped the proposal to shreds.

Tomorrow, two of the students who will soon be celebrating ‘significant’ birthdays will be treating the rest of us on the course to coffee and cakes at the village tea rooms.

Plenty of other students tonight are watching Star Trek Deep Space Nine on DVD on a large screen via a digital projector. Me, I’m typing this instead. Sad? Maybe. Now, then, everyone together: “There’s Klingons on the starboard bow …”

Links

Here are some of the destinations where I stopped on this week’s digital travels.

The ten worst predictions of 2008 (an American flavour, but not exclusively so).

A Japanese guy plays ‘Angels from the realms of glory’ on … broccoli.

Forgotten someone’s name? Use these tricks.

A nice sympathetic piece on the Salvation Army in The Guardian.

Rowan Williams – the Church of England could disestablish, but only for the right reasons.

Christian Aid are getting relief into Zimbabwe.

What are they playing at? Westminster Abbey adds Hindu snowmen to Christmas displays.

In a week when we face the lousy possibility of a sickly version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ becoming the Christmas number one thanks to the X Factor, the first winner of that show, Steve Brookstein, says this:

Simon Cowell bought the rights to Christmas. From now on it’s called X-mas.

Heaven help us all.

The Media: Public Interest and Common Good

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s speech yesterday of the above title has certainly put the cat among the pigeons. Here are one or two thoughts I had on it:

The Archbishop (or henceforth the ABC) probes the issue of journalism and secrecy. He quotes the question that has sometimes been attributed rightly or wrongly to Jeremy Paxman, “Why is this bastard lying to me?”. But he points out that not all secrecy is sinister. We wouldn’t want certain things about ourselves that are rightly kept private made public. So he wants a more sensitive approach to the old ‘public interest’ defence that journalists employ.

Well, quite right, too, and as a minister I know only too well the issue of confidences that must be kept. I only wish that Rowan Williams had at this point applied his ‘brain the size of a planet’ to the question of why we have got into this situation. What about examining the postmodern ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’ at this point, the whole difficulty in pomo thinking about truth and power? That would have illuminated a very worthwhile speech.

Also suffering too much from brevity is the section on weblogs. He notes the positive use of blogs to provide quick and necessary rebuttals but sees them as purely ephemeral with no notion of posterity, and often full of wild, unchecked comments and bigotry. Well, there is some truth in this, of course. But the issue of the ephemeral is contentious: are not we bloggers typing our online journals? The Christian spiritual tradition knows much about ‘journalling’, and it is often a very positive reflective process. Granted, in the blogosphere we have to contend with ‘information overload’, but blogging could be the place where the reflective approach begins in our media.

Which neatly brings me on to something else the ABC says. He has a very useful section in the speech where he bewails the contemporary media emphasis on ‘urgency’ with its concomitant features of ‘breaking news’ and ‘instant comments’. He notes how this can marginalise religion, which does not always display ‘urgent’ qualities. So it was difficult for 24-hour news channels to cope with the last days of Pope John Paul II’s life. I would just add that ‘urgency’ has other dangers, too, not least with the phenomenon of ‘instant comments’. Do we not more often need considered reflection? In which case we come back to my argument above about the reflective use of blogs, but it is not limited to blogging.

Having said all that, go read the speech. It’s excellent. In summary I think I’m just saying I wish he had taken his thoughts further and deeper.

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