Ranting while writing a ranting sermon

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Lot of mixed feeling this morning.

Here I am writing a sermon from Isaiah 58 which if you take scripture seriously you will note gives little room for responding with “but”.  The prophet has no time for people who want to be pious but turn a deaf ear to their oppressed, hungry, homeless , naked neighbour. Fast all you want boys but if the fast finishes with a slap up brunch at the Ritz rather than justice and care of neighbour, stick with brunch and forget the fast.

You can tell Jesus read his Old Testament because he speaks in the same way.  Jesus tells his disciples, just like Isaiah tells Israel, that holiness doesn’t come from performing rites of goodness or by keeping rules  but by having a life directed towards being salt and light. Holiness is shown by living holiness and the prophet is happy to give you a checklist. If you love God, you love what God loves.  God just happens to love your neighbour to bits.

We have a funny relationship to this prophetic stuff.  The prophets are not shy in telling the people of God to get out there and be the image of God. I find it ironic that we teach our children songs in Sunday school like “Be Bold, Be Strong” which echoes God’s words to a worried Joshua before he led Israel across the Jordan into the promised land and yet talk about loving our neighbour as something which is scary and hard and should be done with great deliberation and with lots of conditions.

The Old Testament is strong about not being afraid. The Lord is with us. Treat the foreigner like one of your own because once you were foreigners and slaves in Egypt AND I SAVED YOU.  The widows, the orphans, the slaves, the refugees, the poor, the disabled, those from the wrong families…they are not subsets of the children of God.  The mighty and the powerful and the rich are those things so that they might be providers and the protectors of all who are not.  You make sure your workers can live on what you pay them, that they may have a Sabbath too and be full citizens. Or you will taste the wrath of the LORD.

The Lord is with us. The Lord is for us. Love what he loves.

Two of my sons braved the Manchester cold last night to protest the choices of the American President in how he rules and shapes the world around himself.  They aren’t naive idealists who believe the world is benign. But they believe that everyone has the right to escape oppression and to have their story heard honestly and compassionately and to be given relief if it is in our power to do so. They believe in loving your neighbour and creating a society which works together for the common good.  They know too that though the president is thousands of miles away, what he does has a possibility of  infecting our politics and common life. They believe people of other faiths and cultures and sexualities are not to be feared but to be engaged with and learned from.   They know that holding a placard in Albert Square isn’t going to change the president’s mind but it will help them to know their own.

Their protest is a declaration of what is in their hearts and an acknowledgement that what is in their hearts needs to come out into the world so the world might be a good place to live for all. They know they are privileged and recognise they need to share that privilege with others for it to have any worth. In Christian terms they know that their words and shouts have to be backed up by salt and light. I’m really proud of them (and their older brother who is doing the same where he is).  I’m really proud of them not being satisfied with fear and hate and demonization. I’m proud of them wanting to say “This is not good enough” and wanting to use their futures to be people who shape the world as a great place to live for all.

The Kingdom of God does not begin with secure borders and suspicion of the stranger. It begins with God inviting us to be refugees from the kingdom of darkness so that we might be citizens of his kingdom of marvellous light.

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What’s the Alternative?

 

Alternative facts.

My children would have loved to have access to those when they were little.  “I didn’t break that glass, the manufacturer failed to make it to a high enough standard.”  “No way, you broke the glass. Don’t lie”.  “I’m not lying, I’m giving you an alternative fact.”

Touche’.

We often  accuse politicians of thinking we are stupid.But when we let someone in power tell us that there are such things as “alternative facts”, well, we’re just making it too easy for them.  Why do you need an alternative fact? Is it because the fact at hand isn’t working for you;  because the fact at hand doesn’t help you control the story?

Lots of people who grew up in America about the same time as me have had to unlearn lots of “alternative facts” about gay people, black people, women, and Catholics to name a few. It took a long time to unlearn that stuff. It was important we learned those facts because they told us where we were and without them, we were lost and America was in danger. Or so we thought.When I look back, those facts seemed to be about diminishing those we didn’t like, who we felt threatened by, who we wanted to keep down and keep in their place.

In the world of real facts, I like the pilot of the plane I am flying on to know how much fuel is in the tank. I like the doctor to know that dark spot on my ear was a benign nothing to worry about. I like my pay slip to match  the amount of money actually deposited in my bank account. I am willing to accept that facts can be spun, used to serve many arguments and contexts but I can’t accept that they have alternatives. An empty petrol tank can’t be full. A loaded gun can’t be empty.

It might seem amusing to have a religious person talking about alternative facts. People might accuse us of having a preference for them, but we really don’t.  I believe Jesus’ death on the cross repaired a fundamental wound in the fabric of the cosmos. I believe that God created the world. That Jesus rose from the dead and that following the living Jesus is a crucial part of putting the world back together. These aren’t alternative facts. They are my starting points for who I am and how I engage with the world around me.

I can’t “prove” anything I believe in. I can’t show you photos or statistics or metrics. I believe in powerful eyewitness accounts. I believe that those who have gone before me have offered a powerful world changing tradition and experience. I believe my fellow believers and I have had powerful experiences of our own. Just as I can’t “prove” these, they can’t be disproved either.

In life, my beliefs have to coexist with facts. Facts like gravity, church electric bills, members’ lists and officers.  Jesus lived in a real place, under a real Roman Empire, in a real century, died on a real cross with the story written in real Greek.

Truth is  important as a way of navigating between faith and facts and getting the best out of both. For instance, factual information about how human activity negatively impacts creation around us leads me to put my reaction in faith terms: how does God feel about what we are doing to a creation he brought into being with his own words and breath? Facts lead me to seek faithful action.

A desire for alternative facts is a desire to hide the truth and hide from  it. It is a desire to hide our inability to handle that truth.  It is sad for a president of the USA to  line up a bunch of Christian preachers to see him into office and to not have one of them point out the folly of his approach to the truth and facts. It is sad they chose not to school his staff in the ways of letting truth be truth.

If they had chosen to do some schooling, they might have told him about Psalm 15:

Who may worship in your sanctuary, Lord?
Who may enter your presence on your holy hill?
Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right,
speaking the truth from sincere hearts.
Those who refuse to gossip
or harm their neighbours
or speak evil of their friends.
Those who despise flagrant sinners,
and honour the faithful followers of the Lord,
and keep their promises even when it hurts.
Those who lend money without charging interest,
and who cannot be bribed to lie about the innocent.

That’s a hard road to follow and it is guaranteed to have stumbles and falls and restarts. But people who walk the road will be better people for it. Had those preachers done their duty, they would have pointed out that truth leads us to a better place both in the world and in our souls. It’s a shame they didn’t agree with the  Psalmist whose words are for everyone whether they are kings or peasants or presidents.

The short message of the Psalm is this: the one who walks this way walks towards the light. The only alternative to light, is darkness.

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No Soup For You!

 

We cannot pretend that – so I’m putting one case then I’m going to put the other – we cannot pretend or I can’t pretend myself that inclusion from the point of view of someone in a same sex relationship just to take a simple…that inclusion of someone in a same sex relationship that falls short of the blessing of the Church is going to feel like inclusion – it’s not going to be perceived as inclusion. I think we’re conning ourselves if we say that there is some clever solution out there that means you can do less than that and it will feel like inclusion. 

But when you do that, if you do that, it will feel like exclusion to a bunch of other people, betrayal, subversion, even stronger words than that. And it is that and safeguarding, are the two issues that I lie awake at night most often thinking about, and have the least capacity to find a good way forward. What we’re trying to do in the Church of England is to say that we will listen to each other’s experiences. For those involved in what were called the ‘shared conversations’ I think that’s had quite a significant impact, not on all of them but on a lot of people who, if only not in changing people’s views, but in getting people to realise that the people they were listening to were Christians are Christians and are human beings and therefore need to be an object of love not an object of trying to defeat. But it doesn’t get us to the point where we have to make a decision – do I know when there’ll be a point where…a blessing will happen – no, I don’t know the answer to that and I can’t see the roadmap ahead.

Archbishop Of Canterbury Justin Welby speaking at Greenbelt 2016

The statement above describes succinctly the two sides of the argument about the inclusion of “active” LGBT people in the life of the Church of England. It is a very measured statement about the difficulty of coming to unity on the subject when both sides feel so passionately that they are right while feeling an equal passion about what they will lose if they give way to the others.

It is also surprising in its candour: Justin doesn’t just suspect, he knows that the church doesn’t always mean full  inclusion or welcome when it uses a jolly tone and big smile and talks about being loving and welcoming and being willing to journey with LGBT people. He knows whatever, positive, pastoral thing the church tries to say is always followed by an official, binding but.  You know what I mean: “I’d love to come to your wedding, but, I have cattle I must go and inspect”.

At the same time, he does what every institutional leader does:  he takes us back to the damage that will be done if the status quo changes. For the institution that is the primary damage to guard against. While the first paragraph of his statement is true, the truth of the status quo is equally and perhaps more intractably true. That’s why status quos hang around for so long. In preferring the status quo, it follows that LGBT people will continue to find the Church a hard place for them. Understandably, they might even feel they are disposable in a way that other equally believing people are not.

When you tell people they are welcome but then point out all the places they can’t go in church (marriage, ordination, licensed offices) and you continually point out in public that their sexuality is ungodly and disobedient and that you are trying to love the sinner but not the sin who can blame a LGBT person for deciding they can live without it?

I call this “No Soup for you!” theology. In the great American sitcom “Seinfeld” the gang discover a man called the Soup Nazi. His soup is delicious and people queue up to get it. But he has a very rigid system of ordering and if you violate even one step of the process, he whips your order away and shouts: “No Soup for You!” .

The Church is on a charm offensive, trying to rectify the perception of the rejecting way it has dealt with LGBT people. Having been called out on this by a culture it wants to evangelise, the church now realises it has to be nice, because church is supposed to be nice.  “Hey, when we said you are sinners and disobedient we didn’t mean it in that way. Come in and join us with the following restrictions.” People will see it for what it really is – PR directed at other people to cut down on their criticism of us and our status quo.

Many people in the hierarchy have adopted the No Soup for You! approach and it is more common than not to see prominent evangelical writers and speakers begin to adopt it too. There is a lot of talking about the “journey together” and being more “inclusive”. That is a good start.

However, that’s pretty much what it is: a start. As you journey  in the Church as a LGBT person you will be told the path is hard because being “actively” LGBT makes you more likely to be sick, to be immoral and to be mentally ill all because you “chose” to be LGBT.   The journey has a big but built into it. The terrain is hard, you are told, because you are wearing the wrong shoes or have the wrong map. Much of the difficulty you experience will be made by your fellow travellers: the half membership of church, the sermons and youth talks telling you it is a choice and a wrong one. The label of sinner when everyone else in the church doesn’t have to carry a label. Being treated like you are a member of a campaign group (‘the LGBTs want this’). That people feel they can in, good conscious, refuse to associate with you because somehow they might be tainted in a way they aren’t by all the other “sinners” around them.

Do you want to travel with a helper who is constantly throwing more stones in your path?  Job wasn’t too keen and I suspect few LGBT people would be either.

No one is going to journey with us for long if it feels no different from the wider world where people feel free to insult and abuse and hurt. Like anyone seeking the Kingdom of God they want to be able to trust a place where people follow the one who said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest”. They want to be able to trust that claim at face value. And while Jesus says the words, it is his body, the Church that lifts the load and gives the rest.

As I write, I am spending time with former Archbishop Rowan Williams and many other people from my diocese thinking about theology, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and what it means to be the church. In a Q&A someone raised the question of this internal debate about full membership and inclusivity. Rowan’s  answer came wrapped within another question about how we can address sexuality while still being  credibly and visibly “Christian” to each other and other Christian communities.

I’m paraphrasing here, but Rowan seems to say that the wider church appears able to disagree a lot on what we can bless.  A bishop can bless a nuclear submarine though not all of us agree that he or she can or should. So perhaps a priest can bless a loving same-sex marriage though not all of us agree that he or she can or should. Why the allowed tension of disagreement in one area but not the other? What is it which makes a same sex marriage less blessable than capital punishment or weapons of war?

Perhaps, what lies at the heart of any disagreement between Christians on doctrine and practice is our wariness in trusting those who disagree with us to be recognisably Christian through our disagreement. Maybe trust is really the issue in the LGBT debate. Maybe what we are all really saying to one another is: “Can I trust you to be a follower and lover of Jesus Christ? Can I trust you having a voice and influence in the church community? Can I trust you to treat me right?”

It seems that the whole pro/anti debate hides a more damaging designation of one issue as the issue on which everything stands or falls, especially when there are so many issues where we have refused to give that designation. In the Church’s history, the only issue which has carried that weight is whether or not you are able to declare “Jesus is Lord”.

Every refugee from the World who seeks the Kingdom God as a safe haven is offered the assurance of love, peace and the chance to flourish as an authentic human. And everyone who crosses that boundary finds that the new rules and way of being challenges them to their very core if they are taking it seriously. Each one of us has a different core with different challenges to face as Christ makes us a new creation. That is the scandal of grace and disagreement: that we all stand in line for the delicious food and drink that Christ offers and no one snatches it away shouting: No Christ for you!

 

 

You may also be interested in this:

http://www.manchester.anglican.org/news/1976/inclusive-church

 

 

 

 

 

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I will give my consent to….

We live in very interesting political times. Donald Trump in the US has torn up the rulebook about how to run and behave as a potential presidential candidate and in doing so has garnered enough support to be the likely Republican candidate  come the convention later this year. While many describe him as racist, misogynist and falling to have a grasp of the roots of major issues, he just responds with a sort of “I’m just saying what people are thinking”. Some people, Donald, not all  of them.

Here in Britain we  have  a referendum looming about whether we should stay in the EU or leave it.  Our Tory government is split on this issue  with members of the cabinet not only disagreeing with the Prime Minister but actively criticising his ability to understand the issues and speak truthfully about them. In the best of times this would result in a spectacular collapse of the government but in these special circumstances  it is labelled “Freedom to Campaign”. How these people will be able to return to normal government and collegial relationships after the vote is hard to see, regardless of the outcome.

The Psalmist writes in Psalm 146

    Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.

Right now, we may be tempted to agree with him.  When politicians are making promises about all the problems they will fix, all the prosperity they will bring and the order they will keep, we would do well to be wary. We all know that what is said on the hustings is quickly forgotten in government (remember Nick Clegg and no tuition fee rises?).  When someone promises salvation it’s best not to hold your breath.

Christians have been keen as anyone to put their trust in princes and see them as fellow builders of the Kingdom (or at least bulwarks against all that is bad in a “fallen” world). This rush to embrace candidates who are “saying what we are thinking” has its dangers and we’d be wise to look out for them. What we need is a lens to view candidates and their promises and their policies through.

It’s not that hard to make such a lens. The apostle Paul gives us two really good starting points: where our heart’s desires lay and how we should be as people. After all, what we desire and how we believe we should be set the tone for what we want to see government and society do.

The first starting point is about where our mind should be. Paul writes in Phillippians 4

 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Clearly not all policies can be noble or beautiful. Some legislation deals with bus fares and school curricula. Pretty boring you might say. However, maybe with a little high mindedness you might think about those who are reliant on public transport and that  it should be comfortable, affordable, and convenient.  Perhaps in school children should be educated as creative, purposeful, and potential filled people rather than as future employees.  Thinking in this way means more than just a process of attainment and measurement and production. If your policies are about people having fulfilling and thriving lives regardless of their status then your policies are going to be about what benefits people rather than what benefits the economy or big business or the rich.  Everyone will have a stake.

This is a Christian value. All are made in the image of God and therefore all are created to share in the whole of creation in a meaningful, creative, peaceful and just way.

Paul also wrote to the church talking about what transformation looked like in people. In Galatians 5 he talks about the fruit of a person’s life:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

I’m not suggesting we create a theocracy but to support a candidate ignorant of these values or who works directly against them isn’t such a great idea either.  These ideas provide a realistic lens by which we know they can’t live up to them but will do good if they try to go as far as they can in them. But holding a candidate up to this template will reveal what they really stand for and reveal exactly who or what they are willing to abandon in pursuit of what they believe is important.  If their words don’t stand up to that list of fruits then neither will their governance.

Voting as a follower of Jesus frees us from the demands of party politics. Our identity comes from Christ first and then we may align ourselves with those we fit with. We start as independents who do not find their identity in isms or economics. We are distrustful of slogans like “Making America Great Again” or “Fixing a Broken Britain” because they raise far more questions than they answer.

Christians (and everyone really) have little interest in or use for abstract statements about our country.  They have a great interest in greatness being defined by the well-being of all citizens. A great nation removes vulnerability from people rather than increasing it; a great nation sees everyone as important to the well-being of the nation and therefore doesn’t tolerate margins. It recognises people’s limitations but doesn’t establish their value based on those limitations. All in all a good country is like the Kingdom of God: if you want a place in it, come and take it.

The Kingdom of God is not going to come through the ballot box. The work of the Kingdom will not be replaced by reasonable policies and legislation. Instead, it comes from transformed people who live by the patterns God put in us at creation and who follow the one who lived it best and makes it possible for us to do it too.

 

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It’s the freakiest show

No matter  how much we know about human behaviour, there is still a lot to learn. No one can comprehensively explain why we do big group griefs over the deaths of celebrities who take up very little of our thoughts during the average day.  David Bowie was this week’s star attraction followed ( to a lesser extent) by Alan Rickman.

The outpouring of grief has a pretty well defined spectrum now. Some will build shrines, tended day and night, to somehow preserve some of Bowie’s light and rage against the encroaching darkness. Others will recall how Bowie as a catalytic ingredient in the make up of their culture and their own story in that culture (my friend Margot did this in https://www.parentmap.com/article/love-dares-you-to-care-david-bowie-made-me-a-better-parent).

The majority of us make up a spectrum within the spectrum with reactions ranging from “Man, I thought he was already dead” to people like me who recognise the contribution Bowie made, recognising and mourning the loss of it  and then moving on with our lives. We also might be moved to an emotional “I forgot Rick Wakeman played piano on Hunky Dory; cool!”

Across my social media screen, there have been two strands of comments about Bowie’s death which merit a comment or two.

First, there is the apparent surprise at the shock news that we are all going to die. I hope I haven’t ruined your day by not putting a spoiler alert on that. 69 Year old men do die (though not as regularly as they used to) regardless of their status, talent and bank balance.  I work in a profession where death is a common agenda item. I’ve buried 15 year old suicide victims and men who have lived over a century. I’ve sat beside the dying as they’ve gasped for breath and after they’ve breathed their last, sat with their stunned relatives.  Death brings life into fresh focus, positively and negatively. You can’t stop it or deny its power but you can put it in perspective by living as if there was more to life than death.

We want our heroes and loved ones to never age, to never die; but we know that is just wishful thinking.  Death and life go hand in hand  and those who recognise that also recognise the need to commemorate those who have spent their time well. That admiration is why we have saints. These are people who have gone before us  who demonstrated what life with colour and purpose looks like because they remind us that we can be that way too. Bowie was no saint but I can understand why people might remember him in the way they do.

The second strand is “why can’t we do all that outpouring for Jesus?

Maybe I’m just hallucinating but the Jesus thing is all around us if we bother to look.  There’s the Church of England, Bishops in the house of Lords, chaplains in hospitals, thought for the day on Radio 4. On Sundays over a billion people go to church to worship and venerate him around the world.  Sometimes there is Jesus all around us, but we don’t see it anymore.

Once somebody asked  me why there was a black history month but not one for whites. My response was, “If you were black and living in this country wouldn’t you think it was white history month all the time?”

David Bowie will have his worship and then, like all of us, take his place in the recollections of those who care to recollect. For those who think Jesus’ limelight is being stolen, trust that the same God who created Bowie’s talent probably doesn’t begrudge the attention for a little while.

The challenge for the Jesus followers is to tell our Jesus story the way that Bowie fans tell their story. Our story should be about how by following him we found courage, affirmation, freedom, peace and joy. After all, Jesus’ death ended in life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What did you do on your sabbatical?

“What did you do on your sabbatical?”

Sounds like a straightforward question, but it all depends on who is asking and what they want you to tell them. The real question could be, “what did you learn?” or “how did you enjoy your 3 month paid holiday that normal people don’t get?” or “have you got lots of new stuff for us?”.

Taking the question at face value, I’ve had a pleasant and fruitful sabbatical. I went to the USA and France, read many fine books, discovered how much more reading I should be doing, visited with friends, took lots of photos, spent time with my family, rode my bike, started doing Couch to 5K, read the Gospel of Mark, had a mini retreat, watched movies and TV box sets. A few times I sat out on the patio next to a roaring fire and looked at the stars. I thought some deep thoughts about God, relationships, work, being me and how all those things are connected.

Some of the thoughts were challenging, some affirming and others revealed that I am (like everybody) a work in progress with a lot of development still left to do. I garnered some useful (if not blazingly original) insights about the Gospel and the wide gap between the Jesus who roamed around the dusty roads of 1st century Palestine and today’s church.

A lot of vicars will tell you about how fruitful their sabbatical was either by telling you about their new book, their postgraduate dissertation or even declaring they have a new job.

But I’m not going to do that. Instead, I want to show you some of the pictures I took during those three months. Bear with me. I know that “have a look at my slide show” ranks right up there with wanting to tell you about my sabbatical using interpretative dance, but hear me out.

Over 90 days I’ve taken over 500 photos, deleting nearly 300 of them for various reasons ranging from blandness to under exposure. I then spent a long time with the remaining 200 reshaping them to draw out a deeper image of what I saw originally in the viewfinder.

The  200 good photos get reduced down to 90; one image for every day of sabbatical (though not necessarily  a photo from each day). 90 days of photography.

I don’t claim to be the world’s greatest photographer. What I love is taking a view of something ordinary or even overlooked and seeing if there is something extraordinary within them. It’s a process of discernment where I make it hard to give up on a picture and instead approach it differently by doing something as simple as making it black and white.

“Life’s a lot like that, isn’t it?”

That old preaching punchline is corny, but it is true. As I reflected on the process of how I do photography I discovered that the process is a good analogy for how to do life: looking at the ordinary more deeply and seeing both how to enrich it and, myself, in the process.

I’ve been reflecting on learning what needs to be deleted, what can I live with  and, more importantly, what can be transformed in me. Our lives, like photos, are meant to be shared. There is no point in looking deep into our own lives just for the sake of ourselves. It should also be for the sake of all those around us and, of course, for the glory of God.

So here are 90 photos. They are a hard won record of looking at the world more closely and they are the fruit of  looking at my life more closely. I hope you enjoy them and I hope they inspire you to look more deeply into yourself and the world too.

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The life and soul of the party…

File:Ballot Box Silhouette.svg

If it didn’t point to a decade of Tory rule in this country, the Labour leadership elections would make you laugh.

Incapable of winning a national election, they now seem unable to win their own. Not only is the organisation of the election  a shambles, but the majority of “realistic candidates” lack a convincing vision which is credible, durable or different in substance to the government. For my money, if the government is going to have Tory policies they might as well be Tories. Ineffectual Labour politicians doing “Tory with a smile and a heart of gold” doesn’t cut it for me.

I want them to be Labour politicians who offer a different view of what human thriving looks like and offer that to the nation. After all, that is what the party was founded on. And that is why I find Jeremy Corbyn to be intriguing. Much of what he says makes some sense: there are certain things a state does better if the aim isn’t to make money but rather to supply the needs of the people; it is a myth that if it is private it is better; politics should be about people’s lives and thriving rather than the health of the nation (whatever that really means). Of course,  he also has views which would probably make him a disaster as a prime minister.

It doesn’t really matter who wins if the criteria is about being next prime minister in waiting. The winner of this election will be what Private Eye fondly calls, “the future ex-leader” of the Labour Party. Unless the Tories absolutely screw up in the next five years (and I mean like cause a famine or nuclear power plant meltdown or start a war) no one on that slate is going to lead anyone to victory. After all, they didn’t manage it in May.

But maybe winning the next election really isn’t the point. Maybe the point is becoming a party which genuinely offers a credible alternative vision of what the country could look like and thrive like. Maybe they could offer a different set of values and show how the values they oppose are inferior to the ones they propose.

What Labour lacks now is something genuinely different to say.

I was reading the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark yesterday and what struck me was how Mark focusses not on doctrine or policies that are Christian, but rather on the eruption of the Kingdom of God into the world in the person of Jesus. Mark is interested in how this Jesus person will call people to repent and start afresh. Repentance means to turn from, to U turn, to start down a new course. It is a radical rethink about life and relationships and God. The author of Mark labels it “The Good News”.

In this beginning, the unlikely character of John the Baptist wanders on to the scene and basically says, “We’re not going to tweak the status quo. We are going to overturn it and start from a new foundation. Someone is coming who will change all this.” We find this expressed in the other gospels in other ways but the message is the same: this old status quo the powerful want you to cling to will no longer do.

I have to admit that I saw Jeremy Corbyn, in his own context, as a sort of John the Baptist of the Labour Party. And I think that he would be good for Labour’s soul. In his own way he is calling the party to “repent” of chasing dubious growth strategies and assumptions that in order for us all to thrive the rich have to thrive first, that the poor and sick should be penalised for being poor and sick, that the point of our lives is to be productive economically. I like his scruffiness and his knowing look. He isn’t a naïve cloistered doctrinaire brain box like Michael Foot was. He is asking the question: “Do you want to live in a one party state where the only choice between parties is really no choice or do you want a party who believes that a nation’s first priority should be human thriving?” It’s a question whose answer reveals the real soul of the party.

Maybe if the party gets its soul right, then it will one day get the right leader to carry that soul into the fight.

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