THE QUEEN’S FIAT

THERE’S A LOVELY PIECE by Liz Dodd in The Tablet this week about the “anti-Jubilee resolve” in her that hadn’t yet considered what two archbishops (Canterbury and Westminster) had: the Marian-like “fiat” or “yes” uttered by Queen Elizabeth II sixty years ago, and the resolve, perseverance and dedication with which Her Majesty has fulfilled that promise.

Impressed by

“Prince Charles’ speech at the end of the concert (‘my father has been taken unwell’); the Queen, accompanied only by a Lady in Waiting to the Service of Thanksgiving; Archbishop Williams’ brave words about ‘ludicrous financial greed’ at that same service – [which] will stick in my memory long after I’ve forgotten the hymns, the hats and the pearly sword”

Liz writes of the importance of the humanity revealed in the celebration, and of how

“My own anti-Jubilee resolve eventually crumbled when I found myself stuck in a pub in Hackney that was showing the concert. As the national anthem brought the event to a close everyone – every hipster, drinker and cynic in the bar – stood up. Including me.”

This is really important stuff. A theological college Principal recently suggested to one of our ordinands here that “I would really have to see the whites of their eyes before I preach.” The way we feel about people, and their celebrations and circumstances, and the way we speak with and to and amongst them, is changed irrevocably when we’ve truly met them as human persons, as “one of us”. That, of course, involves a very particular kind of “fiat”, a very particular kind of commitment to the persons we presume to know, address or speak about. Preachers and would-be teachers in the life of the Church (or any institution) absolutely owe it to their hearers to make some real effort to know WHO it is they’re addressing, to know something of the issues going on in the lives of the human persons seated before them. (And actually, whether you’ve a congregation of 20 or 2000, or a Commonwealth of billions, that’s really not an easy thing to do).

Proximity

Once upon a time I worked with a church council who were exceptionally unkind and discourteous to one another and to the people they were called to represent and serve. Meeting in a cavernous ecclesiastical space, all parties felt at liberty to “slag off” any and all others at will. So we moved to a much smaller space and we sat round a table that made for a tight fit. Behaviour improved immediately. Falsely inflated opinions about persons are deflated by proximity to them.

Still, however, we all find it easier to be rude about others than to them. Proximity ordinarily makes us more civilized (and we really are pompous buffoons if it doesn’t). Close up, one can almost hear the heartbeat. Close up, one can feel warmth and loving kindness, or isolation, illness, anguish or pain. Close up, one can feel one’s own falsity and neediness, and hear one’s own balderdash and blustering. Close up, we wonder, embarrassed, how we ever came to be in possession of such grandiose ideas of our own importance in the scheme of things. (Sight of Archbishop Rowan’s desk and study in the recent Lambeth Palace video left me thanking God for a gentle, humble, scholarly GIANT of an archbishop, at around the same time as I spotted an account of his reading The Gruffalo to playschool children). Close up, the idea of inclusivity feels a better idea than we’d hitherto imagined (and we’re acutely aware of our own longing to be accepted for who we really are). Close up, a particularly vociferous and homophobic “Christian” of my aquaintance, suddenly saw, in the Bishop Gene Robinson he’d hitherto despised, a loving, warm, kindly and Christ-like human being – and repented of his former arrogance and “theological and doctrinal certainty.” Close up, we’re faced, and others are faced, with the reality of our character, values, and virtues – or the lack thereof.

Shaping society

Moving, forgive me, from one ecclesiastical journal to another, I was delighted to read the Church Times account of the University of Birmingham’s having been given “a multi-million pound award” by the Templeton Foundation (great videos) “to support [The Jubilee Centre] the first UK centre dedicated to research into the character, values, and virtues that shape UK society” … The director of the new centre, Professor James Arthur, said:

“In the aftermath of the August 2011 riots, there have been many calls for the renewal of public and private virtues. As a country we appear to want to change people for the better and so improve the quality of public life. However, there is very little definition of what these changes might be and how they might be made. The Jubilee Centre will not simply research past and present attitudes to character, but help to develop new knowledge and understanding of character that will benefit civil society.”

The same edition of the Church Times carries an extract from a sermon of Dean Jeffrey John who, attending St Alban’s Cathedral as “an ordinary worshipper” a week before being installed as its Dean, was approached by someone who didn’t know him and invited to sign a petition protesting his own appointment! That’s nearly as odd as one of my own, more straightforward – if impatient – parishioners who complained directly in my first week: “but we don’t know you …

Liz Dodd’s article in The Tablet, some reflection upon the Queen’s “fiat” – and her 60 years of absolute commitment to making real effort to know her peoples, together with an ever more widely adopted willingness to “see the whites of their eyes before I’d preach” would make for a really encouraging, exciting start to the Birmingham project. Well done the Templeton Foundation (again). This is research I’d really love to be involved with in depth. But, then again, I am. We all are. Her Majesty the Queen, the governments of the nations, the faith traditions, the philosophers and thinkers, the peoples of the world, we’re all involved. And I do not doubt that yet further grace will flow from Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee. Magnificat! There’s real hope.

” … every hipster, drinker and cynic in the bar – stood up. Including me.”

WISDOM’S NAME

I LONG FOR A WORLD of many colours and blurred edges – so the Diamond Jubilee celebrations here in the UK and elsewhere in the world have been “right up my street”. Longing for such a world, for a “New Jerusalem” (loosely translated: “the peace of the Vision of Peace”) I’ve sought for most of my life quietly to follow the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, whose awareness of the Divine at work in him enabled him, precisely, to recognise the Divine presence and dignity at work in all human persons, fully recognising that they sometimes “know not what they are doing”. And I honour and treasure many beloved friends and disciples who, in good conscience, walk in other great pathways of peace both “sacred” and “secular”.

A willing servant

Jesus’ recognition of the Divine presence at work in all people made of him a willing servant who, in placing the value of others’ lives before his own, became for them a “saviour”, one who came to be known as “Christos” – Anointed. And, encouraged by this same Jesus of Nazareth, I have gladly sought to assimilate his teachings, and some of the teachings of other great spiritual guides of the world’s faith traditions, who have sought to lead humankind into the paths of peace. I’ve a long way to go. There are many such teachings and we all have more to learn than we sometimes recognise or recall, so I’ve revelled in the celebrations.

Kindness and good

Why? Well, many commentators have observed that millions “feel safe” under the benevolent – and anointed – reign of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II because, ever reliable, “she is always there”. I would add that I “feel safe” precisely because the Queen is benevolent – someone who “wishes to do kindness and good”, someone whose reliability and steadfastness encourages an (albeit often forgetful!) nation to follow suit.

Hundreds of thousands have jostled together cheerfully and safely in the London of the past few days. Crowds have “rubbed along” in amazingly close proximity because a crowd that wishes to honour and to do kindness and good has no sharp edges. Laughter is heard in the land. Colours and differences blend so that even little children and the elderly are able to participate in the throng and press without fear for their personal safety, without for a moment doubting their personal dignity and worth as part of a celebrating whole. Here’s a grand vision of “a green and pleasant land”.

Defender of Faiths

I’ve heard too many conversations amongst English churchmen and women who have laughed scornfully at ideas proposed in the past by HRH the Prince of Wales – that there might be a time when the ancient title Defender of the Faith, as applied to the British Monarch, might be changed slightly so that the Sovereign became Defender of Faiths.

But the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales, have been quietly getting on with the task anyway, without need, in the event, of an amended title. And the present Archbishop of Canterbury, working with and alongside other faith leaders in this country and around the world, has supported and sustained an ever healthier religious environment in which sharp edges are properly and gladly softened so that a diverse population finds itself able to rub along together without fear of injury to heart, soul, mind or body.

God save the Queen! God save benevolence!

The immeasurable goodness and greatness of the Fount and Source of everything that is simply cannot be encapsulated or contained in one expression or tradition of faith or philosophy. We do well to note that the Gospels record Jesus of Nazareth living and teaching two non-negotiables as firm foundations for the good of all:

… one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. – Matthew 22.35-40

What, I wonder tonight, is the Name of the Nurse in William Blake’s Songs of Innocence?

Nurse’s Song

When voices of children are heard on the green,
And laughing is heard on the hill,
My heart is at rest within my breast,
And everything else is still.
‘Then come home, my children, the sun is gone down,
And the dews of night arise;
Come, come, leave off play, and let us away,
Till the morning appears in the skies.’

‘No, no, let us play, for it is yet day,
And we cannot go to sleep;
Besides, in the sky the little birds fly,
And the hills are all covered with sheep.’
‘Well, well, go and play till the light fades away,
And then go home to bed.’
The little ones leaped, and shouted, and laughed,
And all the hills echoèd.

Some glad day each and every one of us, presently at play, will know Her Name, the name of the One whom Defenders of Faiths now serve. And music and colours in hills and plains and valleys in every nation upon earth shall blend. And we shall live in an entirely Commonwealth forever. Pray. And if you do not pray then do and say:

Some glad day …