Monthly Archives: November 2012

Talkin’ About My Guy

I’ve heard lot of Christians talk about the aftermath of the US elections using the phrase “what to do when your guy loses”.  After any election one side licks its wounds while the other celebrates and it is understandable that people feel a very real pain when their preference is rejected and they feel they are living to the vision of  someone else. However, I’m not sure that talking about temporal political leaders as “my guy” is really thoughtful language for Christians.

American elections are about more than who is going to sit in the Oval office for a term. They are about maintaining empire, global power, rising prosperity and a whole slew of things that the population believes it deserves by right.  They are about fears of being poor, about others getting what they don’t deserve at my expense, about the world being a dangerous and immoral place that needs a strong presidential hand to sort it all out.

But before we declare our affection for “our guy” based on on earthly  motives, perhaps we would better judge him against what God wants for his creation and for the establishment of his kingdom.  To do that we need to set aside our agenda for the world and our wellbeing and discover what we can learn about God’s agenda.

If we think the poor are a burden and need to sort themselves out, what is God’s policy? Well, scripture talks a lot about widows and orphans which is shorthand for the most vulnerable people in society, the ones who have no one to look after them. They are always the king’s first priority (see Psalm 72).

If we think that we can project power as a matter of right so that we can control world events, be mindful of other empires God has used as disposable means to further his plans.  Isaiah 7:20 has Israel being told

 In that day the Lord will use a razor hired from beyond the Euphrates River—the king of Assyria—to shave your head and private parts, and to cut off your beard also.

If we think that communally addressing the wellbeing of citizens as a form of socialism, we might turn to Leviticus and rediscover the Jubilee of which God was serious about establishing and humans were serious about rejecting. The earliest Christian communities held all things in common for the benefit of all.  That failed too, not because it was wrong but because it was too hard.

If we think that morality is about what we can or cannot do in God’s eyes, we discover from scripture that morality in the Kingdom of God starts with justice, love and peace. That is the seed bed of all other morality and rules for living.

If we think that our purpose in life is to be rich and powerful then we need to listen to Mary’s song (the Magnificat in Luke) and be reminded that the rich are sent away empty from the kingdom and the whole system is turned upside down.

My guy is the one who I am proud to believe would not be touched by major parties because of his liberalism, peacemaking, scepticism of wealth, scepticism of domination and who has an unfortunate liking for the poor, the disabled, the outsiders and the morally suspect.  The one who says to leave the Democrats and Republicans to their superpacs and come and follow and learn something in his wake. He is the one who defies our expectations whether we are liberal or conservative because is interest is not in policy but in reconciling God’s creation with its creator and assuring humanity of the blessings of that restored relationship.

Really, how can you make an attack ad from that?

It’s as easy as ABC

A new Archbishop of Canterbury is selected and received much in the way as a new vicar expects to  be. They will be someone who fixes what we think is wrong and they will have the skills, sensitivity and talent to address everyone and everything. They will be a person who will create a church we are comfortable with and which looks like what we would want to be associated with.

I suspect that Justin Welby has been selected because he has proved himself to be very able and capable and up to date and excellent at all he has done so far. He’s worked in commerce, knows the city, is comfortable with the establishment. He’s punched all the right tickets in the church as he has steadily climbed the ladder. He punches lots of subconscious tickets for the selectors who must have thought he could pacify angry conservatives here and abroad, calm down frightened evangelicals and yet be acceptably progressive and reflective on the direction of the church towards uncharted waters.

For those who measure clergy on a success or failure, someone must have been thinking: “here’s a guy who will make it all better.”

However, the church, like all organisations and institutions, has an internal spirit that drives it and shapes its life. That internal spirit doesn’t seek to be changed and so it will not. Changing the head does not change the organisation deeply and comprehensively. Justin Welby, like all before him, will fail at satisfying all our hopes.  Faced with a career on the throne of Augustine that will be strewn with disappointment and missed opportunities the most important and autonomous thing he can do right now is choose what he will strive to not fail at.

There have been millions of words  analysing Rowan Williams. The consensus seems to be that he was a great guy but not really up to the task. Apparently, he could not sort us out because he was either too liberal or not liberal enough.

However, I think that he was quite successful at what seemed to matter most to him: being a priest at the head of a church full of priests. When he spoke and wrote he seemed to have this belief that it would wonderful for people to meet Jesus and hopefully the church would not hinder that meeting and even possibly make it more possible. That’s pretty much what priests hope for.

I always feel more secure when my bishops operate out of their priesthoods rather than with their “head of” title. They are more fun, thought provoking and more inspirational when they act and speak from their most fundamental role. I’ve had the feeling the Rowan has always tried to speak from his priesthood and his main “disappointments” have come when he has been asked or demanded to act less as a priest and more as a chief executive. I look forward to the freedom he will now have, freed from the big mitre, in his writing and speaking.

Justin Welby will need to think deeply about what he cannot fail in. It will be the most important discernment he does. He must know right now he will fail to keep us happy. Fail to unite us. He will fail to make the church “great” again and will fail to halt the decline of popularity and numbers. But if he fails in what he knows can be done, that will  be bad for us all.

It is hard to do this foolish task we have agreed to: speak the truth when it isn’t the consensus, telling people truths about themselves and the world they don’t want to hear and hardest of all we need to discover these truths for ourselves and act on them.  Worst of all, we do it in public for all to see.

Please pray Justin and all clergy that we might do the tasks he names a the most important,

Our task as part of God’s church is to worship Him in Christ and to overflow with the good news of His love for us, of the transformation that He alone can bring which enables human flourishing and joy. The tasks before us are worship and generous sharing of the good news of Christ in word and deed.

Not such a stranger in a strange land

In the midst of all the hassle of moving, I forgot to tell you that I formally became a British citizen a month ago.

With 35 other people from all over the world, I attended a ceremony in a lovely country house hotel near Crewe.  With a serious face and a polished script the Registrar exhorted us to take seriously the gravity of what we were doing and to celebrate this new start we were making. At the end we were encouraged to aspire to make a contribution to the well being of our new country.

For the people around me it was an exciting new beginning, the chance to stay and put down roots, work and make a new life radically different from the one that they had left behind.

As I listened to all the grand words, I began to ponder my own journey to this point. Why was I doing this?

My fresh start was made a long time ago. On a rainy June morning I entered the immigration hall at Heathrow worried about whether all my documents were in order and I could answer all the questions that might be put to me.  I needn’t have worried as the only question the bemused immigration officer asked me was, “Why?”.

In the intervening years, I have tried to work for the good of my community.  I’ve paid my taxes, raised my family and been a good neighbour.  Somewhere along the way, I stopped being this foreign born person who came from somewhere else and became someone who is from here. Now when I go “home” I feel foreign , out of step and have to keep asking people for clarification. In my little sleepy northern town when people ask me where I am from, I want to say, “I’m from here”, because I am.

A helpful biblical image I have come to appreciate over time comes from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household,

Paul is writing to a predominately gentile congregation who embraced the gospel, lived it and made it the centre of their lives. And yet, they always felt on the outside. Ironically in the beginning following Jesus was for Jews first and others second. But Paul, keen that no one should find themselves excluded from God’s fellowship, taught that all the barriers were broken down now. The church was home for anyone who wanted to put down those roots.

You can live as a stranger and alien for only so long. If you can’t settle, it’s time to move on. But if you can, then put down the roots and join the party.  A passport can’t define who you are. Home can only be where your heart is happy to rest. I’ve discovered that my heart is at home here.

A surprise, but a pleasant one.