Monthly Archives: January 2014

Charles I and the State of the Union

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Let us begin with a digression; a highly relevant digression

There was once a country which suffered from very deep seated divisions and a huge range of problems.

Within living memory, there had been a lengthy debilitating Civil War which cast a long shadow of  bitterness, distrust and economic depression throughout the defeated territories, lasting many decades.

It also suffered serious ecological catastrophe, devastating thousands of square miles of the most fertile regions with drought and soil erosion which forced farmers off the land and into poverty.  There was no comprehensive road network, so the refugees struggled to escape. They hated those they deemed responsible for compounding their problems as they congregated in refugee camps, where their children died of malnutrition and disease. In these, and indeed in many parts of the country, there was widespread malaria, tuberculosis, diphtheria, yellow fever, and hookworm.

Millions lived in shacks or shanty towns in insanitary conditions which took its toll. There was a huge disparity between the wealth of the  “haves” and the needs of the “have nots”. Vigilantes ruled many communities where the officials were frequently corrupt and elections rigged. Many were simply disenfranchised.

50 years after this miserable state of affairs, the country in question put a man on the moon, for Brother Ivo has been describing none other than the United States of America in the 1930’s.

This is a useful starting point whenever one begins to think about institutions, their values, and their destruction and on many occasions, Brother Ivo has posed the question ” If the USA can do this – why not Africa?”

Africa has no lack of people, talent, resource, and potential, so where is the problem?

It seems to Brother Ivo that the explanation can only be in the value of Institutions.

Countries that have sound Institutions prosper. Those that do not suffer. It is easier to tear down Institutions than to build ones that function with integrity, an many nations have learnt to their cost.

Whatever its failings and practical deficiencies, the USA had one major feature in its favour. It had a full set of institutions within which, the answers to its difficulties lay. It had a Constitution which had been written by men of intelligence and wisdom. There was a balanced distribution between the various holders of power, so that it was best for everyone if they worked in co-operation rather than rivalry.

There was significant and widespread knowledge of that Constitution and a high degree of commitment to it.

People knew and valued their faith whose precepts were shared; where they had drifted from its principles, they had the capacity to be guided back into its ways.

As people’s continued to arrive, they did so to share in the vision, and to take refuge in a a country that had stood as one of the few successful examples of successful escape from the autocracy.

When Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, in a low key manner, to an underwhelmed initial audience, he did not make a single reference to slavery, which most people will tell you that Civil War was about. Abolitionism may have been the Casus Belli, but it was not his principle concern, which was rather to ensure “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Context is everything, and the context here is that, as Lincoln spoke, the USA was only one of two Republics remaining in the world. The French Republic had failed and fallen back into Empire and Monarchy. The ancient Venetian Republic had been overthrown by Napoleon, the enfant terrible of the French Revolution. He was an Emperor   who grew out of revolution as di Mao, Stalin, Idi Amin and many others.  

Lincoln understood that attempts to establish similar fresh initiatives had failed in over 50 countries throughout Europe and Latin America in the year of Revolution 1848. There was a real risk that the fragile democratic balance embodied in the Republic could indeed perish from the face of the earth.

Lincoln knew that the roots of democracy needed to grow deep to be secure and was ready to fight a terrible war rather than see them weakened. He made plain that if the continuance of slavery were the price to preserve the American Constitutional Settlement, that terrible price was one he was prepared to pay.

An appreciation of this is not only useful to one seeking to understanding that particular conflict. It should inform all who trivialise the importance of institutions in the promotion of public welfare.

Africa, indeed, perhaps a majority of members of the United Nations, lack the solid democratic institutional bases which enabled the USA to rise out of the legacy of Civil War and Depression: they still lack the strength of the reconstituted democracies which brought Europe out of the ruins of its 20th century wars.

This context is important to understand, as we hear a US President declaring his intention to remake America, which partly involves ruling by ” Executive Order” rather than the more established method of working in a bi-partisan manner to draw agreement.

On the day we remember the tragically necessary execution of King Charles I,  we may remind ourselves that that conflict also began  because Constitutionalists opposed an attempt by a ruler to break the balance of the established Order and gain supremacy of his will.

One may learn two things from the English Civil War.

First, that a usurpation of rights by an imprudent ruler leads to disaster.

Second, that any attempt to overthrow established institutions too quickly also  leads  to unhappy consequences.

It was from those English Civil War experiences that the British preference for evolution and compromise evolved. The radical puritan experiment failed, and only when a balanced settlement was established did Britain regain its constitutional equilibrium.

Few today appreciate that that Civil War had a higher per capita death rate than The American Civil War or either of our 20th century wars. It was a hard learned lesson though apparently the lesson is fading in our history classes.

Whenever Brother Ivo hears shallow populist calls for root and branch reform, the tyranny of the 51%,  or root and branch destruction of Institutions which have served us well, he has to respond – whether they come from from populist politicians or from shallow ill informed “celebrities” like Russell Brand.

Brother Ivo was prompted into these thoughts as he contemplated the State of the Union broadcast on the anniversary of Charles I’s demise. He did so having recently come across a quote from the excellent Roger Scruton.

” The true default position of mankind- the position to which all communities revert when Institutions crumble – is tyranny “.

This is a good day upon which to mention this to our exuberantly over – radical friends.

R.I.P. Pete Seeger, a man of integrity

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 A fine man has passed with the announcement of the death of musician, environmental activist, and political campaigner Peter Seeger.

In an age where so much of our culture, music, and public life is both synthetic and over-complicated,  there was always something deeply attractive about a man who lived with a deep puritan authenticity.

He was always true to himself in his beliefs, in his social interactions, his music and his causes.

He was not an orthodox Christian, but was brought up in what he described as an “enormously Christian” home. He was a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church and described his faith in the following terms

“I feel most spiritual when I’m out in the woods. I feel part of nature. Or looking up at the stars. I used to say I was an atheist. Now I say, it’s all according to your definition of God. According to my definition of God, I’m not an atheist. Because I think God is everything. Whenever I open my eyes I’m looking at God. Whenever I’m listening to something I’m listening to God.”

Brother Ivo suspects that this will not prove a bar to his welcome into the Kingdom of Heaven,

He plainly lived true to that part of God which he recognised and understood, not least in a quiet low key love of his fellow man, and of nature, which he celebrated in his devotion to the Hudson river

There was a little of the William Morris about him. His banjo was  a beautiful hand made instrument and was adapted to his own needs and style, being three frets longer than the standard instrument to enable his to sing more comfortably.

It was adorned with a slogan.

Unlike his friend Woody Guthrie, whose guitar declared “This Machine kills fascists”,Pete Seeger’s banjo proclaimed the altogether more gentle “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender”. That expresses the greatness of the man

He believed in many causes whether they were fashionable or not. He was called before the House of Un-American activities because of his communist sympathies.He was a strong opponent of the Vietnam War and a supporter of the Civil Rights movement to which he gave its iconic song “We shall overcome”.

Above all however, he was a gentle American icon, who loved people and brought them together in its music, whether he was singing to migrant field hands in the open air or to the nation’s Leaders at the White House.

The simplicity of his music reflected an approach to life that was rooted in his Christian upbringing. He would have been puzzled by the focus group, the spin doctor, and the talking point.

Does one not simply say what one believes?

He believed that nothing was more musical, and nothing more peace making than inviting people to join together in song, whatever the musical ability of his audience. His was not the art of the polished talent, the complex harmony or the recording studio.

When Pete offered an invitation an audience to sing along to his banjo or 12 string guitar, they did so unselfconsciously, regardless of ability, because he appealed to their common humanity and that which brought people together, whatever their politics, beliefs or faith.

He was a fine example to musicians and political activists alike but above all, he was an apostle for unity, integrity and justice and for that, his life should be celebrated.

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What next after the Grammy Wedding?

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The writer and playwright Alan Bennett has written simply and touchingly of the marriage of his parents Walter and Lilain in the early hours of the morning in a Leeds church with only the vicar and witnesses present.

Walter was a butcher at the local Co-op, and when he requested time off so that he could be married, it was refused; the only way forward was for him to secure a 15 minute leave of absence so that the principle part of the service could be undertaken early and the pronouncement of the marriage lawfully declared immediately at 8 o’clock, giving Walter just enough time to kiss hiss bride, and jump on his bicycle to arrive in the shop just before his leave of absence expired.

Notwithstanding the time constraints, Walter and Lillian would have heard the full majesty of the opening lines of the Marriage Ceremony, lines which their famous son came to love, as he later became a significant member of the Prayer Book Society

DEARLY beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this Congregation, to join together this man and this woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church; which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence, and first miracle that he wrought, in Cana of Galilee; and is commended of Saint Paul to be honourable among all men: and therefore is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men’s carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God; duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained.
First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.
Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body.
Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity. Into which holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined. Therefore if any man can shew any just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace.

Walter and Lillian’s marriage lasted a lifetime.

Brother Ivo could not help but bring the simple integrity of this story to mind as he awoke to learn of the “ mass wedding” which occurred live on television during last nights Grammy Awards, when 34 couples, some gay, some straight, were brought into marital union by a rap singer, Queen Latifah, who had been temporarily appointed as a Marriage Commissioner for the occasion.

The couples had been recruited by a casting agency and sworn to secrecy so that their families and friends knew nothing about it until they were shuffled into the television schedule, so that a bunch of self regarding celebrities might preen and offer themselves congratulations at their liberal outlook and ground breaking innovation.

The President of the Recording Academy said “I think it was as elegant and meaningful and powerful as we wanted it to be”.

Well, in the country of the Elvis impersonator Wedding Chapel, one supposes that this passes for “elegant and meaningful”, although in future one wonders whether those who were brought in as extras for this purpose will still look back on it in that way.

Brother Ivo wondered what might have happened had someone smuggled a canine pair into the proceedings and whether anyone might have raised an objection that this was a step too far in demeaning the solemnity of the occasion or would that, too have been welcomed in as evidence of progressive thinking.

Brother Ivo specifically makes clear that whilst he did not and does not support the redefinition of marriage, his criticism of this event stands independent of that debate which has been resolved and is settled law. He should also clarify that he is one of a minority of participants in the debate who does respect gay Civil Partnerships and has actually cast a vote in favour of such unions being blessed within an appropriately structured Anglican Service.

His problem with last night event centres upon seriousness, an aspect that eluded the imagineers of last night’s events, who evidently think that nothing says “reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly,”  like a wedding, shoehorned into an awards ceremony, in the absence of all who love and care for you, conducted by a here today gone tomorrow “Minister’ who gave you no preparation and would pass you in the street tomorrow without a flicker of recognition – except they are all to grand to walk the streets that you frequent ( they have people who do that sort of thing for them).

So what next year?

What could possibly top this year’s extravagant celebration of all the great things Liberalism stands for?

Brother Ivo has an even more  ground breaking suggestion.

Why not have an even more “edgy” celebration of a Constitutional Right which these Hollywood/Music Industry folk have fought to establish and extend for years.

It is a Constitutional Right, the reality of which has never been shown on television before. It will change hearts and minds in ways that this one could only dream about.

It is a right which their liberal President has repeatedly supported and one which they will doubtless be very proud to have “ out there”, “in your face” and “loud”. If you don’t like it “Deal with it!”>

Next year, lets show and celebrate live on screen for all to see , the world’s first celebrity partial birth abortion.

Hypocrisy is not the only unforgivable sin – except for the Sun

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Brother Ivo is in no position to judge whether the former footballer and soccer pundit Stan Collymore is or is not a “vile hypocrite”.

Factually he lacks data, and ethically he was warned not to throw the first stone, although he does not believe that this in itself disqualifies one from examining the issues. One should simply beware if a warm glow of self-righteousness seems to be enveloping the room as one types.

The known facts appear to be that Mr Collymore behaved badly many years ago during the breakdown of his relationship with Ms Ulrika Jonsson. Brother Ivo has no illusions about domestic violence, having assisted in the establishment of one of the earliest Women’s Aid Hostels.

We do not know how Mr Colymore has reflected upon those times; if he has needed to repent and reform let us hope that he has done so. Certainly there is no current information to suggest that he is currently behaving badly in that manner. Let us hope that sort of thing is behind him.

We also know that he made some remarks on Twitter about the ethics of another footballer who he regarded as being guilty of cheating  “simulation”,  and as a result faced a barrage of threats including threats to kill. This has caused him to delete his Twitter account which is doubtless a cause of regret to his followers, for whatever his past personal sins, over one hundred thousand followers had valued his contribution to sporting commentary.

He complained that the social networking site Twitter had not been sufficiently assiduous in tackling the problem of cyber bullying. He is not wrong to do so. Not only is all bullying wrong but the anonymous form of the medium seems to carry a huge temptation for some to act in a way they would never contemplate in other more open circumstances.

He has since closed that account which is perhaps wise and practical.

All this was localised within the cybersphere  until the Sun Newspaper saw fit to print the above, making it a front line story. It is very sad misguided and equally wrong.

Ms Jonsson is not as famous as she once was. In the land of celebrity this is regrettable. One does not know whether the form and prominence of her reported remarks are as she would have wished; Brother Ivo has a rule of thumb to treat all journalists with a degree of circumspection, and distrust, so she  too,may not be happy with what we see.

If she wanted this presented in this way, it does her no credit; if she did not, she ought by now to have learnt greater prudence. It does matter what people say about you even if they do spell your name right.

Brother Ivo is not a knee jerk critic of the Sun or the News International brand. They have done some bad things – and some good.  They plainly speak to a constituency which is loyal and the fact that their demographic is one that turns elections makes it a significant one in terms of shaping our society’s attitudes which is where this is such poor and regrettable way to present a serious issue.

If Ms Jonsson’s grievances against Mr Collymore are still so raw then she needs help and prayer.

If help is needed for her, even more is required for those responsible for this headline to understand that there are worse things in the moral universe than hypocrisy, and cyber bullying might be one of them.

Mr Collymore may be big enough and ugly enough to take care of himself, yet the constant reports of adolescent suicides driven by this new form of emotional violence tells us that not all who suffer in this way have his resilience.

He was right to speak out about it using the platform he enjoys as a media personality, and he was also right to indict those who can act to rein in abuse – but prevaricate.

If he has accepted his past faults then he is no hypocrite. He is thereafter allowed to say that these things are wrong without being constantly discounted through past transgression.

 

Even if he has not, we have no status of outlaw any more. Even those who once wronged, are entitled to the protection of the law. What is worse is that by pitching in against him, the Sun and its supporters seem to be fortifying the views of those who felt able to join in the violent abuse of him

“It’s ok to bully Stan because of what he did to Ulrika ” is not a healthy message for any society, neither is the idea that a past wrongdoer must either suffer in silence and/or allow others to hone their skills upon him before turning their attention to others more vulnerable. He was right in trying to do something to stop it.

In short terms, surely even bullying a bully is still bullying?

We are back to an old problem, one that Brother Ivo has written about before. It is the problem that hypocrisy is over rated as a secular sin, and that it has become the one that is never forgiven.

We seem to raise this issue of hypocrisy to a level where anyone who has once fallen, is regarded as incapable of having a legitimate grievance or contribution for ever after.

Christianity is nothing if not the faith of the second chance. Peter was given a second chance after denying his Lord. Paul was chosen despite persecuting the early Church and having made no personal effort  to reform. If there is hope for these two, then there has to be hope and redemption for Mr Collymore.

It was William Wilberforce who addressed the shallowness of our obsession with hypocrisy, which we employ at wholly inappropriate times. “Who is the greater public benefactor”, he asked, “the “hypocrite” who points the way to virtue, or the “honest man” who points the way to perdition”?

Mr Collymore was right to say that bullying is wrong and that those who are in a position to swiftly moderate it should do so. The fact that he may have acted as a bully previously in no way invalidates the point he was making, and neither has anybody seriously suggested that in his description of the problem and judgements upon it he is being in any way mealy mouthed or reporting the facts of the problem inaccurately.

If he has learnt from past transgressions then thanks be to God. Even if he has not, his willingness to share his experiences enables us to look at the problem with renewed urgency. That is a contribution to the public welfare in itself.

There may be a young girl staring at her text messages right now wondering whether she can rightfully complain. Maybe she has not been an angel in such matters and others are paying her back. What is she to make of headlines like this in the Sun?

Brother Ivo would much rather she risked being “a hypocrite” than deciding to become a cadaver.

Brother Ivo stands with Maajid Nawaz

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Brother Ivo reproduces a rather lame cartoon for a reason.

He does not like religion to be mocked or trivialised.

He is hurt when he hears the name of Jesus taken in vain.

He does not seek to offend anyone, but he is also a staunch defender of the right to freedom of speech, even when that speech is employed in ways  he does not like.

It is a tradition which separates this country from many in this world, and a tradition of which we may rightly be proud. It is a freedom which has attracted many to seek residence here, enjoying a privilege for which millions of Britons, and those who wish us well, have died. There is an old principle of the Law of Equity that  “He who seeks equity must do Equity”, and all who have sought refuge under our regime of openness and tolerance have a responsibility to be similarly well disposed towards those with whom they disagree.

There is a campaign to de-select a Muslim,Maajid Nawaz, as Liberal Democrat candidate for the Hampstead and Kilburn constituency because he dared to tweet this image, which the BBC had pusillanimously refused to show on their website, even though it was being debated on one of their programmes.

Some schools of Islam regard this as outrageous, blasphemous, “Haram” though others do not. Mr Narwaz is of the latter persuasion and has every right to assert his view.  Brother Ivo does not have a dog in that particular theological fight. He is however heavily invested in the cause of liberty.

There may be many reasons not to vote Liberal Democrat, or for Mr Narwaz, but  his courage in standing up for one of our Democracy’s  foundational principles is not one of them. If his party punishes him for exercising this freedom it will be badly judged by the electorate and rightly so.

Every one of Britain’s political parties should publish this cartoon as a matter of solidarity and principle, and stand by the right of anyone to do so. By doing so, it will thereby effectively  remove the issue from the party political arena.

Freedom of speech can just as easily be lost through timorous self censorship as by Governmental fiat. If all the principle parties stand together on this there can be no temptation for any candidate in a marginal seat to gain an advantage by losing his/her nerve and weakening our hard won liberty.

Brother Ivo stands with Maajid Nawaz. He hopes Nick Clegg will.

 

Brother Ivo

How to say ‘Sorry”

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There is much talk in the public domain about the nature, need and occasion for an apology, and beneath the discussion are a variety of questions.

When is one needed?

Is there a best time and place for it ?

Does it have to be a “public apology” just because it involves a public figure?

 Do we the public have the right not to accept an apology if the injured party does?

Is it moral to force an apology upon someone whose wrongdoing is neither admitted nor  proven?

If given, should the victim accept it uncritically ?

How does one discern a sincere apology from part of a “reputation management strategy”?

Can one offer an apology for something for which one did not – and could not – have had any personal responsibility?

It has all become very confused and overly complex, so Brother Ivo thought it might be helpful to the public debate if he tried to illustrate a successful confession and apology and thereby  grounds the public consideration of the problem, by considering  one of the Anglican Church’s historic Confessions which stands in the form of an apology to our Maker.

This is an apology which has stood the test of time and helped many a wrongdoer make his or her peace, so it seems a useful starting point for anyone before they begin to struggle with what is happening in the confused world of the un-churched, where there is little familiarity with how this kind of thing works.

First let us remind ourselves that one of the popular expressions we use for accepting responsibility is ” holding our hands up” – which is why Brother Ivo chose the above illustration.

It is a good starting point, for saying sorry begins nowhere if not in the placing of oneself in another’s power and in a position of vulnerability by abandoning bogus defences.

So we Anglican say –

 Almighty and most merciful Father,

We begin with clarity, identifying precisely to whom our confession and apology is directed. Unless we are plain about the person to whom our apology is aimed it will become at best diffuse and at worst self-referential.

“we have wandered and strayed from your ways  like lost sheep”

At first sight, this may look like a charming remnant of an anachronistic farming community, but whilst it may indeed have such an origin, its imagery is very pertinent to the process of apology.

Brother Ivo recalls hearing a shepherd once describing his sheep as the animals with the most highly developed death wish of any of God’s creatures. Leave a fence un-mended on a cliff top and they will find it. Pasture them by a torrential river and they will fall in. An unerring sense of imprudent behaviour is something we and sheep appear to have in common.

This portion of the confession and apology addresses an important recognition of what it is to be a fallible human being. We are wayward, we are both willful to have our own ways and thoughtless of the consequences, to ourselves and others.

    We have followed too much the devices and desires  of our own hearts.

Our apology places the responsibility firmly upon ourselves; there is no room for “ the big girls made me do it” or “I am a victim too”.

The striking phrase “devices and desires” is worth a moment’s reflection.

To the Christian, every act for which we owe an apology, has an element of pride within it. We have elevated our judgement and needs above those of God, our community or the person/s we have wronged. Plainly our ‘desires” will have been prioritised, but what are these “devices”?

If we are to apologise and mend our ways effectively we need to identify how it was that we came to be in the mess in which we find ourselves. Part of our vulnerability is surely that we develop little mindsets, tricks which help us to step away from the standards we profess. Amongst these might be “ Nobody will ever know”, “I deserve this” or “s/he put temptation in my way”.

They are usually an expression of pride – Lucifer’s besetting sin – and this is rooted in the idea that the rules are for others and not at all applicable to people of our circumstance or  importance.

All the time those “devices” are left unaddressed, progress cannot be made, which is why forcing an apology upon a person, whether by carrot or stick, will never result in a lasting improvement. Only when we have seriously reflected upon how we got into the mess will we learn anything of lasting value. We have to identify not only the result, but  also  the mechanisms by which we kidded ourselves that we could get away with it unscathed. Identifying ” the devices” is of no small importance.

We have offended against your holy laws.

We have left undone those things

    that we ought to have done; 

and we have done those things

    that we ought not to have done;

A Christian confession /apology is nothing if not comprehensive. It has the singular advantage of starting with absolute clarity. That which God find’s displeasing is to be repented.

There is so room for moral relativism here, there is “no hiding place”. Whilst that may seem daunting to the unbeliever, it does have the real merit of making clear to the believer that there truly is no point in trying to deceive either the Almighty or oneself. We are where we are – so we might as well deal with it!

So it is,  that we are invited to call to mind not only the sins of commission ( what we did wrong) but also the sins of omission (where we failed to do the good that is also required of us in the Christian life).

When one hears of public figures struggling over the terms of an apology, the likelihood is that they are equivocating in a way that this famous confession does not allow.

The contemplation of these words will swiftly take one to the heart of one’s guilty conscience but whilst that is an uncomfortable journey , the conclusion is  both plain – and healing.

 and there is no health in us.

We pronounce judgement upon ourselves. It is the best starting position if we are to restore ourselves to moral health and self respect. Sometimes one has to hit rock bottom before taking the road to recovery. From hereon, things can only get better.

But you, O Lord, have mercy upon us sinners.

For the first time the words could be ambiguous, but not in an unhelpful way.

Read one way, it reminds God of His nature and His promise to always have mercy on those who are truly repentant; it opens the dialogue by inviting God’s unfailing love and grace. At the same time, is serves as a reminder to us of God’s forgiving nature. That’s what he does, – He has “mercy upon us sinners” – which is precisely he sent Jesus. Through our contrition Jesus stands as the open door to forgiveness and restoration.

This may be the tricky part for the secular person following our Christian methodology. You have to place yourselves entirely in the hands  and under the mercy of those whom one has wronged. The hands must be held up and the vulnerability to judgement embraced.

The Christian has the sure and confident knowledge of the outcome to an apology sincerely expressed, but unfortunately there is no such guarantee in the secular sphere. That may be why we see more equivocation outside churches than within them.

Yet have not great sinners found amazing grace in their victims? Have not murderers found understanding in the responses of their victims families? Those who engaged in fierce war reconcile, those who contended politically, smile in old age at the arrogance of their youth.

If you have done wrong and should say sorry, then you simply have to take the risk. It is easier to understand that if one has been habituated to the process through regular worship.

Spare those who confess their faults.

Restore those who are penitent,

At this point we begin to think of ourselves; this is the plea in mitigation. Although we may not be the faithful nation we once were, there is still probably enough Christian residue within the culture to apply a degree of social pressure upon one receiving a full and unqualified apology to urge them to respond appropriately with grace. In another prayer, with which most are still familiar,  we are called to  “ Forgive us our trespasses , as we forgive those who trespass against us”.

The imperative to accept a sincere apology is strong even in the world of the unbeliever.

Of course sometimes a wrong is so so deep, so devastating that we can understand if a forgiving response by a human is not or cannot be immediately forthcoming, but there is no better hope for the contrite than to make the plea unreservedly and leave it there.

    according to your promises declared to mankind

in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Here the faithful Christian has the advantage.

The Christ who forgave those who nailed Him to the Cross has “form” when it comes to forgiveness, so we enjoy a privileged position where claiming forgiveness is concerned.

Yet the corollary of this is sincere repentance in the first place. The internal formulation of repentance and apology is intended to be part of a process and not an isolated event. Through it, we improve our personal awareness, and by knowing ourselves better, and improving our moral performance we play our part in restoring the health of the relationship which was fractured by our initial wrongdoing.

And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake,

That we may live a disciplined righteous and Godly Life

to the Glory of Your Holy name


AMEN

Having passed through the process of confession and having offered our apology, we dare to hope.

Part of that hope is  that having been through the process of confession and forgiveness, we shall not immediately repeat the offence,  but too ready an assumption that we shall succeed, would be to fall back into the pride at the root of the problem in the first place.

We do ourselves no harm by reminding ourselves that bad actions usually arise out of bad habits, bad attitudes and ill discipline A more ready awareness of the presence of God in every part of our lives will plainly help us to avoid the worst aspects of our nature, but having confessed, apologised, and secured absolution, the Christian should be painfully aware that s/he needs to undertake this process of life reflection again  – soon – and so a form of confession is to be found at the heart of all the principle services throughout the wider Church.

Daly Brother Ivo does not expect all this to be necessarily accepted on a theological level by all readers, but he hopes that explaining how we sinners in the Church manage our frailties, he offers a helpful template by which others will make a better job of that most difficult of tasks, that of holding one’s hands up and sincerely saying “I’m sorry”

 

 

Mapping the Liberal conscience

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“The Past is a foreign country, they do things differently there” wrote L P Hartley, and there must be a few Lib Dems wishing at this time that they could escape to such places, given the political mess they currently find themselves in. The problem is that many of the principles that are currently boxing them in are ones which they have espoused over the years.

Political Parties are supposed to appeal to the public because they have acquired a reputation for both competence and integrity, and on both those measures things are not going well.

The principles causing the difficulty are not ignoble, but it is very easy to adopt and promote virtue in the abstract. The problems of Justice are always when one gets down to specifics, especially when PR considerations and political expediency leads one into uncharted and hostile territory.

If one undertook a Grand Tour of the past,  one  of those  “foreign countries” would have had a custom whereby a woman, groped by a senior man in an organisation, would scarcely have needed to be told to “keep it to herself”. By “making a fuss” she would have called her own reputation into question and provoked much chattering as to her character being “no better than she ought to be”. The Lib Dems would not be happy residents there – and that is to their credit.

In a neighbouring country however, there would once have been a different regime. When an important figure necessary to the political credibility of their political project looked its inhabitants in the eye, and said “I did not have sex with that woman”, many in that country wished to believed in his honour and were moved to uncritically accept the assertion. Anyone who questioned the denial would have come under withering fire for playing “party politics” when the dignity of High Office was at stake.

On learning of the falsehood, another tranche of liberal opinion would have pivoted and said something along the lines ” at this point in time -what difference does it make” reminding all of the many good things the fallen hero brought to the party and urging forgiveness.

The fact that the fallen hero had spent much time lying and trashing the reputation of the complaining women would have been swiftly forgotten. After a short period of  “regret” upon being diagnosed as suffering a previously unsuspected medical condition of “sex addiction”, the newly designated victim-sinner would have become re-admitted to polite society and resumed his honoured place, reputation un-blemished.

His wife accomplice, who had known of his propensity for extra marital dalliance for years, had swiftly joined in the denigration of the ordinary women accusers, yet in the world of the liberal conscience now feels able to run for his old office in the guise of a feminist icon.

That country might be worth a tarry for our liberal friends, but getting to that place is not always easy now for the path leading to it is beset by brigands bloggers who have a nasty habit of reminding folk of past high minded assertions and inconsistencies.

A simpler regime existed where an accused public figure might say “frankly my dear I don’t give a damm”. Such laissez faire morality is no longer acceptable to those whose approach to sexual mores hovers between the politically correct and 60’s sexual liberation. “Publish and be dammed” though an engagingly frank approach is no longer acceptable; it  just sounds so patrician, and we can’t have that.

In a conjoined territory, if one is attractive enough, behaviour which might otherwise have been scandalous would be quickly over-looked and a section of womanhood might be more inclined to be supportive when the hero was exposed as roguish. He might even become a leading campaigner to restrict the rights of a free press to report such matters. Many Lib Dems have been tempted to take up dual nationality there.

There was once a very straight-laced country where the very hint of scandal was enough to compel a man of honour to step down from the public stage. That had the considerable merit of swiftness and clarity, and its clinical brutality helped many a would- be- sinner to keep his libido in check. “One strike  and you’re out” was a harsh approach that risked injustice to the powerful, but it had the merit of avoiding expeditions into the debatable lands of moral equivocation and uncertain outcome.

Some past countries managed such things with a recourse to  liberal theology. “We have all sinned”; ” let he who is without sin cast the first stone”,;”when one points the finger of blame, three fingers are pointing back at oneself”. Such thinking makes the sinner’s lot  much easier, except that without an indictment having at least been laid, there can be no justice for the victims.

In yet another country of their Grand Tour of the Past, any man, once acquitted, was treated as innocent and entitled to resume his place, though that does seem a very long time ago, and long before Jeremy Thorep’s acquittal on criminal charges ended all hope of a return to office, notwithstanding the juries’ verdict.

With such a confusion of principle and precedent, the Lib Dems truly do find themselves all at sea. No other party or public bodies need be too complacent however, it is a common enough dilemma for all those whose principles are malleable.

It is all too human to want the best of bot worlds, the satisfaction of abuse condemned, the utility of talent preserved for future use.

A political party needs two landmarks by which people may navigate their way into the voting booth. Brother Ivo repeats for emphasis,  the first is competence and the other is integrity.

The Lord Rennard scandal harms his party on both counts.

Their processes have proved incompetent. Institutionally. the victims are not disbelieved, yet the standards of proof required by party rules are not met and the “acquittal” is presented as of little practical worth. It is rather like the Magistrate who once declared, “There is an element of doubt in this case- but you’re not going to get the benefit of  it”.

We might remind ourselves that we remove children from vulnerable parents in this country if there is a “risk of significant harm”. Lib Dems tend to support that formulation, yet it actually means that parents who have not yet caused harm,  lose their children when we do not have enough resources or will to support a harm minimisation strategy.

In stark contrast to this, a major political party sets the bar for the protection of a senior member at the much much higher standard – that of “proof beyond reasonable doubt.

That high standard also contrasts with that which our liberal society sets for when a school child is accused of making a “racist” comment; in such circumstances the test is whether the “victim” feels it is “racist” : if subjectively judged to be so by the accuser,then it is. Children’s records are being thus marked with this most poisonous of charges upon a very low standard of accusation, without there having been too much outcry from our liberal friends about that injustice.

These liberal positions contrast significantly with what we see in the Lord Rennard case: no wonder he, we, and the Lib Dem Party managers are confused over the points of principle.

Lost along the way in this saga has been something that many liberals have espoused as a much needed innovative reform to our civil justice system.

“Restorative Justice” is promoted by  many liberal thinkers as a more “healing” way forward. Accuser and victim are brought together with a skilled facilitator and their past tensions thus resolved through dialogue.

It is odd that those who urge this method of conflict resolution upon elderly victims of violence do not employ it for their own troubled relationships. One fears that within all our political parties, broken reputations are more more valued than broken bones.

US Vice President Hubert once counselledPresidential hopeful Eugene McCarthy, “Never run on the sainthood ticket” but this is a tributary down which the Lib Dems have so often veered and the recollection of it is adding to their woes. No wonder they are finding themselves up the creek without a paddle.

One cannot help but agree with the conclusion of Charles Moore in yesterdays Telegraph that however reprehensible one might find sexual harassment by those in authority, there is no better way forward than to devise prudent fair procedures and to stick to them. The current position of equivocal acquittal is disastrous politically, ethically and juristically.

As any church leader could have advised from their own recent experience under the lights of publicity,  deviation from the path of due process is never wise and usually leads an organisation into the slough of despond.

 

 

Good impressions of Fresh Expressions

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When Brother Ivo was trained in ministry, he recalls an exercise by which he and his colleagues were invited to explore their churchmanship.

A series of questions were put, and the trainees were invited to raise a hand if it applied to our home church. Each of us raised or lowered our hands as we were asked if we spoke of Holy Communion or the Eucharist: did we genuflect: do we raise our hands whilst singing etc. At the start of the exercise Brother Ivo would have cheerfully asserted that he attended a bog standard “middle of the road” Anglican Church, but as he seemed to plough a rather lonely road through the exercise he learnt two things.

A) His church was not “normal” B) neither was anyone else’s.

These were not questions which probed theological understandings and so no serious conclusions about our collective lack of orthodoxy should be drawn, however this recollection came to mind upon hearing the news about the Church Army ”Report” into the “Fresh Expressions” movement, which it deems a success.

It must be a churlish Anglican who does not read of the new believers won to Christ without a deep sense of satisfaction and pleasure that at last a means seems to have have been found to turn around decades of decline in the Church , although we must also beware of thinking “panacea”.

Every generation needs to find ways of re-engaging with the un-churched public and in times of rapid social  cultural and technological change, this is all the more problematic.

For those unfamiliar with these initiatives it must be tempting to view the title “Fresh Expressions” as some form of gimmick, akin to marketing; if you, like Brother Ivo, attend a “normal church” it is tempting to ask why these newcomers cannot fall in with the rest us? Except Jesus commissioned us to make disciples of all the world, and the history suggests a variety of means by which this was done, both by him and subsequently.

Jesus taught formally in synagogues and informally in the fields. He addressed thousands, and conducted private conversations with single women. He expounded the scriptures but also taught through fresh expressions of  God’s nature through healing and miracle,  and he enabled his disciples to follow suit. The revelation was given in a variety of forms and that variety did not end at the Ascension.

There have been a variety of “Fresh Expressions” long before this latest version.

Monasticism is not biblical but has become an honoured expression of the Church’s mission.

The Society of Jesus was, in its time a ” fresh expression,” and one that incurred suspicion of friend and opponent alike: Ignatius Loyola was an exponent of dangerous Counter Reformation modernism which only recently fully overcame institutional suspicion by achieving the ultimate institutional acceptance of providing a Pope. Pope Francis Jesuit origins was remarked upon as a sign of change in and of itself.

The Church Army itself was once a innovation as it reached out to ordinary people, indeed its own website describes how it founder, Wilson Carlisle, was criticised for pioneering the skills of laymen in Church as ” dragging the Church into the gutter”.

The Mothers Union was a ” fresh expression” in its own day and grew into the largest women’s organisation in the world; its origins began when the then Bishop of Newcastle’s felt that he had nothing relevant to say to a meeting of Churchwomen, and so invited Mary Sumner to speak in his place, against her own sense of insecurity. Knowing when one’s talents have reached the end of effectiveness is itself a gift.

There are many other examples: Toc H was originally a low key mission to soldiers and was none the less Christian for placing ” To witness humbly to the Kingdom of God” fourth in its list of objectives.

When at the start of the 20th century Rev Dick Shepherd adopted for St Martin’s in the Fields the “strap line” for the local homeless “The Church with the open door”,  and when John Apsley began raising funds buy a boat in Bristol  in which to offer worship, they were both offering a “fresh expression”. The latter expression of love and outreach became the “Mission to Seamen”.

In short, “Fresh Expressions” have always been with us whether we recognise them or not.

Many who view the latest incarnation with suspicion may, when these forebears are flagged up, find themselves in the position of Moliere’s Monsieur Jourdain who was famously astonished to discover that for the past 40 years he had been talking prose.

The Book of Common Prayer, was once a fresh expression, which is only to say that at a single point of innovation it met the perceived needs of the people and met that need so well that it attained longevity.

Isn’t that really the point?

We were told ” By their fruits ye shall know them” and a number of one time innovations have plainly yielded well, some for centuries. Even those that fell away, may not have been without value. Some initiatives are precursors;  John’s ministry gave way to Jesus’ – it’s not not hard to find the precedents.

So if we find ourselves sceptical about a ministry that starts with the opening hours of a Wetherspoon’s pub, or transforms a sacred space into a messy play area, we can reach for a historical precedent and embrace the innovation.

In many things, Brother Ivo would describe himself as a conservative, but in these matters his desire to offer every opportunity for his fellows to receive the Good News, predominates.

We must celebrate the outcome of the research but above all give thanks for all those engaged in pioneering Ministries which have begun to  turn the tide.  The Church has always inter acted with the untidy lives of broken humanity and broken its own conventions to do so.

” Go and do thou likewise” comes to mind.

These are not the times for us to hold onto the ultimate traditionalist precept that nothing should ever be done for the first time.

Palace of Westminster or Palace of Varieties?

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The grass it appears is always greener, and this applies as much to our sense of decorum in political life as anywhere else.

It is being reported that the Labour Leader Ed Milliband is determined to establish a less raucous tone to Prime Minister’s Question Time and that he made a start Yesterday.  It may not have been wholly successful on this occasion, but it is early days and his Shadow Chancellor, who is known to be far from the best behaved in the House, is being reported to have been less animated.

Brother Ivo gives credit where it is due.

If we complain that politicians do not listen to their voters one should at least applaud an effort to respond to much criticism in the country about the school playground atmosphere that takes over the Chamber on Wednesday mornings. The shouting and evasions irritate many of the electorate and so Mr Milliband can point to this as a sign of his good intentions and capacity to listen.

One should not quench a flickering flame.

In other countries however, our robust disrespect of a sitting Prime Minister is regarded as extremely healthy. The French Press Corps has been overly  gentle in asking their President about his domestic confusions, and in the USA many would love to see their President called to greater account.

For months there have been questions about a raft of scandals  surrounding President Obama, from the deaths in Benghazi to the IRS targeting of the President’s political critics. Domestic critics there become increasingly frustrated at a lack of answers and even more worrying, a lack of serious questions. Conscious of the important role the fourth etstae playing in keeping politicians honest they demand of the mainstream media “Do You job!”

By way of simple example. there is a complete lack of knowledge about where the President was for several hours whilst the Benghazi compound of Ambassador Stevens was being attacked; a supine Press Corps simple fails to press these and other questions when Press Secretary Jay Carney comes out to brief them on his President’s behalf. THis is a serious deficiency when the USA has no equivalent of our Prime Minister’s Questions where the loyal opposition and not so loyal backbenchers can directly confront the leader of the country

One may love or hate  Denis Skinner  – the ”Beast of Bolsover”  – but not even his worst critic would deny his well deserved reputation for being his own man, and possessing a keen political integrity which holds friends and foes alike to the standards he possesses. If only France and the USA had political space for those of his ilk there might be a little less comfort and complacency around the Elysee Palace and White House.

Yet whilst we are about revising the manner in which we conduct our very necessary political debates Brother Ivo has another suggestion. Can’t we do away with the “jokes”?

There have been some genuine wits in Parliament such as Norman St John Stevas, Jeremy Thorpe, and Austin Mitchell, and the occasional expression of their personality in a well chosen riposte was always accepted when they chose to reveal it at a suitable moment, but whatever their many qualities, few would describe any of the current party leaders as potential Oscar Wilde.

Far from their clumsy humour being being rare opportunistic asides in the heat of intellectual debate, we are too often hearing tortured inventions from the minds of Policy wonks and Special Advisers all whom must surely have failed their auditions at the Cambridge Footlights Review.

The Commons Chamber is part of the High Court of Parliament. Wit can and does occur from time to time in Courts and even in Cathdedrals, but there is a difference between the inspired bon mot and the pre-planned laboured point scoring.

The obvious lack of spontaneity serves only to highlight how calculated and cynical these performances have become. We find the reports of the debates assessing and scoring the performances of the leaders by the quality of their jokes rather than their insights into the nations problems.

We have imported from the USA  a pre-occupation with the “zinger”, the short funny soundbite that grabs the headlines, whereas what these occasions should exemplify is a serious adversarial analysis leading to a better understanding of whether we are being well or badly governed.

One of the permanent features of the front page of the Archbishop Cranmer blog is the following

“Archbishop Cranmer takes as his inspiration the words of Sir Humphrey Appleby: ‘It’s interesting,’ he observes, ‘that nowadays politicians want to talk about moral issues, and bishops want to talk politics.’ It is the fusion of the two in public life, and the necessity for a wider understanding of their complex symbiosis, which leads His Grace to write on these very sensitive issues.”

Brother Ivo fears that Sir Humphrey has slipped behind the times.

Our modern politicians no longer aspire to be Bishops but rather stand up comedians, whilst at the same time our Stand up comedians such as Russell Brand, Eddie Izzard and virtually the entire cast of BBC comedy output see themselves as politicians – but on superior pay.

Each should stick to his chosen metier where their talent lie. Most comedians have a poor grasp of the serious issues upon which the fortunes of the nation turn and yet as our politicians lose credibility, especially with the young; they are turning to the modern comedian. The problem is that the fools in the great Shakespearean plays had the mind of bard to give them words and a well structured place within the underlying story.

Most of the politico-comedians of today have lost the plot long ago, and fail to appreciate that if you are not critiquing all holders of power you have become not a satirist, but an apologist, and when that when power is exercised without being challenged, democracy is equally harmed. Allowing such people to shape the political agenda whilst out real politicians validate them through imitation is most unwise.

If Mr Cameron and Mr Milliband ever take time to privately discuss these matters, perhaps with Leonard Sachs wannabe, Speaker Bercow,  Brother Ivo would invite them to consider whether this topsy turvey state of affairs could be equally addressed along with the noise and turbulence which they have already identified as less than worthy of the Mother of Parliaments.

The Mother of Parliaments should be neither a bear pit nor a Palace of Varieties.

New Music for Churches – the horror!

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Many priests will tell you that few issues cause ill-will within a congregation more than Church Music.

It is not a new phenomenon. There was bitter controversy when new fangled technology was introduced when the pipe organ displaced the motley group of instrumentalist who formerly held sway in the music loft, and many decamped to exercise their talents in the local pubs.

John Bunyan stole the tune for his much loved hymn ” To be a Pilgrim” from a popular Portsmouth drinking song, and later William Booth chose to “dumb down” by encouraging tunes in a popular vernacular to compete with the music halls. “Why should the devil have all the best tunes?” was his philosophy, not that of some modern worship group leader.

Brother Ivo can enjoy worship incorporating music from a variety of sources, from the Wesleys to Handel, Taize and Iona, to Stuart Townsend and Maggi Dawn. Yet despite such catholic taste he is still being currently challenged. His Church has recently bought a new set of Hymn books and although he and others looked through the indexes to see that we had a readily available selection of hymns from a wide variety of courses, we missed quite a lot in the fine print.

Put simply, the words of some very familiar hymns have been subtly changed to the consternation of many singing on “autopilot”.

It is very easy to become irritated at such “interference”.

What is the point?

“Can’t they leave well alone?” is a natural enough response, and as one thinks of hymns, so one also thinks of liturgy.

There is a joke that the definition of a conservative is someone who thinks that nothing should be done for the first time and that in the Anglican Church once something has been done it becomes a tradition. So new hymn books will never arrive without comment.

At such times, Brother Ivo has the good fortune to have had a most helpful conversation with a retired Anglican priest who, at that time, was running a most welcoming Bed and Breakfast House in Montgomerie Alabama.

He was fascinating man to talk to, not least because he had been the priest to a Congregation during the Civil Rights years and spoke of the difficulties of ministering to a people split  between integrationists and segregationalists. Few Anglicans today will have to hold such tensions in check even over the vexed from of musical tastes.

It was not that political part of the conversation which has most usefully stuck with Brother Ivo however.

As we sat talking in his music room, we turned to the question of managing musical evolution, and he offered a most useful and interesting take on the subject.

Brother Ivo is devoted to sharing interesting views.

Mark Waldo Snr explained that whenever he encountered a hymn he did not like or understand, he would pause and ask himself a question: “What am I missing here?”

Instead of complaining at the innovation, he suggested one should reflect that somebody had been moved to write the words and music, perhaps studying a passage of scripture, praying over it, re-editing a line, honing a nuance. It may have taken a considerable time.

When the piece was completed it was offered to a publisher, who accepted it, offered it to vendors and they sold it to a Worship Leader who selected it for a particular service at a particular time.

With such a provenance, he suggested, such a piece of work surely deserves more than a moments dismissive attention?

 

If it is not communicating , perhaps we are not listening. “There must be something in it to have made it this far” he suggested.

This wisdom has lowered Brother Ivo’s blood pressure on more than one occasion

Even though one may still have favourite hymns, settings, versions, or genres, the giving of respect and consideration to that which is unfamiliar can be the occasion for stepping out of the comfort zone and learning from an appraisal of the new environment – taking a different point of view.

The unexpected has often been the start of a new line of thought.

Even in one’s artistic distaste or scepticism one should perhaps look on such temporary suffering as a spiritual gift.

Brother Ivo offers this to all clergy wrestling with such problems this week.