NICK BAINES, the Bishop of Bradford, writing of events in the UK “from a distance” is one of those contemporary “seers” who speaks with the voice of sanity and reason.

… It is no good to condemn what has gone wrong unless we can offer a realistic alternative that makes sense of the world, of our own experience, and links us to a greater community of human lives. Whichever narrative this might be, it will require … a text that takes us beyond ourselves. In short, I believe … that we need to recover the Bible – not as an incontrovertible text of rules for keeping God happy and us in our place, but as a text to be taken seriously for intellectual curiosity, engagement, argument, imagination, poetic resonance, prophetic power: to offer a narrative in and against which the world might best be understood and lived.

And it needs to have big room for failure.

Condemnation, whoever’s being condemned, is not a fruitful exercise in the context of city centre fires, violence and looting that frighten the daylights out of ordinary, good living people.

Bishop Nick’s right … we need a text, a narrative that really IS good news for all people (as opposed to being just called “good news” whether the soundbite’s proffered by religious rep or politican); we need whatever form of encouragement is required to “take us beyond ourselves”; we need modern day prophets – or “seers”. Nick’s approach to the Bible is generous enough (not “an incontrovertible text”) to include all-comers in dialogue and discovery. Church and State alike must do away with tired and dangerous fundamentalisms and recognise that the narrative of humankind (and health and hope and peace) belongs to and must be shaped by all of us.

But the world is made up of individual persons too, not just of religious institutions and states. And we as individuals need something to tempt us away from our personal addictions – ranging from unthinking devotion to anything at all that’s on the always-on radio or telly to as much dependence on anti-depressants as upon water. Thank God for someone who’s willing to speak up for a society in which “intellectual curiosity, engagement, argument, imagination, poetic resonance, prophetic power” underwent something of a revival!

Whether we’re looking aghast at petrol bomb fires in our city-centres or the fires of hunger and thirst in Somalia tonight – may we be the more ready to be taken “beyond ourselves” than to add to already overheated (and therefore pretty much useless), addictive condemnation.

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