Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Updating my CV - Week 2

How's the mood in the house?

Welcome to Week Two of the lighter side of Destruction, Death, Pestilence and Famine although I suspect we have so far only seen the four understudies - Irritation, Anxiety, Allergy and Foodbank. The lead roles are waiting for the West End Run. Coincidentally West End Run is the name of a new and popular local jogging route.

So how has it been for you? A few years ago a charity CEO I know of had forgotten his documentation to get into a particular country to talk about offering humanitarian aid. He was miffed and angry that his journey had been a waste of time but his junior colleague told him he should  simply fly home and get it. On hearing the complaint that this would take two five hour flights the junior delivered the knock down line, 'You'd let these people starve because you couldn't be bothered to watch six movies.' Great line. It worked.

I thought of this again as I realised that my sacrifice for helping with the current outbreak of coronavirus was to have a quieter Sunday, do a few jigsaws and spend more evenings with TCMT. Tough gig.

That said it is likely that some relationships will be under more strain than ours at the moment and I sympathise. Although quick tip - men, be less selfish. No charge; it's OK.

TCMT is a fine woman and sitting next to her in bed this morning drinking another coffee and reading the papers from yesterday (told you life was tough) I noticed her things to do list for today, a quiet day with no volunteering, had  nineteen points. I think she'd crossed, like, the first five off because she writes things down she's done already for the psychological lift. Men, imagine what it would be like to finish today's things to do list. I know, some of you can't get as far as that. Bear with me. Now imagine the level of enthusiasm required to start on tomorrow's. I have a great imagination and can't leap that chasm.

During this love-in (kids, not that, don't panic, you may read on) she was quoting to me the while from the Saturday Times Magazine. She bought it, that's who. She claims it was in the Guardian pile but I'm not allowing her to cross 'Buy paper' off Saturday's things to do list, ever. She reached this sentence. Pay attention men because allowing your female partners to do improving reading should be discouraged and you may get questions such as this:

'In a relationship, this article says, men want '...the four B's ... beauty, brains, body and balance.' Is this (wait for it) WHAT YOU WANTED?'

Now in a relationship women want far more than a mnemonic. They need you to be on duty all the time, like a slip-fielder who takes a match-winning catch off the last ball of the day.

A few years ago I found a model answer when a friend's wife, noticing I'd done all the work for a dinner-party, asked 'Why didn't you marry me, Steve Tilley?' I replied, leaping to the left to pluck the speeding red bullet out of the sky, that 'I didn't fancy you (beat) then'. Forget for a moment that I didn't know her then and dwell on the fact that she walked away enjoying the word 'then' and the positivity it generated.

Remember also that if your nearest and dearest ask such loaded questions as 'Do you like this dress?' you must be truthful if you care what she looks like. I commend 'You can do better than that' which blames the clothes and is slightly better than any answer suggesting it is the body's fault.

'Does my bum look big in this?'

Go straight for, 'Your bum looks big in everything - I love your bum.'

You'll have to go clothes shopping for the rest of your life so disinterest may help you in the long term. I like clothes shopping. What a catch I am.

So, and it's taken a while but we're there now, my answer to the question about the four B's:

No (beat) they were a fringe benefit.

Time for breakfast. I wonder if that was on  her list. It wasn't on mine.

Further marital guidance may be offered if I live.

 (Not written entirely as catharsis - that's a fringe benefit.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Updating my CV

In a fevered social media exchange last week (no, not literally) a friend suggested it would raise the morale of some people (approximately five I reckon) if I shared a Christmas-style family update every week. I apologise that it was a red rag to a load of bull so settle down for instalment one.

Should I die during the course of this current outbreak of plague then this may be awkward but awkward never stopped me before. Should someone you love die then this will probably seem a little insensitive but insensitive never, you know. Should you die then maybe it will be a relief to ponder, as you exit this current mortality, that I have failed to entertain you for the last time.

I take as my inspiration P.J.O'Rourke, the only US Republican who ever makes me laugh. His book All the Trouble in the World - the lighter side of famine, destruction, pestilence and death remains a benchmark of black humour. That said Donald Trump was a joke too far for him and he voted, with a peg on his nose, for Hilary Clinton. Read this book to appreciate what that involved.

The last week has been a little strange. Frankly if God had a bet on Manchester City for the Premiership then he's a bad loser. Also, if he's the know-all some of us think he is, then it's disappointing he forgot to tell us to buy Andrex shares.

Seven days ago I was worried that TCMT was travelling to Bath on the train every day. That said it is even more worrying that her work place has now closed and she is at home all day because:

1. My working day involves many periods during which, to the untrained eye, it looks if I am not working.

2. She talks to herself a lot and me sometimes but I tend to ignore it all.

TCMT: You'll miss me when I'm gone
Mr Sensitive: Nah, I'll turn on the radio in the other room and ignore that

3. Most frighteningly, she has a clear and strategic plan for how to spend the time well. I expect to be remerchandised shortly.

But, to the crux, We have all now been required to be socially isolated and physically distant. Welcome to my perfect world. I have always been terribly clumsy at physical greetings, precious about my personal space and happiest alone. Join me. Oh, you can't. So sad.

It has been interesting watching the clergy who were so dismissive of social media when I tried to introduce them to it now live-streaming themselves on Facebook. That said I have also gone up the techno learning curve fast enough to need to rope up first and the sentence 'We had a great Mothering Sunday family Zoom' would have made no sense in February.

People are watching this stuff with one eye on retweeting the cock-ups. Bear in mind, my friends, that the most-viewed video sermon from last weekend was the guy who set himself on fire with a candle. Exactly. Gospel 0 Conflagration 1.

We're not necessarily all going to die but it will be a close call and, based on my minimal knowledge of mathematics, the USA is completely stuffed. Why do the Germans have fewer fatalities from coronavirus than other countries with similar infection rates? Well my wild guess is that they read the instructions.

If you want me I'll be at home. Go away.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Change Management

As a student of change I must confess that one of my early thoughts when Covid 19 coronavirus began to spread was 'Well this will be interesting'. Altering long-established behavioural patterns is hard for people. You always go to the pub on a Friday night. You always visit your Mum on Mothering Sunday. You always hug and kiss people when you welcome them. And so on.

My first observation, personally, was how I aware I have become at the regularity with which I touch my face. There's an itch; scratch it. There's a moment's awkwardness; wipe your mouth / stroke your chin / a million other tells. It is hard to stop. But I am, at least, more aware of how often I do it.

There is a certain wisdom in crowds. We can organise our progress through a busy concourse in opposite directions without there being many instances of collision. There is a certain stupidity as well. A failure to realise that we are a crowd whether we like it or not. On being given a day off work and an encouragement to be out in the fresh air but socially distanced, thousands of people drove to the seaside yesterday. Snowdon attendance broke records.

The first person to stand up at an all-seater stadium gets a better view. But pretty soon everyone has to stand to get the same view and no-one is enjoying their seat. So public open spaces are now being closed because too many people used them selfishly.

We are a strange species, socially. We have organised a terrifically complex social structure within which people have vast freedoms. It is assumed that most will use their skills for the greater good of the whole, although the use of money makes the relationship one-step removed.

What is changing? We are using technology. There has never been a better time to be connected in a plague. We are ordering food without leaving home. There has never been a better time to be fed in a health scare. We are a society that has become used to things that previous pest-houses would have seen as unimaginable luxury. Who knew that a generation who cannot go out without an iPhone would value the company of real people so much? We don't like not meeting. It is too hard a change. How do you mass-change the psychology of society? Probably only with guns. Watch this space.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Book Review

I will probably catch up, over the next few weeks, on some blog ideas I've sketched out but not posted.

We were in Cornwall recently and I like, if I can, to read some local works while on holiday. I found this book thoroughly eulogised in a small Falmouth book shop. Big up to independent bookshops and also, if you're ever there, to Beer Wolf a pub/bookshop in Falmouth. Perfect combo.

Philip Marsden is a writer who lives in Cornwall. Moving from a home by the sea to an isolated farmhouse he speaks of the history of place and landscape. Beautiful Cornwall is in many places artificial - spoil heaps and mine tops look graceful and heritagy now. Once they steamed and belched. 15% of the world's minerals can be found in Cornwall.

His technique is to wander and walk. 'Private' notices do not halt him. He simply brazens it out and chats with the first person he encounters about their work and their life. More often than not he gets a cup of tea rather than prosecuted as a trespasser, like we would be.

He is gently spiritual in his respect for place. He is knowledgeable about flora and fauna. Place names are demythologised. Sentences are Rabanesque (I can pay no higher compliment).

The book was published in 2014. It won all sorts of awards and cover appreciation is written by such travel/landscape luminaries as Jan Morris and Clare Balding.

Thought for the Day

As delivered on BBC Radio Bristol just now, conveniently without having to travel to the studio due to social distancing:

If cancelling things was an Olympic Sport I'd be on the podium. Unless that gets cancelled.

Twice since I started doing these thoughts have I failed to be in the studio. The other time saw me stuck on the A370 behind an accident. I spoke from a lay-by on the Long Ashton bypass then drove home wondering if it wouldn't have been better to do the thought from my front room.

Today my dream came true, but not in a way that gives me any pleasure. I miss the friendly faces of the studio team. Although, Joe. That shirt's terrible. I can't see it. It's just a wild guess.

As part of my job I work to support the clergy of a number of churches. They are having to do heart-breaking things such as severely restricting the numbers at funerals and weddings.

'Now listen', says the letter of James, bluntly, '...you who say 'today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money'. Why you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes...'

Well, that's us told. Every now and then a staggering reminder of our fragility comes along.

Some people have elbowed everyone aside in order to get at the food. But far more have said they want to help.

On Sunday evening Christians around the country are encouraged at 7pm to light a candle and put it in their window to symbolise that they are praying for their neighbours. It's apt that there is an ancient Chinese proverb - it's better to light a candle, than to curse the darkness. Amen to that.

Thursday, March 05, 2020

A Brief History of Orders

I often get asked about the difference between various levels of orders and types of clergy. Here's a go at an answer that won't help much:

First there are are curates who come here to train
So they don't make the same mistakes over again
Stay for the long haul through fire and rain
Embrace the diaconate; try to stay sane

Pioneer ministers - new on the block
Out on the edges and far from the flock
Their lack of traditionalism can be a shock
But give it a few years before we take stock

Associate Vicars are semi-detached
They're like normal clergy with more jobs attached
Missional policies all newly hatched
Youthwork and priesthood and culture all matched

Who'd cure souls if there wasn't a vicar
Listen with patience then make us go quicker
Move us to healthiness when we are sicker
And manage to do this without too much liquor

Rector or vicar - you may find a tension
In fact they're the same but a different dimension
Subtle distinctions not worthy of mention
It makes little difference to the size of the pension 

Ridiculous is the next stop from sublime
An Area Dean at the heart of my rhyme
The powerless in middle management time
Installing potential and sniffing out crime

Sub-deacons, precentors, some canons and more
Lead worship more formal (they mainly do awe)
Processions and vestments and knowing the law
You want charismatic, they'll show you the door

The next, ex cathedra, will rarely be seen
At home in the structures; liturgically keen
Magnificent, masterful, moody and mean
You pay to get out if you chat with the Dean

If you're an archdeacon the pleasures are fleeting
You get to enjoy on the way to a meeting
Remember the name of the one you are greeting
And never look bored at the mention of heating

Who'd be a bishop you need to be strong
The pay is depressing the days are so long
You only get noticed when things have gone wrong
Lamenting more tempting than cheerful song

Assistant and suffragan ones are the crew
They do all the jobs that the Lordly won't do
While other diocesans, forming a queue
Head up committees, enquiries anew

In charge of a province archbishops are found
Inspiring, accomplished, respectful and sound
Head in the heavens and feet on the ground
Episcopally governed, synodically* bound

If the least will be most and the most will be least
Then the line might go backwards to enter the feast
To the sick and the sad, the perverse, the deceased 
Well after the first year we're all 'just a priest'

(*for 'synodically' the spell-checker suggests 'spasmodically')

St Perran's Day 2020

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol this morning. Someone had decided to include 'Area Dean of Portishead' as part of my biography and introduction. Journalists eh? They find stuff out. To which presenter Emma added 'King of Portishead' later, which I'm not sure is quite in keeping with the Church of England's desired humility from its ministers so let's move on:

I was listening to some pastors from the States. The conversation turned to church-growth.

I have a vested interest in this question. I am trying to grow a church but am doing it without having a building. In addition to Trendlewood Church I now have some responsibility for a second one that doesn't have a building - it's a congregation that meets in the parish of St Andrew's, Backwell once a month, so we've christened it 'Andy's'. Both Trendlewood and Andy's meet in schools.

My American buddies explained that when their churches got too big for the buildings they started in they bought some land on the edge of town and built a new one. Everything's bigger in the States. There's room.

Not so easy here, as any conversation about a new piece of infrastructure will tell you. In a country where loads of people have nowhere to sleep a stadium is hosting a sleep-out, whilst planning an Arena which will welcome 4000 people eventually.

We forget that every church in this country, yes every single one, was once planted. The Christian faith was fundamentally nomadic. 'Foxes have holes and birds have nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head' said Jesus once. But, someone remarked at a preachers group I was at on Monday evening, even the stories Jesus told were about land ownership, gates and wells. We settle down. We get cozy.

The Christian faith has got a bit comfy in its buildings, although that might be the worst choice of word I've ever made for some of the pews I've experienced.

But don't we all find it hard to walk away from what we have set in stone and start something new.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Sermon 9/2/20 - Post-Brexit Reconciliation

All One in Christ Jesus

Leviticus 19:1-2;30-37
Galatians 3:28

One-off sermons. Wasn't sure what to preach and then on Monday morning this Leviticus passage came up in Morning Prayer and I knew.

I will tell you a little of my own story at the end. Most of what I want to say will, to the best of my ability, consist of analysis and theology. I will try not to get too personal until the end.

There may be some things some feel unreasonable. Please hear me say that this is clumsiness not deliberate. Do respond in any way you like.

Three things by way of introduction:

The first thing I need to say is hard but you need to hear me say it. If there is anyone here who holds the view that Leviticus 19:33-34 is not eternal, that the time for treating strangers as citizens is over, that our country should not be open to the alien in difficulty, that compassion should be somehow limited, then this church is not for you. And if, it turns out, that a majority hold those views, then, despite being the current leader, this church is not for me.

Secondly a question. What sort of Brexit did people vote for?

Vicar Giles Fraser was a prominent Christian Brexiteer. He took the view that our compassion to the rest of the world was more required than our compassion to EU member states and that our membership of the EU limited our ability to offer it. I don't think that was a majority view in the leave-voting community but it was consistent with Christian compassion.

The late Tony Benn was, all his life, a prominent Brexiteer. he took the view that the socialist government he wanted could not operate within the confines of the EU which he fundamentally considered undemocratic. I don't think that was a majority view in the leave community and, when it was set before the electorate at the last election it was rejected, but it was consistent with Christian Democracy.

In fact, despite many politicians starting a sentence with' 'What the public voted for when they voted for Brexit...' this could not be finished based on the 2016 referendum. The referendum demanded that different people with different views voted the same.

Thirdly, the one thing that gives the Brexit position its power, direction and unity is that little slogan 'Brexit means Brexit'. The government of the day, in 2016, did not have the power to act upon its promise that it would honour the public vote. That was the job of Parliament and Parliament has now done it. But if it did not, that would, for many, be the last straw for democracy. The next slogan 'Get Brexit Done' won the day.

So, for the main body of this, how do we move on to peace and reconciliation?

A few days ago I posted on Facebook this question:

'Now we have left the EU I am interested in what things people here think we have learned from the last few years.'

There were 57 comments. Many of them were of the 'I learned how horrid the other side were' variety. Apart from one nobody offered a comment about personal learning and how it had changed them. So I reposed the question:

'What have you, as an individual, learned and how will you change?' I gave two examples for myself.

This time there were only eight comments. I guess you could generously say that 3 were about personal learning.

It is a thin survey bit I would hazard a guess that we are not yet ready for personal learning.

Galatians 3:28 espouses an overall principle. Neither male nor female, Jew nor Greek, slave nor free. Paul makes clear what the whole thing is by naming some of the parts. So there is also neither young nor old, fat nor thin, black nor white, Remainer or Brexiter - for we are all one in Christ Jesus.

The ultimate reconciliation is theological. The putting right of the problem of sin for a God of justice, is done in Jesus on the cross. The putting right of the dissonance between mortality and eternity is done in Jesus through the resurrection. The putting together of the flesh world and the spirit world is done in Jesus. You can be fully human and channel God's power says every healing, exorcism and resuscitation he did. The ultimate authority of good over evil, described as God versus the devil, is done by Jesus alone in the wilderness. Everything else is a little local difficulty.

This is a reconciliation grid.

                                                                 Attitude towards other's goals 
Attitude towards own goals
Not co-operative






It talks of how to reconcile opposing views, It was designed by a man who worked for the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) in the 1970s and to sort out industrial disputes. Depending on how you feel about your own goals and the goals of others you will end up in a different box. Compromise looks like the best but that is lose/lose. Reconciliation is the best - a third way for disputants.

When I did the questionnaire that goes with it, some years ago, I ended up in the bottom left box. I have tried to learn to be assertive about what I want without becoming aggressive. You might like to judge if I have succeeded. Please be gentle.

But we need a good chunk of time before reconciliation can begin. The atmosphere is still toxic. This is because the grid is normally used in sorting things out before they come to a crisis. We have started with the crisis and now need to reconcile the aftermath. The decision is made. How do Remainers reconcile themselves to living with it? How do Brexiters own it and take responsibility for it?

In Ireland Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley governed the country together after the Good Friday agreement of 1998. The willingness of enemies to become friends was powerful. One wanted a united Ireland and one didn't but they could still fix the roads, improve schools and set taxes.

In South Africa after apartheid they formed a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It may have had limited overall success. Or perhaps better would be to say that the success of it is a matter of debate, it allowed oppressor and oppressed to to tell their stories and speak honestly without fear of oppression.

We have discovered that we live in echo chambers. We need to hear the stories of why the people who voted differently to us did so.

If we had a commission to do this post-Brexit who could be trusted to lead this? A commission of the good and the great, cross-party. I can already hear the criticism that these are 'elites'. Running for leader of the Tories Rory Stewart had the interesting idea to resolve Brexit with a people's commission that one served on, not unlike jury service. To listen to evidence and draw a conclusion. It never took off. He was not chosen as leader.

We have discovered a problem with elites. People don't like them. I hope all of us felt a rumble of dis-ease when popular newspapers described Supreme Court judges as the enemies of the people. These are the people those same newspapers wanted to have control of our laws. We need to watch out for a definition of elites as 'influential people we don't agree with'. Elite doesn't mean unfairly powerful. In the sporting arena it simply means very good.

Isabel Hardman wrote 'Why we get the Wrong Politicians'. Fundamentally, she said, you need to be able to afford to be a politician. To risk a career to campaign and maybe not be elected. To give five years of your life in public service and then have your self and your staff rejected at the ballot box. You need private means to do this. Those from other elites tend to apply.

There are at least three requirements before reconciliation can begin:

1. Truth. Jesus is the truth, we believe. Issues of justice need to be taken into account. We really need to hear if the government has evidence of the referendum being tampered with. The Electoral Commission, which enquires into the validity of public polls, said it could not give an opinion on the referendum because it was only advisory. We believe the government is sitting on the evidence. Why?

2. Listening. All parties need to feel that their views are being heard and valued. We have all discovered that we live in echo chambers. We are simply not subjected to different views enough. One piece of learning from a Remainer on my Facebook question was that he should 'get out more'. In a healthy democracy we need to allow opposition to continue to be heard after the election. After a war we talk about the terms of future relationships. What did God's voice from heaven say when his Son was transfigured. 'Listen to him.'

3. All parties need to be prepared to move from their stated positions. This will take time and many conversations. We need to keep talking about it. We all need to own it. Remainers have every right to ask Brexiters if this is what they voted for and if it faithfully represents Leviticus 19 and Galatians 3. Brexiters should not be blamed for all the world's woes. We all need to denounce the racists, the people who troll politicians and the anti-foreigners. It is not, as far as I can see, racist to say that if your Lincolnshire village now has a population that is 70% Polish then you will feel something has changed; you have lost 'home', something of home.

This will take time.

Two conclusions:

Conclusion 1 (Theological)
Leviticus 19 was written at a time of land-grabbing, as borders of new nations were being established through conquest. It set out the requirement to treat what we might call 'innocent losers' decently. Galatians 3 was written at a time when unity within the church needed to be re-stated. When you come to church with your wife or your slave (men were told) they are the same. You are not more saved than them.

Conclusion 2 (Personal)
What I want to say next is more personal. Without claiming parity with St Paul it is a bit like when he drew a distinction between what was 'of the Lord' and what was his personal view. What follows is my personal view.

Others are free to have a platform to tell me how they feel. In fact the job of a listening pastor has involved me biting my tongue in many conversations this last two years.

I woke up on June 24th 2016 to hear the result. I was a Remainer. I felt profoundly disappointed, sad and yes, surprised. Unlike the election results that occasionally do not go the way I voted, this did not take a few sleeps to come to terms with. How should I behave?


I have felt profoundly disappointed and sad every day since. I personally believe this is a monumental piece of stupidity. What should I do with that view? Can you help me?

You see I still believe it was wrong but that reversing it would not be good either.

If I might propose one thing it is about language. Oppositional politics lends itself to the language of winners and losers. But people who narrowly fail to gain a majority for their point of view, not just Brexit, are not 'losers'. They are unelected or marginally unconvincing.

If I am to be reconciled to my Brexit-voting fellow church members I do not need to feel that I am a loser.

I cannot help in this project. I cannot offer any advice as to how it might be better carried out. I simply don't know. I hope you share my alarm that members of the press were forced to walk off a briefing this week because some were asked to leave. I hope you share my alarm that cabinet members now avoid serious interviews and choose to broadcast for themselves on social media. You may share my alarm that the NHS and the BBC might not survive this.

Brexit is a process not an event. Get Brexit Done was a lovely slogan. We are now out but nothing is done. If a magnificent trade deal is assembled before 31st December to everyone's satisfaction and the analysis of our economy shrinking by 7% is incorrect I will eat these words and say I was wrong.

President of the Methodist Conference, Barbara Glasson wrote this prayer:

'However we feel about today, we mark this Brexit Day as people who grieve or celebrate together. . . let us hold this day gently, giving ourselves permission to leave without elation or despair, determined to love our neighbour, support the weak, and welcome the stranger.'

That is where my musings take me. However you voted in 2016 will you join me in having more strangers in your home, more projects that help the poorest in society and more mentions of Jesus in your conversations? Please can we agree on that?

Tuesday, January 21, 2020


Where do your opinions come from?

I have posted before about ideas. Research has, I believe, shown that original ideas are very rare and fewer than 1 in 20 people have them. Johnny Baker said 'Originality is forgetting where you found something.'

Most of us who get labelled 'creative' from time to time are usually doing our best with material reassembled to fit rather than being in the ex nihilo game.

But what about your opinions? I have, from time to time, been guilty of not deciding what I thought about a particular piece of art until I had read the reviews. But I like to think I know my mind. I know what I like and I like what I know.

This set of thoughts started upon me last Saturday as I was reading a Guardian article about Angela Merkel by Tim Cook of Apple. I realised that I had never formed an opinion of Merkel the person before. She had been part of my life (in that I kept hearing her quoted) for some years but I treated her with ambivalence. I didn't know if I thought she was a good thing or a bad thing but she was simply there. Then Tim Cook praised her and, before I had a chance to stop myself and examine my working, I thought 'Yes. That's what I think.' Somehow it fits my package of opinions on other matters if she is a good thing.

We've all met people who bear the opinions of the last person they spoke to. I had one colleague once whose previous company could be deduced by what he was talking about. 'You think that? I heard James say that once. Haven't you just been talking to James?' I never said these things to him and names may have been changed.

Earlier this year I was doing some interviewing. Reviewing how the candidates had done on each question I remarked that I thought one person had done well on a particular question and discovered that everyone else in the room disagreed. Since the meeting was moving to appointing a candidate I was happy with I did not labour the matter and chose silence for a while. Given that experience, anything I said may have made my preference less likely,

The interesting thing though was that every candidate gave the same answer to the question in question. But one was a bit more emotional about it and, in engagement with the questioner, persuaded a but more information out. It was the sort of subject where making a quick decision was done far better by taking the emotion out of the situation. I wouldn't have got the job unless I showed my working really well.

Elections and referendums show that many people get their opinions from habit and don't revisit their working. They do Level 1 thinking because Level 2 is too hard. Read Daniel Kahneman if this thought is new to you.

In a second hand bookshop the other day I found this book. It is a collection of Oliver Burkemann's wonderful columns from the Guardian over the years. Each piece is based on his response to popular self-help writing. I love the idea of not bothering to find your passion or your comfort zones. I also note that introverts are under-rated.

Where am I going with this? Not very far. Simply to say that most people manage to work out how they operate for the best without reading a book. It's the old joke isn't it:

Excuse me, where are the self-help books?

If I told you sir, that would defeat the object.

But most people don't come ready-armed with opinions. They develop them over the years in the company of other people. A group of people, persuaded by the most compelling member of the group on each particular matter, becomes an echo chamber.

So, to summarise, to develop life skills you don't need as much help as you think. To form an opinion you need more. That will be twenty guineas.

Monday, January 20, 2020

First Three Questions

When you get too busy which, let's face it, can happen to all of us who have jobs that involve a certain amount of reacting to circumstances, what gives?

I want to share three questions to ask yourself at the beginning of the day during a busy time. You probably do these things on autopilot most of the time but, when you are busy reacting, they can be forgotten. Not attending to them can cause harm. When you are a fire-fighter the fire you don't put out may spread. When you are a vicar it is the hurt you accidentally begin that may do that.

So, for a vicar, these are often Monday morning questions. It's Monday and I've been busy for four days. Here are the questions:

1. Who should I thank?

Thanking people often slips when you are busy. Send them a card. Drop them an email. Give them a call.

2. Who should I get straight with?

Did you say a word out of turn which you now regret. Roll it back before it festers. Most times it won't have hurt anyone but be in the habit of making sure it didn't.

3. Who should I tell?

Did you learn something that somebody else should know? I share leadership of a deanery with another person. We need to both know the same stuff.

I think these are useful.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Christmas 2019

Click on this link for our annual Christmas round robin newsfree letter thingy. There are, gasp, pictures. Also words. Many words.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Thought for the Day

As delivered this morning on the BBC Radio Bristol Breakfast Show:

Time to cast our votes again. I won't be alone in voting with a peg on my nose for a candidate I agree with very little, to avoid a party I agree with even less getting a majority.

Recently I had the chance to speak about what would be the distinctive way a member of the Christian community might cast their vote. I had four conclusions:

Firstly, on the side of the poor. Anybody who manages to read the Bible and not consider there is a call on their compassion towards the poor is, I believe, reading it wrong. My Christianity tells me to try to use my vote based on what to give, not what to get.

Secondly, on the side of the truth. Jesus is described as the way, the truth and the life. I find truth in short-supply lately in political campaigning.

Thirdly, balancing both facts and feelings. A decision to live as a person of faith is just as much about feelings - it feels right to me - as facts - it makes sense for me.

Fourthly, on the side of inclusivity. The Bible says 'In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female - we are all one in Christ Jesus.' But, it's hard to be inclusive if we don't know enough people not like us to include? Maybe we should spend more time with those we disagree with.

It is Advent. A time for waiting in the Christian year. Looking forward to the celebration of Jesus' birth and wanting his earthly influence to grow.

How would Jesus vote? Can't say. I'll do my best to guess.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol just now on the breakfast show. The subjects in paragraph four are all stories from today's show:

Let me tell you the best way to hit a target. Find a wall with a bit of give in the plaster. Throw a dart at it. Now take a marker pen and draw a target around the point of impact. Bingo. Bulls-eye.

I've been doing ready, fire aim most of my life. It's a plausible approach as long as you are good at inventing a reason for that thing you just did.

In Christian ministry people are always looking for a way to count success. Which was more important - the 40 or so people who came to church on Sunday morning or the seven young people who came to a small discipleship group for teenagers later that day? If I miss a Christmas party for 100 homeless because I'm called to the bedside of one sick parishioner who might die, how will that look?

So what should we count to see how life in Bristol is going? We want that education, health and care plan figure to go up. It sounds like it's the only way it could go. We want more pianos in public spaces - well I do anyway. Pianos bring me joy. We want violence to go down and trees to grow up.

I've never scrutinised the purpose driven ministry of Jesus against his goals but it seems to me he kept planning to go to Jerusalem and was constantly distracted by people needing food, healing and advice. His ministry development review would probably have been disappointing. Jesus of Nazareth - stick to your mission action plan.

So here's a prayer for statisticians everywhere. At election time we need you to tell us how we are doing. And if we've improved. But that isn't everything.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Slow Down

Saying Morning Prayer (some call it 'The Office') has been an increasing blessing to me. It began as a curse. The wrong time to leave a woman with two small sons alone.

It grew to informality. I'd pray with people but not follow the set service. Last thirteen years or so I have been back to the beginning:

O Lord open our lips
And our mouth shall proclaim your praise

The words of my college doctrine tutor and tutor-group leader in year two, the late Tom Smail, come back to me from time to time. 'How wonderful not to have to be spontaneous at 8 o'clock in the morning.' And he was the man who, almost single-handedly, reinjected the Church of England with Holy Spirit Theology in the 1970s.

I start the liturgy (in my little church I am blessed with the company of two or three others most days) and my favourite bit is this:

The night has passed and the day lies open before us. Let us pray with one heart and mind.

(Silence may be kept)

As we rejoice in the gift of this new day, so may the light of your presence, o God, set our hearts on fire with love for you; now and for ever. Amen.

No matter how slowly I started, after the silence I continue slower. No matter what cares of the day I had woken with two hours earlier they begin to fall into line. I stack and rack as I take some control over the traffic of my life.

What reminds you that the day doesn't need to go as quickly as you think it does?

Thank God for Brexit?

I was given an opportunity to speak in a pub last week on whether there is a distinctively Christian approach to politics. This is what I said:

The title of this talk is 'Thank God for Brexit - question mark'. I emphasise that because it is a question not a statement.

The identity of the speaker is 'author and broadcaster'. I hover around the fringes of BBC Radio Bristol where I have done 150 Thoughts for the Day and have written some books, articles and broadcast pieces. But my day job is as a Church of England vicar and I wouldn't want to misrepresent that. I am a member of what national radio prefers to call generally - the faith community.

I am a Christian. I believe in God although I understand that as a more complex statement than it sounds. I believe, as the Bible describes, that God is beyond our comprehension yet in the person of Jesus Christ is uniquely revealed. Said St Paul (I paraphrase) as he wrote to the Colossians, 'If you want to know what God is like look at Jesus.'

So my question for us all is this - is there a faith position, in my case a Christian faith position, on matters of national political purpose?

And at this point I need to tell you how I feel about national political purpose. I'm going to try and avoid telling you how I will vote at the next election. Conveniently that is because I don't currently know.

Political debate over the last few years has been like watching two people discuss a snooker ball. Politician A brandishes the ball and says 'It's red'. Politician B shakes a head and says 'No it's not - it's round'.

And the problem with that, if you need it spelling out, is not either of the statements but the words 'No it's not'.

We live in a constitutional democracy - although that got stretched to breaking point this year and may yet do so again - where oppositional politics is encouraged in every way. Someone says A so a person with view B is delivered to argue.

The BBC fights to stay neutral and since people on all sides think it doesn't it probably does but from time to time the oppositional style leads everyone to call foul. The science of climate change is pretty clear and so you don't need to balance it with a climate change denier. It is what to do about it that is the more complex discussion and has sides.

Plus, we don't have a neutral press. I'm not going there.

'The problem' said Matt Forde on 'The Political Party' podcast '...is that politics is often the war between two imperfect opposites.' I agree, but often presented as the war between two perfect opposites.

On 27/5/16 Richard Osman, perhaps one of our trainee national treasures, said, on Twitter, 'In most debates we have to listen to people who shout the loudest or are the most certain of their views. That doesn't represent most of us'.

So up until 2016 we had an electoral pie diagram that had blue wedges and red wedges of roughly similar sizes and almost always at least 35% plus smaller green, yellow and other coloured wedges. If we imagine it as an actual pie with slices, in 2016 we invited someone to have a slice of pie and they cut it, horizontally, through the middle.

And over the next three and half years our first past the post system, which we were reminded in a referendum gives us strong government and the people agreed, polarised to where we are now, that this election is about Brexit whether we like it or not. The Conservatives have allied themselves totally with leave, removing the whip from non-conformists. The Lib Dems have allied themselves totally with remain and the Labour party are trying desperately not to have their party re-aligned on Brexit lines.

On 16th June 2016 I wrote on my blog, 'Whatever the end result a referendum stops democracy in its tracks. We will have to move on with what looks as if it will be a 55/45 on a maximum 80% turn-out. And that, my friends, is a divided kingdom.'

A rare outbreak of insight, if I say so myself.

How does my Christian faith help me with how to vote. I have four things:

1. I am on the side of the poor. Anybody of faith who manages to read the Bible and not consider there is a call on their compassion, action and money towards the poor is, I believe, reading it wrong. But the dilemma this gives me is that:

a) I am on the side of the poor.
b) The poor, largely, voted for Brexit.
c) I believe Brexit will make the poor, poorer.

Before the referendum, journalist Rod Liddle said 'Somehow this referendum has caught the imagination of ordinary working communities who see it as a chance to register the complaint that something, not sure what, is changing about their world and they don't like it.'

Giles Fraser, prominent Christian thinker and minister and also Brexiter campaigned that our focus on making the EU more equal was a bias against the poor of the rest of the world. Although I don't think a huge amount of people who agree with him also want to see mass immigration from much poorer parts of the world. He also noted that for some communities the massive increase of residents from overseas, over a short period of time, upset them. Not necessarily because they were racists but somehow because they had lost their home.

My Christianity tells me to try to use my vote based on what to give not what to get.

2. I am on the side of the truth. Jesus Christ described himself as the way, the truth and the life. I find truth in short-supply lately in political campaigning.

Once 'We campaign in poetry; we govern in prose' (Mario Cuomo, Governor of New York, Democrat. 1985 placed on Leo McGary's lips in The West Wing by Aaron Sorkin) was seen as a helpful reminder.

Campaigning in half-truths is clever. Putting on the side of a bus that we send £350m a week to the EU made sure that how much we send was the subject of the conversation. It wasn't £350m. But it wasn't nothing either.

One of the problems with the remain campaign is that they didn't think of a parallel outrageous claim to put on the side of a bus. Maybe 'The EU has done more for peace in Europe than any other organisation since World War 2' would have changed the subject. I have no idea if it is true. It is almost untestable.

But to go from there to the cynical ploy utilised this week, after the leaders debate, of rebranding the Conservative Official Twitter feed as a fact-checking site felt, to me, like some line was crossed.

It was designed, I'm sure, to make the conversation about that and not about what the Conservative leader said. And it worked. I applaud the genius in the way I applaud the thieves in the Italian Job.

In 2018 a summary of the attitude to Donald Trump by philosopher Julian Baggini was this, 'People didn't vote for trump because he is telling the truth. They think all politicians are liars but he's 'our liar'' (Journalism in a Post-Truth World - Bath Festival).

But now, pick the bones out of this exchange, in one of Radio 4's current appallingly unnecessary bits of political vox pop from round the country. A hairdresser from South Wales was asked about her voting plan. She said:

'I'm going to vote for Boris Johnson. I know he's a liar but I don't always tell the truth so that makes him more human to me so I trust him.'

Where do I start with that? Actually, to be honest, I go back to my Bible and that statement on Jesus' lips. It is in John's Gospel. John used philosophical dialogue to make points. He put things on Jesus' lips that he didn't actually say in order to paraphrase what he did actually mean. It was normal to do that in those days. It's a tough conundrum this truth business but it was Jesus' followers who called him the truth. To find out if that is true you can read the other things he said in other Gospels where the intention was more reportage than philosophy.

But in this section, let me give the last word to Richard Dawkins, not the church's greatest fan. He said, responding to the suggestion that all politicians lie, 'Unlike all other politicians, Johnson and Trump become more popular with their fans the more they lie and the more appallingly they behave. That's what's new.' (Twitter 20/11/19)

3. I am on the side of both facts and feelings. A victim of a mugging, walking in through the door will find it hard to engage with the truth that crime figures are down.

In the USA in 2017 in the presidential election campaign an exchange happened that went something like:

Violent crime is up
Actually it isn't - it's down nationally
Not in Chicago it isn't
Actually it is - overall crime figures in Chicago are down but one or two types of violent crime went up
People don't feel the crime figures are down

Which led comedian/commentator John Oliver to say that 'He brought feelings to a facts fight.'

But feelings are important. Those who have voted to leave the EU have every right to demand that what we said we'd do, we'll do.

A decision to live as a person of faith is just as much about feelings - it feels right to me - as facts - it works for me.

Changing your mind involves vulnerability. Nations find it hard to change their minds.

4. I am on the side of inclusivity and equality. Galatians 3:28 says 'In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female - we are all one in Christ Jesus.'

Whereas Ian Burrell, in theippaer 13/11/17 said '...Brexit has left our nation horribly divided undermining the Union and fuelling nationalism while opening up fissures between young and old, rich and poor, north and south.' The opposite of Galatians 3:28.

In November 2017 Roger Scruton wrote in The Times:

'You can be a loyal subject of the British Crown and also English, Scottish, Irish or Welsh when it comes to other aspects of belonging. You can be a British Nigerian or a British Pakistani, and the future of our country depends upon the process of integration that will persuade new arrivals that this is not only possible but also necessary if they are to make a home here. You can be a British Muslim, Jew, Christian or atheist, since nationality, defined by land and sovereignty, does not extinguish religious attachment.'

My little churches have dealt with the fallout by not talking about it very much. Perhaps we should have and this might be a start.

For someone who values inclusivity I find that my social media friends and my family largely take the same view as me on Brexit. I chastise myself that I didn't know enough of the sort of people I professed to be wanting to serve and help.

Likewise one of my Facebook friends makes regular comments about Brexit meaning Brexit and last Christmas, responding to the suggestion that Brexit has ruined some families Christmas dinners, said 'No problem here - we're all no deal leavers.'

Do we know enough people not like us?

It is nearly Advent. A time for waiting, hoping and praying in the Christian year. For looking forward to the celebration of Jesus' birth (the date is another liberty with the truth by the way) and wanting his earthly influence to grow.

Recent research by World Vision told us that people outside the church think it is judgemental, anti-science and irrelevant. It's none of those things; but we need to do a better job of saying so.

Thank God for Brexit? I can't say. All I can do is continue a quest for truth, inclusivity, equality and hospitality and adjust my behaviour in the light of it.

I'll drink to that. Beer and chat my friends. Beer and chat.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The Second Sleep

I love Robert Harris and was delighted to be given this for my birthday, in hardback so still feeling very new. I hadn't read any reviews so put it in the reading pile, near the front for when I wanted a page-turner.

I have now finished it. It's a brilliant book but I wondered whether I dare review it, for any summary runs the risk, in this particular case, of giving too much away. Even what I am about to say will invite you to take more care over the opening chapters with a 'Can't fool me' attitude.

The jacket says: '1468. A young priest, Christopher Fairfax, arrives in a remote Exmoor village to conduct the funeral of his predecessor.'

And this is the book's opening. Yet soon a twist that leaves you re-reading the first pages again to see how you missed the clues that this is not quite about what you think it is about. Those things you thought were the author's errors? Not so much. Should have known better.

The romp continues. A page-turner. A great story with a late medieval background. Yet a story that asks questions of us today, how we live, what we value and what will be our legacy.

Finishing it I chose to read some reviews to see how great reviewers had tackled the conundrum. They simply gave it away.

Even the amateur reviewers on Amazon and such sites were more cautious to be gentle with fellow-readers.

So, if it's not too late, go out and get this and read it without finding anything out. Then consider how you might vote.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Thought for the Day

As delivered just now at BBC Radio Bristol's Breakfast with Emma Britton:

Friend used to work for a bank. He was paid to anticipate the future. He looked at political, social and international trends and the value of investments. When we first met he was taking a five to ten year look at a relatively stable market. Then the crash of 2007 happened. We had a little joke:

'When's the future John?'

'About half past three.'

John's retired now. I bet today he'd have trouble predicting the future more than thirty minutes ahead. I had three goes yesterday evening at a thought based on a General Election and democracy - things moved on so quickly I had no idea how to get it to be relevant for this morning.

We're also having trouble with the past. In a city built, to some extent, on the profits of slavery we're trying to work out how to own that with appropriate repentance. Plus, we were trying to build at a bus depot when we found a bomb from 78 years ago.

We may have finished with the past, but the past's not done with us.

Tomorrow many churches will be open for those who find the current political uncertainty worrying and need a place of quiet space. Perhaps prayer. If your attitude to an election is depression and your uncertainty about the future is draining why not set aside time to find something deeper? Maybe find a truth from the past, for now and to take into the future.

You might ponder the beginning, where the Bible speaks of deep truth that was there at the start; the middle where it is revealed in the man Jesus and the end where every tear will be wiped from our eyes. Bigger than Brexit. You betcha.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Where Did Trump Come From?

A piece in Politico magazine called The Victory of 'No' by Michael Grunwald told a story which I have heard quoted in a few places since, so I decided to read it.

In brief, on the night of Obama's inauguration as President a group of senior Republicans (including Ryan and Pence) sat down for a meal and started work on their strategy for getting power back. Their idea was simple. Oppose everything. Don't let Obama breathe without complaining he is taking the wrong type of breath. He wears the wrong shoes. He disrespects the USA with the colour of his suits. He got an inappropriate dog. He is the enemy within.

Regardless of whether or not he was espousing policy which Republicans could swallow (or even would normally agree with) he was to be opposed. He was a danger to the American way of life (whatever that might be; no-one ever says). Give him free rein and he will destroy America.

As a strategy this 'obstructionism' worked. They got back the House, the Senate and eventually the White House. But at what cost?

Because it was a strategy to get power and nothing more. If there were Obama policies with which they agreed they would simply make the country wait eight years before repackaging them so they could take the credit. They didn't actually believe that everything Obama did was wrong. But there was someone who did.

Because Obama was black? Because Obama was learned? Because Obama was fit, healthy and successful? Because he wanted our guns? Because he was pro-gay and liberal on abortion? Who knows. Whatever the reason, that Republican strategy stirred a dozy kraken and along came one who thought the strategy was not only good but it was also true.

When Trump announced he would run for the Presidency no less a woolly liberal commentator comedian than John Oliver looked forward to the party they would have at his expense. 'Bring it on' he announced to his viewers in 2015.

But Trump unleashed set about beating up not only every Obama-supporting Democrat but also every Republican who didn't wholeheartedly sign-up to the 'Obama is the devil incarnate' agenda.

'So the party’s anti-Obama strategy has ended up working almost exactly as planned, except that none of the Republican elites who devised it, not even Vice President-elect Pence, envisioned that their new leader would rise to power by attacking Republican elites as well as the Democratic president. President-elect Trump was really the ultimate anti-Obama, not only channeling but embodying their anti-Obama playbook so convincingly that he managed to seize the Republican Party from loyal Republicans. And in the process, he has empowered an angry slice of the GOP base that has even some GOP incumbents worried about the forces they helped unleash.'

Paul Ryan has had the good grace to look embarrassed when he stands behind President Trump. Shameless Mike Pence accepted the Vice-Presidency. But Trump has turned the Good Old Party into the Bad New Party (those initials ring any bells?) and two years into his presidency Democrats are wondering how to get it back without playing his game.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Training Exercise on Pursuing a Vision

Here's a little exercise I used yesterday, an amalgam of several other games. The bigger the group the better it works:

1. Invite people, alone and quietly, to think of one favourite food they would order if going out for a one course meal.

2. Invite them to think of a couple more things (second favourite, third favourite).

3. Tell people that the aim of the game is for the whole party to go out for a meal and order the same thing. Do not repeat this, ever. Now invite them to find a partner. The two of you have to go out for a meal and order the same thing. What will you order?

4. Twos get into fours and agree.

5. Fours get into eights.

6. Continue for as long as it is fun.

When it becomes obvious that the room has polarised into non-negotiating groups, sit everyone back again, especially the group of sixteen who, with their backs to the wall, are shouting lasagna at the rest of the room in a football chant (yesterday's experience). Take a calming moment or two, then the best bit of this is the debrief. Questions to discuss:

A) At one point did you stop looking for compromise and become intransigent?

B) How can an organisation pursue its vision unless everyone buys in?

C) How do you avoid a 'lowest common denominator' vision where you all go out for gluten-free, non-dairy cheese sandwiches or suchlike?

D) Who can remember the aim of the game?

Feel free to select and adapt as you wish. If any user finds a room that can come to agreement treat them like gold and praise them as such

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol this morning where it was great to meet Dr James Freeman (@jgfreeman) a historian of British politics at Bristol University. In the interview before me he said that his current job was like being a meteorologist watching people die in a record-breaking hurricane. Nice metaphor. Talking of which:

A friend of mine came up with a metaphor for dealing with large and complex problems. He called it 'eating a slug'.

Some issues can seem so horrible and unpalatable that we never get round to tackling them at all. But, he said, the one thing you can be sure about if you absolutely have to eat a slug is that you want that critter thin-sliced. So it is with problems. Break them down into, ahem, bite-sized pieces and tick them off your to do list, slowly.

Jesus had a certain clarity of thinking too. He prioritised preaching over healing. He went determinedly towards Jerusalem as others counselled against it. He focused his teaching on the Kingdom of God and nothing else dealing with distractions one at a time. Clarity. Focus. Bite-sized chunks.

I loved the way the judgement of the Supreme Court on the shutting down of Parliament yesterday reduced a very complex matter to four simple points:

Is this a matter on which we are entitled to rule?
What is the relevant Law?
Has it been broken?
What should be the remedy?

I am a great fan of clear thinking. I am a great fan of Jesus come to that but you probably guessed.

Breaking problems down into parts is a useful device. What small thing can I do today to progress? Room needs decorating? Paint one wall. Too tired to weed the whole garden? Do ten minutes. House untidy? Fix half a room then have a cup of tea.

Today you may not have to save the world and I hope you don't have to eat a slug, but you could do something small that makes the end of a bigger problem a little nearer.

Try it.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Thought for the Day

As delivered this morning at BBC Radio Bristol. The previous story was about a crane-driver who composed tunes from his cab in his 'waiting' time. Quite cool ones, actually:

In one of my favourite songs by a band no-one else has heard of the Irish musicians The Four of Us wrote:

I wanna burst outside this canned reality
I wanna turn it around and see it like the way it's meant to be

They may not have known that they were channelling St Paul's:

Now see see through a glass darkly
Then we shall see face to face

And he was channelling Plato's cave allegory. That's far enough back.

Thing is. We all benefit from standing in someone else's shoes, seeing things from another's point of view. It's no surprise to me that a crane driver finds his view of the world a creative place.

I'm reading Robert Macfarlane's book Underland. He writes about places - landscape, nature and people. His latest is about the ground beneath our feet; under-city worlds, huge caves, mines, burials and offerings. The underworld. Seeing the world with him by looking up at it, the opposite of Spencer Fley's craneview, has been eye-opening. It helps that Macfarlane writes as the angels might.

When people ask what my faith means to me; how it works, what difference it makes I often see a sense of longing in the eyes of the enquirer. 'I wish I had your faith.' But you can't. Nobody can. It's mine and not yours. It's my world-view. It's my crane or cave.

If you dared a prayer today may it be one taught to the boy Samuel 'Speak Lord; for your servant is listening.'

Today is the 11th September. 9/11. A day which gave us an altogether different view of how the world was. Try and make peace with it.

Where do all our words come from?

Every now and again the lovely Guardian Review on a Saturday has a gem of an article. Last weekend James Meek had this superb little reminder. Click on the link for his article or read on for my summary first/instead.

The three languages of medieval Britain were French, Latin and English (but not as we know it). The Black Death forced the decreased population to accommodate each other and one language began to emerge.

Previously we had had:

  • Francophone aristos
  • Latinist clerics
  • Anglophone peasantry

Meek's point is that it is interesting how we still in fact use:

  • Latin or Latin-derivations for intellectual analysis
  • French for power, military and finance
  • Anglo-Saxon (plus Norse) for everyday
He added that the 'new clerics' include, lawyers, writers, some artists, scientists, journalists, some comedians, politicians, some entrepreneurs and actual clerics.

To use a word from each set he concluded:

Rise up, rebel, revolt

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Why I am an Anglican

We have been preaching a few one-off sermons over the summer on matters that are close to the preacher's heart but never come up otherwise. On Sunday I spoke on Why I am an Anglican. It contained some fairly un-nuanced church history and not enough detail but I thought turning it into an essay might be useful so here goes.

Personal Background
I have been a member of the Church of England all my life, although for the first sixteen years I didn't acknowledge it.

My parents were married in a C of E Church. I was baptised in a C of E Church. I attended a C of E Church as a child with my family occasionally but it was dull and frightening (an ingenious combination). I was converted by the ministry of a C of E youth group leader and a C of E leaflet deliverer and the houseparties run by a C of E parachurch mission agency for whom I eventually worked for ten years.

After marriage in a C of E church Liz and I spent six weeks at a Baptist Church. Truth be told it wasn't, at that time, the theology that turned us back but the emotional reaction that it simply felt wrong. Like wearing your watch on the other wrist or sleeping on the other side of a double bed.

So we stuck with our local parish church where we served and from where I heard the first tentative voice of a call to the ministry which has taken us since then to a C of E training college and then four different C of E churches. I think I am an addict now.

I am therefore emotionally an Anglican.

The emotion of gratitude for what the denomination has done for me.

The emotion of contentment that, looking back, I can see what I was doing in each place and why.

In Isaiah 49 the prophet hears that it is too small a thing for the words of the prophet to only be local. Despite the prophet feeling disappointed and exhausted his words are for ends of the earth. My home town now was the ends of the earth to them then, six centuries BCE. Low-lying as it is, it may not even have been earth.

Jesus was a Jew; the first Christians were Jews; the first churches in synagogues. Then they moved out.

The first division was between east and west, Roman and orthodox, around the fifth century over doctrine, as the creeds we still say were being formed.

The gospel came to this country seriously around this time. The first preachers had been Roman traders, including the stories of Jesus with other pagan stories. Augustine was sent by Rome and preached the whole gospel in the late sixth century CE.

Viking invaders wanted nothing to do with it and ransacked Christian communities but the Normans embraced it and energised a massive breadth of church-building.

A Jesus-centred Reformation across Europe in the fifteenth century may not have reached the British Isles but coincided with an awkward matrimonial tiff Henry VIII had. Since the Pope would not allow him to divorce a wife he chose to divorce the Pope instead.

The Church of England became established and Bishops eventually took seats in the House of Lords. The introduction of the 1662 Prayer Book meant that wherever you went in the country if you entered a C of E church on a Sunday or for a wedding, baptism or funeral you would recognise the liturgy, and it would be in your language of English, not Latin. And residence was eventually assumed to confer membership. Live in the parish and vote for the Church Wardens. Live in the parish and be baptised, married or buried in your local church - the only small print in the Prayer Book is that baptism can be delayed a short while for a period of instruction. Also in the Prayer Book is the idea that anyone can take communion. It simply makes the assumption that you will be confirmed or 'desirous of confirmation'. There is no time scale stated for that. You should not be a notorious or evil liver.

Reformation and establishment led to a huge persecution of those Catholics who did not want to be reformed, dissolution of the monasteries, whitewashing ornate church wall paintings and appalling violence to those who continued to pay allegiance to Rome.

The Catholic movement went two ways. There was a gradual toleration of Roman Catholic and indeed other faiths after the Civil War and the re-development in the nineteenth century of an Anglo-catholic element within Anglicanism.

Which is roughly where we are now with the exception of the development of new denominations around the preaching of the Wesleys (Methodism), an insistence on individual conversion and profession of faith at an adult age (Baptist) and various others.

One person once remarked to me that when two Christian organisations merge a third is formed.

In the middle of the twentieth century Archbishop William Temple re-imagined the desire to be a church that served the whole country. The parish system had been developed and refined by then but the nature of the broad-church C of E was that very different theologies could reside next to each other. Temple said he had a vision of 'The Gospel to every man's door with a single eye to the glory of God.'

Canterbury is now the head of the C of E and the headquarters of the word-wide Anglican Communion although holding this together is problematic without an agreed understanding of the ministry of women and sexual ethics.

But I am therefore historically an Anglican.

I am reformed. I look to Canterbury not Rome for leadership but do not see the Pope as the enemy.

I love the idea that every blade of grass in this country is some parish's pastoral responsibility and every person's door is some church's responsibility to provide spiritual resources, even if it only starts with a simple cake (my church gives cakes to newcomers in the locality).

But I am catholic (as in 'worldwide') which means, since the C of E broadened, that all C of E churches share a responsibility even though the service you experience may not be the same in every building any more. But the flip-side to that, with the ease of modern transportation, is that if you don't like what's on offer in your C of E church you can travel to another one. All we ask is that you share our mission to the geographical boundary for which we have responsibility here - Trendlewood. And as you know, it is my passion to make it possible for there to be an expression of church nearer your home and with Andy's (meeting today) we are well on the way to achieving that for our Backwell members.

And I love the formal structure (not the pageantry though) that we are episcopally led and the legal structure that we are synodically governed. Our church council can introduce a motion to Deanery Synod which can discuss it, pass it and take it to Diocesan Synod which can do likewise to General Synod and we can, theoretically, change the rules of the whole church from Trendlewood if we can make the case strongly enough.

And the structure that, within a diocese, we try to organise the finances such that those best able to finance ministry serve those in more deprived areas. Even before I was Area Dean and Trendlewood was independent I said, regularly, that we should pay our Parish Share with gratitude for the ministry it makes possible. It is more money that goes where we can't go and reaches those we can't reach. 100 years ago clergy in wealthy parishes were paid more than clergy in poor areas. This has changed.

But also theologically, I know of no way to treat someone as a Christian other than to baptise them. It is how the Acts of the Apostles describes conversion. Whole households are baptised.

That means we need another sign of profession of faith at maturity and that is where confirmation comes in. A statement of personal faith for those baptised as infants, and all baptised in other denominations. And a prayer to receive all the gifts necessary, from the laid-on hands of a bishop, to be a member of this broad church.

John Stott said once that if asked to describe his faith he would say he was first; a Christian. Secondly an evangelical Christian (one who believes that God has done everything necessary for salvation in Christ and that the Bible contains all we need to know of these things necessary for salvation and to live as a Christian). Thirdly he was an Anglican evangelical Christian. He would place the adjectives in that order.

I am an Anglican not just because it is the most convenient ship to fish from but because my service has its place here and, if all the other denominations disappeared tomorrow, not a single house or field in Nailsea, Somerset or England would become unprayed for.

So I am therefore missionally an Anglican as well as historically and emotionally.

I don't just think that the Church of England is a nice part of a Church of God which could manage without us. I think it is the rock which enables the other churches to exist. It is the voice of the church in this country. It has the legal responsibility to spread and share the faith. It is a body of many parts.

Whereas once my membership was tentative and awkward, today it is as close to passionate as I get. We (yes we) should not need to ever form or join another church. For we have all the gifts and power we need to change this one.

Although you may know the expression, that if you ever find a perfect church don't join it. You'll only spoil it. Is the church full of hypocrites? Yes. One more won't make any difference.

Missionally I agree with it
Historically I understand it
Emotionally I love it

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol this morning. Someone had broken all of a Bristol pub's windows with a hammer, for the second time. And reporter James Hanson had been learning to ice Bake Off standard cupcakes. I had one. It was lovely.

Over the summer at my church we've been looking at a strange list of characteristics. St Peter suggests in a letter that Christians should add to their faith these six things:

'Goodness, Knowledge, Self-control, Perseverance, Godliness and Mutual Affection.'

It feels a slightly odd command, since 'by faith alone' is a central tenet of Christianity. You can't add anything to what Jesus has done for you. You can't make yourself more saved.

But working through the list we have come to the conclusion that there are things that would make us a better example to others.

Which bake-off contender hasn't found that it took perseverance to learn their piping skills? How much self-control do you need not to be angry with someone who constantly breaks your windows?

But, without victim-blaming, we have found that each of the qualities adds something to our character. Goodness? Well it's better to be good than bad. Knowledge? Surely growing in our understanding of the world is helpful. Likewise self control trumps lashing out. Perseverance giving up, godliness devilry and mutual affection is an advance on hating everyone.

Next Sunday I'm going to ask the congregation to decide which is their weak spot and we'll pray for each other to do better.

Now clearly window smashers should get a life rather than wasting other people's. Do something useful with their hands and their hammers.

Lock em up or educate them? Perhaps we'll leave that one to the politicians, once they have a moment.

But what about you? Which is your weak spot? And, here's your homework, do you want to improve?

Saturday, August 24, 2019


I am currently reading, and loving, Robert Macfarlane's Underland. On the basis of the first 100 pages it is going to be my favourite non-fiction book of all time. This got me wondering what my top five are, currently.

I think my criteria would be:

1. Something that adds to the sum of my knowledge in an area where I am already interested.

2. Something that persuades me to be interested in a subject about which I know nothing.

Here is my list. It nearly included some academic theology, sport and biography but, with apologies to Nick Hornby, Andrew Lincoln and Humphrey Carpenter, these made the cut:

Passage to Juneau
Jonathan Raban
Picador 1999

This came under category 2. I have never been at all interested in sailing although the sea had some attractiveness when viewed from a sturdy platform. I toyed with the idea of the navy but the navy successfully put me off during a course designed to put me  on.

Then I read a newspaper review of this book. It caught my imagination, I think because the writing was praised as much as the subject matter. Quite rightly.

Recreating a 1000 mile sea voyage north from his home in Seattle, Raban speaks of the myths and truths of the sea as only an experienced mariner traveller can. During the voyage he explores ancient documents and his inner world, reaching some dramatic places and conclusions.

Prisoners of Geography
Tim Marshall
Elliott and Thompson 2015

I enjoyed many games of Risk as a child, quickly working out that the places that could be attacked from few sides were the most easily defended. Who knew that this would be the key to the dominance of the actual world as well? The winners were always going to be the people who populated North America. The Europeans are separated by so many mountain ranges and rivers they will never get on without some sort of union. The Russians need an ice-free port. The arbitrary way former empires carved up the territory of people who already didn't like each other very much was never going to be a recipe for peace. Why is the world like it is? Easy to understand if you have this book.

Mark Forsyth
The Elements of Eloquence
Icon 2013

I was given a good grounding in English by my two schools and owe the second one an apology for under-achieving. What my education gave me was an ear for a phrase which sounds right. When the writer hits a sweet-spot. And how to notice a dud.

What I failed to allow my education to give me is a knowledge of the science behind this. I didn't develop an interest until Junior did English Language A level and we chatted about how language works and both read David Crystal.

This book, a gift from a friend, added science to my natural ear. It answered questions I didn't know were worth asking, such as why we play ping pong and not pong ping, why Please Please Me is a good song title and why we say knives and forks when we mean cutlery (that's a merism, by the way).

Excuse the errors. It wasn't enallage it was clumsiness.

The Essential Difference
Simon Baron-Cohen
Allen Lane 2003

Men are from Mars Women are from Venus popularised the long-discussed idea that males and females see the world differently. Simon Baron-Cohen, interestingly, does an academic version of what his brother Sacha does through the medium of comedy. Sacha disguises himself as an unusual person in order to deconstruct mainstream thought. Simon analyses unusual people to find out what makes them different.

He does find differences between male and female brains - some because of nature and some nurture. One year old babies faced with videos of cars or people did divide on gender grounds. But not all men are better at stacking the dish-washer than all women. But, by and large, his research showed a male interest in systems over people and for women the opposite.

Reading this I understood myself better. It was sobering to read that people with my score, on his self-assessment paper, had, in the past, been given an autism statement.  I fell one step short of being an acute systematising male. Which makes me a cute, systematising male. You knew that.

Francis Spufford
Faber and Faber 2012

The more biblical I get the more liberal I find myself. Which has always begged the question as to what speaker I might take people to hear, or what book I might give them, to explain why I am still able to own the insult 'Christian'.

When all has been deconstructed what is left? An ethics teacher once told me that when you deconstruct a light bulb you are left with everything but illumination. True. But there is no need to deconstruct a light-bulb if the manufacturer is still around to show you how it was made.

Spufford deconstructs nothing. He constructs an emotional defence (wrong word because he wasn't attacked) of hanging on to a dream, a story, a meta-narrative that there is some other. Not in the gaps that human understanding will one day bridge but so far so beyond and above that only the Christian story can pull it together and provide a base from which to explore.

First time I've read the story of someone who is emotionally content to be an ordinary Christian, although an extraordinary writer.