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.”

DEAR LULU

invented?

WHO INVENTED GOD? That’s what six year old Lulu wanted to know. So her kind dad, Times journalist Alex Renton, sought out some opinions for her. The Archbishop of Canterbury wrote to Lulu:

Dear Lulu,

Your dad has sent on your letter and asked if I have any answers. It’s a difficult one! But I think God might reply a bit like this –

‘Dear Lulu – Nobody invented me – but lots of people discovered me and were quite surprised. They discovered me when they looked round at the world and thought it was really beautiful or really mysterious and wondered where it came from. They discovered me when they were very very quiet on their own and felt a sort of peace and love they hadn’t expected.

Then they invented ideas about me – some of them sensible and some of them not very sensible. From time to time I sent them some hints – specially in the life of Jesus – to help them get closer to what I’m really like.

But there was nothing and nobody around before me to invent me. Rather like somebody who writes a story in a book, I started making up the story of the world and eventually invented human beings like you who could ask me awkward questions!’

And then he’d send you lots of love and sign off.

I know he doesn’t usually write letters, so I have to do the best I can on his behalf. Lots of love from me too.

+Archbishop Rowan

I’m bowled over by this response. Peter Bolton left a comment on the Telegraph’s blog that reads: Beautiful: both the man and the letter. I couldn’t agree more.

I spent nearly three hours in the pulpit here in Bramhall today, “At The Foot of The Cross”, and what I most wanted to communicate, what I most want to communicate whenever I speak “In the Name of the Father …”, within or without the pulpit, is precisely that human beings have invented ideas about God – some of them sensible and some of them not very sensible. But the life of Jesus really is full of hints to what God is really like. The life of Jesus encourages each of us to become really full of such hints, too. And in Jesus, and in Rowan, Archbishop of Canterbury, the chief hint about what God is really like is undoubtedly – and stunningly wonderfully – kindness. This story, like the older story, makes this Friday Good.

What does the Lord require of you? Only this: to do justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6.8

ARCHIEPISCOPAL DUO

LAST EVENING IN MANCHESTER with Archbishops Rowan & Sentamu was always going to be time well spent for me. Billed as Relations between Church and State Today – (Paul Deakin has posted The Big Society)Archbishop Rowan delivered a tour-de-force on Citizenship – video of which will shortly be available at Manchester University.

Speaking of the need in any society for a polis – home of citizens and of citizenship, where no-one is a slave and everyone is afforded the status due to all human persons, each of them free – the Church, alongside the State is to be such a polis – adult and intelligent environment for argument about all that is best, about all that might be of God, with no desire to “force a vision on everyone else”, still less expecting to “told” by others to be what, in others’ eyes, archbishops – or Christians – are “supposed to be”, the ekklesia gathered around Jesus Christ can be a mature, faithful, trustworthy forum for debate about all that facilitates dignity for all humanity.

All good stuff. But I was particularly, literally, fascinated by the very high degree to which the archbishop’s own considered, considerate and cultured person illustrates the content of what he had to say. Archbishop Rowan is possessed of a most extra-ordinary charisma, one that helps me understand how tax collectors and fishermen 2000 years ago on the shores of Galilee could have been so easily persuaded to follow in “The Way”.

Were there 500 people gathered in the Whitworth Hall? – maybe more. But no more than a minute after taking a seat on the stage it seemed that the Archbishop had discreetly scanned the entire assembly, was comfortably aware of the crowd as individual persons open to learning something together, like he’d known them for years – and knew what they’d come for. There’s an instantly personable humility and a warm humanity about him. Standing at a lectern he leaned towards the large audience; the Archbishop of York, in the front row before him, acknowledged simply and warmly, without a hint of ecclesiastical pomposity, as “Your Grace”. Twinkling eyes, mobile eyebrows, gentle humour and smile, perfect diction, quietly spoken (yet heard by everyone) – definitely an archiepiscopal face.

Then Archbishops Rowan and Sentamu fielded questions. Graciously, and here again, and at the drinks reception afterwards, I noticed, perfectly at ease. Forum for learning, discussion, drinks and argument these teachers moved fluidly, and welcomed, IN a big society. I found myself warmed, somehow deeply touched, as was my URC/Methodist friend and colleague Geoffrey Clarke, to be in company with these two. It’s hard to imagine that the particular (Church of England department) of the polis that Archbishop Rowan spoke about could be in better hands than those of this – really inspirational – archiepiscopal duo.

HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL

The main gate at the former nazi death camp of...

Image via Wikipedia

THERE ARE PEOPLE IN MY CHURCH COMMUNITY who recall the returning from experience at Belsen of Daphne Waite, one of their own. One such person kindly wrote to me, in time for yesterday’s remembering:

Daphne Waite in later life until her retirement was a head teacher, but during WWII was one of the Allied Military Administration Staff, who followed close behind the advancing front line to start the immense task of re-building, in all senses of the term.  Daphne was one of the administrators who entered Belsen Concentration Camp a few hours after British soldiers had liberated it, and so was among the first to see the horrors it contained and to start to do what they could for those imprisoned there.

The same writer went on to tell of his own experience of visiting Auschwitz:

I found walking round Auschwitz, and visiting the sites associated with the Warsaw Ghetto and Uprising, an experience that permanently changes one’s outlook and perspective.  Some may have known, or met, a Holocaust survivor.  Some may remember listening to members of St Michael’s, now dead, who had more direct experience.

I have recently been awestruck (and I mean awe struck) in the presence, by the kind hospitality of our local synagogue, of a “survivor” who lost more than thirty of her own close family members. How thankful I am for Archbishop Rowan’s reflections, published yesterday. How humbled by a videoed conversation between the Archbishop, the Chief Rabbi and Rabbi Tony Bayfield who visited the camps, together, thank God, in 2008. Here’s a paragraph from the Archbishop’s pages. The whole is infinitely worth the reading:

We must attend to the signs at home and abroad of those attitudes in ourselves and in others which were the harbingers of the Holocaust. These include the dehumanising rhetoric which seeks to separate ‘us’ from ‘them’ and then to project all that is negative on to the other, on to “them”. We need to be vigilant about every expression of ungenerous feeling towards people in need and all who may for a time be dependent on the wider community – the refugees and asylum seekers. We need to be alert to the signs of a casual attitude to the value of human lives, whether by acts of terrorism or more subtly, in relation to disability, or the beginning or end of life.