17 08 2011

Feral, evil, savage, immoral, callous, lost causes. Those who do violence to others in the name of quick profit are called many things. Be they hoodies ransacking Debenhams and taking what isn’t theirs or bankers gambling our money and taking what isn’t theirs.


But name-calling is so easy. It starts in the playground and continues into adulthood.


What we need to do is pause.


Pausing is that thing you do when you count to 10 before you yell at your child or slap a cyclist or swear at a Policeman or call people names.


Pausing before speaking or acting means that we have a chance to think. Because what this country really needs is space to think. Deeply.


Deep thought will lead to deep justice. For the rioters, for the rioted; for the looters, for the looted. For bad bankers and for those trampled underfoot.


Without a pause, there is only revenge, knee-jerk reactions, spite. We don’t need spite. We need justice.


Justice is good. Justice is enough.We believe in deep justice not cheap spite because of our God.


People often fear God‘s justice, but we welcome it. We do not go beyond that to spite because to do that is to ignore the Jesus we claim to follow. If we do follow him we must rise above that. To do that, we live differently, love differently. God’s justice is fair. God’s justice has unfailing love as its core. That seems a good place to start.


It’s why the Torah said to a violent and warring tribal community an eye for an eye is enough and not a life for an eye like everyone else said. It’s why Jesus said love your neighbour and pray for those who persecute you instead of hating them and returning violence with violence like everyone did. It’s why Jesus told radical and offensive stories of good Samaritans and bad priests, or good chavs and bad toffs. Or whoever your feared ‘other’ is.


There have been many fascinating debates over the last week. We have seen the surface of many deep issues scratched – about families, about community, about fatherhood, about gangs, about stories, about underlying moral codes – and this has been brilliant. It is about time. We in the church are always talking about these things, as Nick Baines wrote about the apparent silence of Rowan Williams.


As followers of Jesus we need to be the ones who carry on with this. Because we believe in pausing, and then acting. We believe in being embedded in our communities. We believe in crossing the road to the injured and the wounded, however ‘other’ they are. We do this all the time. This is our chance for others to see it. Like here, in Wolverhampton. Like here, across the country. Like on CNN, with Patrick Regan of XLP. Like in the Guardian, with Martin Saunders.


But we do not do this to score points. We do not do this for eternal reward or a pat on the back.  We do it because we believe in deep justice, not cheap spite.


It’s that simple. And that hard.

bin laden with questions

12 05 2011

The world we live in is flat, was created in 7 days and morality is as black & white as a zebra. There are no further questions.

The thing is, the world appears to be a sphere. Genesis appears not to be attempting to be a construction manual. And the closer you look at a zebra, the more the black and the white hairs seem to be a mixed-up and blended in.

It is important to me that our faith in the resurrected Christ impacts on all areas of our life. And those lives are all mixed up. Which is why sometimes I write about my own faith journey, sometimes about politics, sometimes about music. Because there is no place in which Jesus is not. As Rob Bell said, everything is spiritual. There is no sacred/secular divide. 

Which brings us to the death of Osama bin Laden. Immediately I heard the news, I was concerned about the language that was used. ‘Taken out’, ‘eliminated’, and all kinds of other euphemisms. I was concerned about the celebrations that were taking place in America, though thankfully it would seem only in America. People from Pakistan were killed on 9/11 too, though that is easily forgotten. 

But what difference does me being concerned make? Am I just being pious, do I live in a cloud-cuckoo-land where a fair and just trial for bin Laden would cause more problems than there already were? Maybe. But I think we are right to think about these things. We are right to ask difficult questions to those who act on our behalf. There may well be good answers. But we must ask the questions. Because the Jesus I know was not afraid to ask them. The Jesus I know sought justice for the oppressed and he also sought integrity from the powerful.

Richard Littledale notes how mixed-up those things are in posting this picture:


Many have commented on bin Laden’s death so I won’t repeat what has been said, but provide some links to those discussions. 

Tom Wright caused a bit of a storm by comparing the execution to America’s obsession with ‘exceptionalism’, based on the Wild West model of being beyond the law, writing in the Guardian and quoted by Ian Paul; Will Cookson has offered a response to that and to the question of whether Bishops have anything to say on global political issues. Journalists often criticize them for speaking out,  whilst at the same time reporting what they say. 

Nick Baines responds to the accusations of Bishop’s ‘hand-wringing’ with this example:

For example, my own involvement in Zimbabwe led me to believe that unless and until the rule of law is established there, little else can happen to sort the place out. What should Robert Mugabe learn from the killing of Bin Laden? Either the rule of law is fundamental or it isn’t.

These questions are important. We must be uncomfortable, even if we decide that the situation could be no other way. The moment we stop being uncomfortable, the moment we don’t allow ourselves to be deeply concerned, is the moment we are no longer being ambassadors of the radical, life-changing, transformative and very very resurrected Jesus. Because life is not simple. And Jesus is not on our side.

the provocative resurrection /2/ this world matters

27 04 2011

In the first Provocative Resurrection post, I looked at how the resurrection happened, is real; the resurrection cannot just be a metaphor for ‘things working out’, but has to be an actual, real thing. And how Jesus’ first apprentices didn’t get it, and how we really can’t blame them. Who would get it?

So if we believe that Jesus knew he was going to be very much dead and then very much alive, what does that mean? Was it just a super-Lazarus-miracle-resuscitation trick, or something more?

Something more, something much more. Because Jesus wasn’t resuscitated, he was resurrected; he wasn’t just raised to life, but raised to new life. Because this Jesus who was very dead and then very alive wasn’t a normal human, but was God. So in a way, God was alive. Then God was dead. Then God was alive.

During Comic Relief this year there was an amazing telly programme called Comic Relief: Famous, Rich and in the Slums. Basically some people off the telly lived for a few days in the Kibera slum in Kenya, one of the worst places to live that humans have created and made their kind live in. This programme showed us what it is like to intentionally live somewhere you do not need to. For a few days. Jesus’ life shows us that it is in God’s character to do the same. Forever. The incarnation is what we call that, that God came to live among us. The resurrection takes the incarnation one step further.

Like the celebrities, God wanted to change the environment, to change the way people lived. Unlike Lenny Henry, who was able to make a huge difference to one family at little real personal cost, God took that filth and rubbish upon himself, at great personal cost; and yet it did not overcome him, he overcame it.  He made possible real change. The provocative resurrection shows us that God steps into the crap we make ourselves live in and is able to transform it.

But isn’t that just a metaphor, a spiritualisation? Does the resurrection mean anything real for people in suffering? Yes. Because it shows us that this world matters. That we do not seek to avoid this world and its pains in order to escape to the next. The resurrection happened here, the new life happened here. Here matters. Matter matters.

But. People suffer. We suffer. We think of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. And countless other things. Can anything real and meaningful be said of God in the midst of that sort of disaster. Nick Baines wrote this:

Christian hope is not derived from a fantasy of personal happiness or security, but rooted in the person of a God who doesn’t spare himself and drives the people who bear his name (and have been grasped by him) away from their own securities and into places of vulnerability. We are not called into the light, but to shed light in the dark places: the distinction matters.

The question of suffering is a big one. But as Nick later writes, we have no right to be spared cancer or hurricane. In our culture we do all we can to eradicate pain and suffering, desperate to control our lives and all influences on them; if we do not choose it, we think it is bad. If things go wrong, God must be absent.

God is not absent. Christians are not called to retreat from pain. God has not given up on this world. The cross is placed right in the middle of the pain of the world, geographically and spiritually. The resurrection challenges and provokes us not to spiritualise our faith, but to earth it; not to make it all about ‘up there’ and avoid the ‘down here’. God came here, chose here, lived here, died here and rose again here.

We must be a part of bringing that resurrection life to people here, both spiritually as people come to know the resurrected Jesus for themselves, and practically in an Isaiah 58 kind of way, as we serve those in the world who live in places desperate for light, any light.

The resurrection is true. The resurrection speaks hope into a world that often seems hopeless. And whilst there is no easy answer to the question of suffering, the question is a lot different when asked to the God of incarnation and resurrection.

the i in the big society

24 03 2011

For someone often caricatured as putting the ‘er’ into Canterbury, Archbishop Rowan Williams spoke about the Big Society this week, and he was surprisingly direct. You can read a summary of his speech entitled “Big Society  – Small World?” on his website, along with the full text, if you are feeling brave! I am not normally an avid reader of his, mostly because he is very wordy, but was pointed to this by Nick Baines’ blog.

The Archbishop reflected theologically on the notion of Big Society – in which we all chip in to help each other out motivated by our own aspirations and desire to be involved – concluding that it is a meaningless concept if we do not know who we are and what we stand for. If we exist simply for our own personal gain and that of our immediate family, and if we show interest only in things that have an immediate benefit for us, then Big Society falls at the first hurdle.

Footwashing in Canterbury Cathedral

What follows is my interpretation his thoughts, with quotes from him, relating to the ideas of power, empathy and community.

Talking about the response to the economic situation that we have found ourselves in, largely due to lack of financial regulation and turning a blind in in the hope things will work out, he says:

“Strictly economic remedies and alternatives of various sorts have been much discussed.  But along with this, there has been a more clearly political response – political in the sense that it asks questions about the proper location of power, about where the levers of change and control lie in society.  And this in turn generates a crucial set of questions about political ethics or political virtue: if we need to explore where power lies, we need also to explore what we want power to do and why.  It is in this context that discussion has been developing about – for example – the proper definition of wealth and well-being, about individual and communal goals, about the sort of human character that is fostered by unregulated competition and a focus on individual achievement, and about where we derive robust ideas of the common good and the social compact.  It is in this context that the ‘Big Society’ theme has to be understood.”

‘Common good’ and any kind of ‘social compact’ only apply to those who think outside of themselves and are prepared to give up power and personal interest. And so to empathy and virtue…

Empathy is  understanding another’s point of view, and acting on it in ways that may not necessarily benefit ‘me’. The Big Society relies on empathy and emotional awareness. He puts it like this:

“If we live in a milieu where a great many signals discourage empathy and self-scrutiny, and thus emotional awareness, we shall develop habits of self-absorption, the urge for dominance, and short-term perspective.  Our motivation to change anything other than what we feel to be our immediate circumstances will be weak, because our sense of ourselves as continuous, reflective agents will be weak.  And the clear implication of all this is that without an education of the emotions – which means among other things the nurture of empathy – public or political life becomes simply a matter of managing the competition of egos with limited capacity to question themselves.  It will amount to little more than the kind of damage limitation that arises when we have nothing robust to appeal to except universal entitlements.”

Jesus command to love our neighbour as ourselves has far-reaching personal and political consequences. Constantly we are reminded to think outside of our own needs, our own desires; think of the Good Samaritan story in which the Samaritan helps the wounded Jew for no personal benefit, and actually at great personal cost. Without this sort of thinking, the Big Society will end up with a lot of people passing by on the other side. A simple illustration is when people volunteer to help with the youth club only for the time their kids are in it; or lobby to save only local facilities they use. And no-one can admit to knowing prostitutes (except Jesus).

Rowan Williams goes on to talk about implications for the wider global community; the ways in which aid money is distributed, the ways in which the wealthy economies fix and fiddle and manipulate the global economy to ensure they stay at the top of the pile, and he challenges politicians to apply the same thinking globally as they are wanting us to apply locally.

“The priority is to keep a clear focus on the need to guarantee that power in the global economy does not simply continue to flow towards those who are already secure and wealthy.  What I am here arguing for is a thoroughly coherent account of what ‘Big Society’ ideals might mean, in such a way that the theme of a transfer of power is pursued at every level, national and global.”

Thankfully for those of us in low income communities, the Archbishop is well aware that the church exists to provide a presence in every community. That is one of the benefits of our parish system. He also makes clear that one of the dangers of the Big Society approach is that it depends on who you have in your community. If your community is full of people who are used to organising and managing and debating and acting in a professional capacity, and have money to spare, it may be that your community will be full to the brim with sports clubs, music lessons, protest groups and lobbying unions with lots of people wanting to be involved.

But if your community is full of people for whom daily life is a constant struggle with finances, with parenting, with complex relationships, with mental health issues and a lack of engagement with institutions from school to the Police to politics, backed up by poor education and literacy, then it is unlikely there will be many community groups. There will be some, of course, though they are likely to be under-resourced, centrally-organised and reliant on a few to keep them going.

“Unless we can think intelligently about what really does need doing and can only be done at national and international level, localism risks becoming a rather sinister programme in which every local community sinks or swims according to its immediate local capacity.  This is not only a morally and theologically insupportable picture; it is also a wholly unreal one, given the more and more sophisticated kinds of interdependence that bind us.”

Big Community
I have heard others say that we are actually wanting is a Big Community, not a Big Society; but community is too personal a concept. Community speaks of responsibilities and not of rights; community speaks of self-giving, of sacrifice. Of participation. And I think that in the many and varied church communities up and down the country, we achieve this. In small ways, and often it goes wrong, but we achieve this. And if nothing else, we aspire to it. Because Jesus teaches us that thinking outside of ourselves is one of the keys to being who we were made to be and acting as a forgiven people; that power clung to like a toddler is not the power that he displayed when he emptied himself and became a slave for us, and is not the model for us; and that we work together as a community like a body, each part dependent on the other.

When we get those things straight, maybe the Big Society can have some depth and even, maybe and possibly, some meaning. Even if it means sitting through Local Committees discussing 20% cuts to our rubbish collection budget.

Thank you Rowan for pointing out the I in the Big Society. May it soon become a we.

look up look down

20 07 2010

Colossians 1.15-23 tells us about a massive big creator Jesus who was there at the beginning or even before the beginning and set stuff in motion with a nod or a blink or a wave of his sandal straps. It tells us he is the image of the invisible god which means that he looks like what an invisible god would look like if he were visible and that he holds all things together and that he brings all things together and all things will be reconciled which sounds to me like good new big news huge news. It tells us that Jesus is not an add-on or an optional extra to some kind of spirituality that gazes up and calls some unknown thing God or worships the abstract or the gaseous or the simply unknowable. It tells us this Jesus way big and way up there before and after the alpha and omega or the a to z and that this has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. Wow!

look up

And so we Look Up. We look up because something in us tells us that Big God is up there. Church is often a place where we look up. We remember how big god is, we remember with awe and wonder and occasionally we allow ourselves to be moved on the inside and even more occasionally maybe we actually move and raise our hands or get on our knees.

But let‘s not get a crick in our necks.

Luke 10.38-42 tells us about an earthy everyday Jesus who comes round Martha’s house and eats food. This Jesus engages not with the heavenly things but with stools and plates and food and dirt and clothes and toilets and women and men and children and doors and hair and bicycles. Ok, not bicycles. It tells us about a radically life-changing and dangerous Jesus who is involved on the ground. Dangerous? This little story carries way more weight than I thought. It follows the Good Samaritan. We know that challenges approaches to neighbours foreigners immigrants mixed-heritage people and so on. This story is not simply a weak challenge to ‘activist vs contemplative’ faith which I have heard so often.  In those days men sat at Rabbi’s feet to learn, in order that they could teach. Women worked in the home, doing the every day stuff. Here Jesus welcomes a woman to sit and learn at his feet, and when another woman complains, he gently says no, this is good. Later we hear Paul say there is no longer Jew or Greek or male or female or slave or free, we may add immigrant or national. This is hugely radical stuff. On the ground challenge to cultural norms.

look down

Our good news is radical challenge to cultural norms. No offence Cameron but we‘ve had Big Society long before you. We mustn’t get so distracted looking up to the Big God that we forget to look down and see where he is at work, challenging, provoking, changing, Down Here in our communities. It is why on Sunday at our little church we didn’t just clear out our own church garden, we cleaned the graffiti off the road sign as part of our worship; we clean the pavement as part of our worship. We pick up dog poo as part of our worship. This is how Jesus is involved ‘down here’.

At my licensing in St Helier one year ago  Bishop Nick reminded us all that vicars are not chaplains to congregations but vicars of the parish. There’s 20 in our church, 20,000 in our parish. We do not exist to help a few Look Up on a Sunday and remember that God is Up There; we exist in order to support and encourage us all in being Jesus and recognising Jesus every day when we are Looking Down, and discover Looking Down and Looking Up happen at the same time.

My purpose as vicar to support all of us  in our purpose – which is to see people’s lives changed by Jesus. Not just to do ‘Sunday church’. That isn’t easy because he challenges every aspect of our lives. Whether it is our pride or our behaviour or our lifestyle or what we think of ourselves. At Martha’s house he challenged the gender separation and showed his radical new way of open, generous love; here, we challenge culture by cleaning the road signs, picking up dog poo; by loving people when they do not ‘deserve’ it, by starting with the fact that all people are loved and created by God; by being loving and patient and forgiving in practice as well as theory.

And most of all, by committing to Jesus. Because without him all the rest is just nice stuff. This is not nice stuff, it is hard stuff. Counter-cultural stuff. We do it because he loves us. At least, that’s my reason…

Look up:

Look down:


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away in a danger

2 12 2009

where's the donkey?

Nick Baines, the Bishop of Croydon and my area bishop, has been in the news a lot the last few days.  He’s been ‘saying things’. That, my friends, is always dangerous. Of course, when nothing is said, the C of E is criticised for saying nothing. And when something is said, it is often criticised for what is said. And especially when what is said doesn’t fit with the benign, feeble and inept image people like to keep of the C of E. You see, people want the church to say something, as long as it says something that doesn‘t make a difference. Doesn’t challenge. Something suitable bland.

Bishop Nick has written some things is his new book about Christmas carols. All he has asked us to do is engage our brains, to think as we sing, to ensure that the historical and factual truths of the radical and transforming Jesus don’t become lost in the casual sentimentalism that can so easily take over each Christmas. That’s my paraphrase.  These are sensible things to say. Because it is the same Jesus who rules in power who we welcome at Christmas; as one of my congregation said, it is the same Jesus who turned the tables of the money-changers. The same Jesus.

nick's 'controversial' book

The balance we have to strike every year is that we want people to come to our carol services; we want some contact with them, we want them to catch a glimpse and maybe even a full-on view of the real, transforming Jesus. At the same time, that is not what most people are expecting or wanting. They want Away in a Manger sung by little children, some candles a familar (short) reading and nothing more. Not even coffee and a mince pie.

So how much do ‘we’ do Christmas ‘their way’ for ‘them’, because we don’t want to alienate or upset’ them’; and how much do we do Christmas for ‘us’, real and honest and raw and authentic, brazenly mad and ridiculous and dangerous a story as it is, politically murderous (the killing of the babies), historically pertinent (Palestinian refugees from a controlling state) and socially alienating (look at the reaction to Nick’s book).

god rest ye merry gentlemen

I am sure the answer is some kind of third way, a middle ground, a complex blend of the two – which sounds like the very Anglican kind of answer people expect. Sometimes, just sometimes, I want it not to be. I want to tell it like it is, rudely and loudly and obnoxiously. Then, I am away in a danger, where things are not comfortable or safe or quiet or easy. Like a baby in a cow’s dinner trough. For now, though, I will leave that to those more qualified. Who practice a little more restraint. Like cheerful bishops.

Though I will leave you with this.

a (nun)conventional habit

21 09 2009

Where is the internet? This keeps me awake at night. It must be somewhere. Is it underground, like the water pipes? Is it suspended in the air like the telephone wires? It seems to be in my computer, but it can’t just be there; if it was, when I turned mine off, the whole internet would go off. It does seem to follow me though. I’m not one to brag, but it is even in my iPhone. Does it just exist; is it formless and void like the world before creation; does the spirit hover over its waters, or would that cause an electrical fire? Is it even electric? What sort of plug does it use? And who owns it? Does it have edges? Will it get full?

Questions like these are best left to certain people who we used to laugh at in school because they loved maths, and who now have the last laugh because they run the world. “The internet” (I’m now wondering what it is, let alone where) is a strange mixture of people; an eclectic community of geeks, who learn a special language and make it work; of artists and designers, who tell the geeks what it should look like; and the writers, those who fill the text boxes with words and pictures.

People who ‘do’ the internet though have a certain image.Think of people who work for Google or Apple and I imagine an impossibly trendy group of 20-30 year olds with perfect hair, scruffy dress-down-but-expensive suits and a keen eye for the cutting edge. So it was with intrigue that I attended the Christian Web and New Media Awards last week, desperate to a) do some minor Christian celebrity-spotting (a dismal failure) (no offence to the Bishop of London) and b) see who the movers and shakers are in the world of Christian web-work. I was actually representing my bishop, Nick Baines, whose blog was up for Most Inspiring Leadership Blog – and who, deservedly, won. So I got to collect an award from a Coptic Orthodox Bishop, even though it wasn’t for me. A moment to savour! Should I ever win anything, even the raffle at the Christmas fayre, I will send him to collect mine.

The most fascinating thing about the evening though was the breadth of people who now ‘do’ the internet, and do it pretty well. There were Pentecostals, free churches, Anglicans, Methodists and Catholics; old(er) people, teenagers; big churches, small churches; some impossibly trendy people and some downright ordinary looking people.

The highlight of the evening, (apart from Nick winning, of course) (and a competition between a black Pentecostal minister and Coptic Orthodox Bishop about who’s definition of a minute was longer), was the presentation of the People’s Choice Award for best website.

Nun the wiser

Nun the wiser

This was voted for by Premier Media listeners and viewers (which may explain it!) but it was a stroke of genius. A community of 3 elderly Benedictine nuns, who make their money through selling jam, marmalade and  – of course – running their own web design company! They couldn’t come to collect their award because they are a closed community and cannot leave. So maybe the internet is where they live, because they are allowed in it.

Their home-made video acceptance is amazing! And they are proof that stereotypes are made to be broken and preconceptions are so often wrong. The trendies at Google and Apple had better watch out, because the nun-conventional habits are taking them on and here, at least, are winning.

What the kerfuffle?

20 08 2009

What the kerfuffle?

There’s a whole load of kerfuffle going on. A medical kerfuffle.  You’ve probably heard. I went to the doctor yesterday, to be greeted by a sign on the door that told me if I was feeling ill, to go away. I thought, but this is the doctors. Luckily, I wasn’t feeling ill, just recovering from a 4-inch hole in my tummy. Anyway…. There’s a virus going round causing a kerfuffle; it’s making some people ill, you see. Mostly not badly ill. Sometimes, unfortunately, yes. But most of the time, its just a bad flu. The swine. And yet…

Yesterday, there were 2 bombs in Baghdad that killed 95 people . There are a million orphans in Zimbabwe , read more on Zimbabwe from Nick Baines. 1.2 million children are trafficked every year, many to make our chocolate bars. Maybe 10% of the South African population has HIV/AIDS, with up to one third of pregnant women carrying the virus. Annie Lennox (she’s a singer, they know about these things) has called it a pandemic. There’s a familiar word.

But that is a pandemic virus problem that surely deserves a kerfuffle.

I wrote the following, about the human tendency to worry about our own more than others. I’m no great poet, but someone once said if you go where the poets are, you find out what people really think. The thing is, what do we then do about it?

The World Was Silent When We Died

the world was silent when we died.
silent, but not unseeing.
silent, but not innocent.
the anguish of a million souls
torn and cut and bleeding
denied, or ignored, or condoned.

by default the human cares only for its own.
the sufferings of its own a source of morbid fascination
but of its enemy, or its other
a different colour…

the numbers don’t add
the silence is quieter
the necks that keep turning away
growing stiffer.

© 2007 Kevin Lewis

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