July 2010

 I thought this well worth pondering from 

Katharine Jefferts Schori  ( the Presiding Bishop of Episcopal Church in the United States of America. She is the first woman elected primate in the Anglican Communion)


There’s an institution in New York City called the Doe Fund. Its motto is Ready, Willing and Able. Early in the morning, trucks bearing that logo can be found on the streets of Manhattan, and out of those trucks come workers with garbage cans, brooms, and equipment for collecting litter. Some of the trucks disgorge workers with pumps and containers for collecting used cooking oil to be recycled into biodiesel. The Doe Fund takes its name from John Doe, the traditional moniker for a person whose name is a mystery. Its founder is a Roman Catholic layman who’s convinced that employment and learning personal responsibility are the key to ending homelessness. The fund assists people who are trying to leave homelessness by providing jobs, support in sobriety, and help with developing employment skills and a sense of their basic human dignity. Each year the Doe Fund helps several hundred people transform their lives.

Those people are overwhelmingly from minority populations, more than half have been in prison, and most have substance addiction issues. That motto, Ready, Willing and Able, is a proud witness to dignity gained. That’s also pretty much what we hear when Jesus asks James and his brother John if they are able to drink the cup that he will drink. Yep, they say, “we’re ready, willing, and able.” Their journey in some sense moves in the opposite direction, but it is about the same kind of vocation. James’ and John’s charge to fish for people is about serving whoever turns up, and following a leader who has nowhere to lay his head. They are becoming workers without a permanent home because they’re focused on worldwide cleanup and the transformation of all communities. The goal is a healed society where all have the dignity that comes of right relationship with God and neighbour. We usually call it the reign of God, or the common weal of God.

That commonweal of God work is a prophetic vocation, often deeply unpopular and challenging, and born of the dream that dignity for all is a deeply divine warrant. That kind of prophetic witness, in both word and deed, is what made Jesus so offensive to the powers at hand. The same kind of prophetic witness got James executed by Herod, the first of the inner circle of disciples to be martyred. It is what Jesus himself pointed to when he said, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matt 23:37). But prophetic work is not primarily about death and homelessness, even though either may be a byproduct. Prophetic work is about more abundant life for the whole world, and it is about a home everywhere, a home for all. When Agabus and the prophets go down to Antioch and tell of a looming famine in Judea, the whole community shows itself willing and able to respond to that demand of the moment. The people in Judea are losing their ability to build a home of the sort that God intends for all – enough to eat, freedom from oppressive government, the ability to worship. Together the company of prophets and the early Christians in Antioch determine to respond in the way they are able. They are helping to gather the chicks under God’s wings.

Prophets and disciples are meant to be ready and willing to respond to the challenge and opportunity of the moment, in whatever way the spirit is calling. We continue to tell their stories and celebrate their lives so that we might be encouraged, and literally given a little more heart-strength to challenge indignity that results from injustice. Dignity means a sense of worth, suitability, or honour, and it is the state in which God created all that is. The indignities came later. One of the eucharistic prayers in the Episcopal church’s prayer book says that we have been created worthy to stand in God’s presence. When we treat others as less than that, we reject God’s good creation, and in a very real sense, we deny our own dignity. Prophetic work helps to restore the dignity of creation, and acknowledges that creation reflects the utter dignity of the creator. We get in trouble when we limit dignity to lesser things, or deny dignity to some. Dignity is really what James’ mother is after when she pesters Jesus to put her boys first when he becomes king. She wants them to have the important chairs closest to Jesus. Jesus responds by asking if they’re willing and able to suffer indignity, even die, in order to restore dignity to others. What do the English call the circle of greatest dignity in this realm but the Court of St James’s? It’s not just the site of royal courtesies and where the monarch receives emissaries from other realms.

 The Court of St James’s takes its name originally from a place of healing, the Hospital of St James, a leper hospital dating from at least the 13th century. The dignity originally offered to lepers is carried on in the dignity and courtesies extended to representatives of other nations, whatever their political reputation. All those lesser dignities have their roots in the dignity of human creatures who bear the image of God. We miss something essential when we mistake the lesser dignities for the divine one we all bear. The other difficulty we all know too well is the human tendency to insist that some are not worthy of respect, that dignity doesn’t apply to the poor, or to immigrants, or to women, or Muslims, or gay and lesbian people.

Prophetic work is about challenging human systems that ignore or deny the innate dignity of all of God’s creation. That’s the aspect of prophetic work that’s dangerous, for those systems often respond with violence – the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr, the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela, the disappearance of righteous gentiles who rescued Jews during the Second World War, or the expulsion of a Ugandan bishop because he asked the church to treat the gay and lesbian members of his society with dignity. Members of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (Philippine Independent Church) are engaged in prophetic work right now. The IFI is in full communion with TEC and the Anglican Communion. A month ago, two lay leaders were assassinated by masked men on motorcycles. Four years ago a retired bishop was assassinated in his kitchen. Two priests have been similarly murdered, as have leaders in other denominations. All have been working to bring dignity and basic human rights to farm workers and labourers. Our own prophetic solidarity and advocacy just might bring some accountability from the former government and justice from the present one.

Can you imagine what might happen if a good number of Anglicans and Episcopalians insisted that our governments pay attention to human rights in the Philippines? The search for dignity is work that all members of Christ’s body share. We’re invited to join the band of prophets, share the meal and drink the cup. It can be dangerous work, but most prophets I know are also filled with joy. Prophets generally decide that it’s not worth living in a system without dignity. Better to lose that life, and exchange it for one that builds up, because we lose our own dignity when we tolerate indignity for some. The journey down to Antioch and back to Jerusalem led our ancestors to discover that one’s own dignity is mixed up with that of every other human being, and indeed all of creation. James made the same discovery. The work of the cross is the most life-giving journey we know. Are you ready, willing, and able?

This is the text of a sermon delivered at St Paul’s Cathedral, London, on Sunday 25 July 2010, the feast of St James


About a year before he was hanged by the Nazis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from his prison cell to one of his friends. In his letter, he said ‘The question I keep constantly asking myself is, “Who really is Jesus Christ for us today?” ‘ Germany had had a great Christian past, but when Bonhoefferj was writing, the people in that country had moved not only into secularism but had embraced a definitely anti-Christian ideology Fifty years after Bonhoeffer, we have to ask the same question, and Christians throughout the entire Western world have to ask it.

The Christianity that was for so many centuries the spiritual inspiration of the West has, to a large extent, collapsed. What significance still attaches to Jesus Christ? Is he no more than a first-century Palestinian peas­ant? Has he been completely superseded in the advance of our scientific and technological culture?

For many people, he has become a shadowy figure. They cannot see that he has anything of importance to contribute to our contemporary problems.

 The answers once given to the question, ‘Who is Jesus Christ?’ are met either by disbelief or are simply not understood.




‘Twas the old road — through pain —
That unfrequented one —
With many a turn — and thorn —
That stops — at Heaven.

From Emily Dickinson, ‘Twas the old road

I thought this profile worth sharing – as we continue to pray for all our Church leaders…..

The last time the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, spoke to the New Statesman, it was at the end of 2008, a year that our writer, James Macintyre, described as “one of the most difficult for Anglicanism since the Reformation”. The Lambeth Conference, the assembly of bishops from the worldwide Anglican Communion that meets every ten years, had begun amid what even the Archbishop acknowledged was “bitter controversy” over questions of sexuality. But by the end of the conference, the dire warnings about lasting schism over the matter were largely forgotten. Williams, Macintyre reported, had won over his critics: “Conservatives and liberals embraced and previously sceptical bishops spoke of a ‘new Pentecost’.”

This year, however, the Archbishop’s gift for compromise and reconciliation appears to have deserted him. On 10 July, a proposal designed by Williams and Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, to permit the creation of separate dioceses for those opposed to the ordination of women priests was rejected by the Church of England’s General Synod. Apocalyptic predictions of mass defections of Anglo-Catholic clergy and laity to Rome duly followed.

This latest imbroglio, preceded by the refusal of the Crown Nominations Commission to consider the candidacy of the gay cleric Dr Jeffrey John to the bishopric of Southwark, is, among other things, a reminder of the distinctive challenges involved in leading an established church. “People sometimes ask me,” Williams told the New Statesman in 2008, “does being in an established church mean you have to watch what you say?” He insisted that he didn’t worry about “being a nuisance” to politicians, if not to his own flock, though he conceded that his time in the Church in Wales had left him receptive to the case for disestablishment. “I spent ten years working in a disestablished church; and I can see that it’s by no means the end of the world if the establishment disappears. The strength of it is that the last vestiges of state sanction disappeared, so when you took a vote at the Welsh Synod, it didn’t have to be nodded through by parliament afterwards.”

He remained suspicious, however, of the motives of many of the partisans of disestablishment among the political class. “My unease about going for straight disestablishment is to do with the fact that it’s a very shaky time for the public presence of faith in society. I think the motives that would now drive dis­establishment from the state side would be most to do with . . . trying to push religion into the private sphere, and that’s the point where I’d be bloody-minded and say, ‘Well, not on that basis.'”

The Archbishop’s resistance to what he sees as attempts to consign religion to the margins of the public sphere is not merely “bloody-minded”. On the contrary, it is grounded in deep and sustained reflection on the place of faith in modern liberal democracies. Consider the comments Williams made in February 2008 on the application of sharia law in Brit-ain. His remarks in a BBC interview, widely and mischievously reported as amounting to a straightforward call for sharia to be implemented in this country, were in fact a gloss on a dense and closely argued lecture on “Civil and Religious Law in England” delivered at the Royal Courts of Justice.

Although that lecture addressed the specific question of the relationship between sharia (and, for that matter, Orthodox Jewish practice) and the jurisdiction of British courts, it also ranged widely and probed deeply. In Williams’s view, examining the legal provisions of individual religious groups (Muslim or otherwise) helps us to see something important about the limits of a certain secular conception of political identity.

Impoverished citizenship

Modern secular states take for granted what Williams regards as a partial and impoverished notion of citizenship. According to what one might call the “public philosophy” of liberal secular democracy, to be a citizen is, in his words, to “be under the rule of the uniform law of a sovereign state”.

The problem with this idea of citizenship, for Williams, is that it is too narrow. It takes no account of the cultural and religious affiliations citizens might have above and beyond their status as legal subjects – or, at best, it relegates those other kinds of attachment or belonging to a private world. And that is especially problematic in ethnically, culturally and confessionally diverse societies. It risks, Williams argues, producing a “ghettoised pattern of social life”, in which religious forms of “interest and reasoning” are treated as infra dig, and not given an airing in public debate about “shared goods and priorities”.

Williams maintains that one of the consequences of religious interests being excluded in this way is a coarsening of political discourse. Religious perspectives can, he thinks, imbue the language of public deliberation with a “depth and moral gravity that cannot be gen­erated simply by the negotiation of . . . balanced self-interests”.

They can do this, in part, precisely by expanding our notion of what it is to be a citizen. Over the past 30 years or so, politics in much of the western world has been dominated by a drastically simplified vision of the idea of freedom, in which this has been regarded as iden­tical with the ability of individuals to pursue their preferences with “minimal interference”. “Liberty,” Williams has written, “is more than consumer choice.” He is certainly right about that, though it is not at all clear that the blame for this calamitous narrowing of our horizons lies entirely with”secularism”, unless that concept is defined in the broadest terms. There are, after all, versions of secularism that do not require the banishment of religion from the public sphere.

Williams’s most sustained treatment of these issues – a lecture he gave in Rome in November 2006 – suggests that he also recognises this. The lecture was an intervention in a long-running debate among political philosophers over the implications of the doctrine of state “neutrality” towards religion. Roughly speaking, this doctrine holds that, in conditions of diversity and pluralism, the state ought to be neutral with respect to the competing moral and religious outlooks of its citizens. The question is what follows from this. Does the burden of neutrality fall on citizens, requiring them to divide their lives into public and private parts? Or is it only the agents of the state who are obliged to keep their moral and religious beliefs to themselves?

Williams sketches two competing visions of the secular society: one in which neutrality does require the exclusion of religion from public deliberation and debate, and one in which it doesn’t. A secular state, he argues, need not demand of the religious that they set aside their most deeply held beliefs when they enter public space, so long as they don’t expect those beliefs to be given a free pass just because they are religious. The result may be “noisy and untidy”, yet that is surely preferable to the “empty public square” of the more “programmatic” form of secularism that Williams rejects.

From the New Stateman 19 July 2010

 In his Christian England (Volume 1), David L Edwards writes:

“The two most famous lines in their (the Anglo-Saxons) poetry are spoken by a warrior who is about to lay down his life when his lord (‘the man so dear’) has already been killed. Byrthwold cries out towards the end of the battle fought at Maldon in Essex one August day in 991:

     Mind must be stronger, heart must be bolder,

     Courage must be greater, as our power grows less.

When these heroic values received the seed of the Christian religion, a fascinating society was the harvest.”

This is a wonderful book – the first comprehensive account of the life and work of John Piper, including many of the overlooked tributaries into which his creativity overflowed. It contains in-depth research into all the major commissions within John Piper’s lengthy career, plus much new information on his work in print-making, stained glass, illustration, theatre design – and fireworks.

In patricular it sensitively uncovers the life and work of Myfanwy Piper; her collaborations with the composers Benjamin Britten and Alun Hoddinott, and her part in the avant-garde movement in English art during the 1930s. A picture is painted of how the Pipers were a key part the Pipers played in defining ‘Englishness’ in the mid-20th century – not least through the iconic Shell Guides.

Their had a huge network of friendships and collaborations, with Benjamin Britten, Kenneth Clark, John Betjeman, Osbert Lancaster, Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, and others. As such this is a fascinating reflection of some of the influences  of modern British Art.

A real treat of a book!

Here we are, thrown into a world in which we have to live. We did not choose to exist, we did not create ourselves nor did anyone consult us as to whether we wanted to live. It has just happened to us that we have, so to speak, wakened up in a world and grown up in a world, where we become conscious that we have to make our lives with whatever resources we have and along with all the other people who have to make their lives in the same world.         

So if we use our minds at all, we cannot help wondering what is going on. What is it all about? Is there any meaning to it?

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