Monthly Archives: November 2014

Ferguson -“Its not a skin matter, its a sin matter”

When the riots began on Ferguson Missouri, we all  began to wonder what to make of it.

Brother Ivo is a huge admirer of Archbishop Justin Welby but his response goes to prove that even our best leaders can sometimes get it wrong.

Archbishop Justin tweeted an approving link to a piece from Jim Field, the President of Sojourners , a “progressive” Christian organisation. He described it as ” powerful”. It is not, it is a piece designed to advance a political narrative contrary to the facts of the case.

On the issue Brother Ivo believes that the Archbishop and Jim Field have missed the mark and were bested by a less sophisticated National Football League player for the New Orleans Saints by the name of Benjamin Watson.

Brother Ivo reproduces the two pieces and invites readers to consider who gives the better Chritian response.

Piece 1 Jim Field

Many black families woke up this morning knowing that the lives of their children are worth less than the lives of white children in America. The deep distrust of law enforcement in their own communities that so many African Americans feel just got deeper last night — 108 days since the killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown — when the prosecuting attorney announced the decision not to subject the police officer who killed Brown to a trial where all the facts could be publically known and examined.
Ferguson protests Monday night. Photo by Heather Wilson / PICO
We now all have the chance to examine the evidence — released last night — in the grand jury’s decision not to indict white police officer Darren Wilson, who fired multiple bullets into Michael Brown. But the verdict on America’s criminal justice system is already in for many Americans: guilty, for treating young black men differently than young white men.

According to veteran prosecutors and defense attorneys, many things were unusual about the grand jury that ultimately decided not to indict Wilson. But most unusual may have been the decision to hold the news until after dark — as anxiety rose and hundreds gathered on the street. The decision was reportedly in by 2 p.m., so why did authorities wait seven hours to announce it? Why did they wait until people were off work and anxious young crowds had gathered outside police headquarters in Ferguson? Focus quickly turned from the grand jury’s decision to the response in the streets. While most protestors remained peaceful, the media naturally focused on the very unfortunate violence.

Other large questions remain. Why did prosecutor Robert P. McCulloch never mention in his long statement last night that Michael Brown was unarmed? Why did a trained police officer decide he had no other option than to shoot more bullets into Brown after he had fled their confrontation? Why did anyone have to die? Why did a prosecutor, in his long 25 minutes of explanation of why Wilson was not indicted, sound more like a defense attorney for the police officer instead of an advocate for the unarmed teenager who was shot and killed? Why were the “conflicting accounts” of the confrontation between Officer Wilson and Michael Brown not subjected to a trial? The resulting decision from the grand jury was completely foreseeable in a nation where police officers are almost never indicted for the use of deadly force — especially when it is white police officers killing black people.

It was a very sad night for America. I echo St. Louis area pastor, Rev. Traci Blackmon’s words this morning: “I hurt, I really hurt for the young people who did everything they could to be peaceful and nonviolent and to raise their voice; but the anger and rage of a few made the narrative very different this morning.” Even though most of the protests in Ferguson and around the country were peaceful, it was painful to watch President Obama speaking to the nation on a split screen with scenes of violent protest in Ferguson. In his powerful speech, the president spoke the truth when he said, “We need to recognize that this is not just an issue for Ferguson; this is an issue for America.” He also reminded the nation of the recent words of Michael Brown Sr., the dead boy’s dad, words that have touched many of us so deeply.

The dad who lost his son said, “Hurting others or destroying property is not the answer. No matter what the grand jury decides, I do not want my son’s death to be in vain. I want it to lead to incredible change, positive change, change that makes the St. Louis region better for everyone.”

It’s time for us all to honor the wishes of Michael Brown’s father and mother. Whatever the facts might have revealed in the trial that will never happen, the time is long overdue to subject our criminal justice system to the requirements of racial justice. The racialization of that system and its policing behavior toward people of color is beyond dispute. The police force in Ferguson that is completely unrepresentative of the community and whose behavior has caused such deep alienation among the people they are supposed to serve and protect has become a parable. Ferguson has become a parable in America, for how black lives are less important in the ways our laws are enforced. Ferguson is not only in Ferguson.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the nation’s apostle of nonviolence, once said: ”a riot is the language of the unheard.” He also showed us that only disciplined, sacrificial, and nonviolent social movements can change things.

It is time to right the unacceptable wrong of black lives being worth less than white lives in our criminal justice system. The broken relationships between law enforcement officials and their communities are deeply felt and very real.

How law enforcement interacts with communities of color raises fundamental, legitimate issues that must be addressed by the whole nation if we are to move forward. The changes we need in both policies and practices must now be taken up in detail. Our neglect has led to anger and hopelessness in a new generation, but their activism will also help lead us to new places. It is indeed time to turn Ferguson from a moment to a movement, and Michael Brown’s life and death must not be allowed to be in vain.

Piece 2

Benjamin Watson

25 November at 18:00 ·
At some point while I was playing or preparing to play Monday Night Football, the news broke about the Ferguson Decision. After trying to figure out how I felt, I decided to write it down. Here are my thoughts:

I’M ANGRY because the stories of injustice that have been passed down for generations seem to be continuing before our very eyes.

I’M FRUSTRATED, because pop culture, music and movies glorify these types of police citizen altercations and promote an invincible attitude that continues to get young men killed in real life, away from safety movie sets and music studios.

I’M FEARFUL because in the back of my mind I know that although I’m a law abiding citizen I could still be looked upon as a “threat” to those who don’t know me. So I will continue to have to go the extra mile to earn the benefit of the doubt.

I’M EMBARRASSED because the looting, violent protests, and law breaking only confirm, and in the minds of many, validate, the stereotypes and thus the inferior treatment.

I’M SAD, because another young life was lost from his family, the racial divide has widened, a community is in shambles, accusations, insensitivity hurt and hatred are boiling over, and we may never know the truth about what happened that day.

I’M SYMPATHETIC, because I wasn’t there so I don’t know exactly what happened. Maybe Darren Wilson acted within his rights and duty as an officer of the law and killed Michael Brown in self defense like any of us would in the circumstance. Now he has to fear the backlash against himself and his loved ones when he was only doing his job. What a horrible thing to endure. OR maybe he provoked Michael and ignited the series of events that led to him eventually murdering the young man to prove a point.

I’M OFFENDED, because of the insulting comments I’ve seen that are not only insensitive but dismissive to the painful experiences of others.

I’M CONFUSED, because I don’t know why it’s so hard to obey a policeman. You will not win!!! And I don’t know why some policeman abuse their power. Power is a responsibility, not a weapon to brandish and lord over the populace.

I’M INTROSPECTIVE, because sometimes I want to take “our” side without looking at the facts in situations like these. Sometimes I feel like it’s us against them. Sometimes I’m just as prejudiced as people I point fingers at. And that’s not right. How can I look at white skin and make assumptions but not want assumptions made about me? That’s not right.

I’M HOPELESS, because I’ve lived long enough to expect things like this to continue to happen. I’m not surprised and at some point my little children are going to inherit the weight of being a minority and all that it entails.

I’M HOPEFUL, because I know that while we still have race issues in America, we enjoy a much different normal than those of our parents and grandparents. I see it in my personal relationships with teammates, friends and mentors. And it’s a beautiful thing.

I’M ENCOURAGED, because ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem. SIN is the reason we rebel against authority. SIN is the reason we abuse our authority. SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot and burn. BUT I’M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through the his son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind. One that’s capable of looking past the outward and seeing what’s truly important in every human being. The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure. It’s the Gospel. So, finally, I’M ENCOURAGED because the Gospel gives mankind hope.

You can decide whether the better leadership is being offered by Jim Field or Bengamin Watson, who has incidentally received significant abuse for his ” controversial” piece.

Since Benjamin Watson wrote we know more.

Brother Ivo is not one to step away from controversy, and regrets that the media have not put into the public domain a number of significant facts which have come out of the Grand Jury decision. Facts matter.

Michael Brown was not exactly an innocent adolescent but a huge and powerful young man – 80lb heavier than the not insubstantial police officer. He was willing and able to use that size to dominate the weak and exhibited an attitude that made that plain. He identified with gang culture.

The police Officer Darren Wilson, had never fired his weapon at a suspect before.

Michael Brown was capable of killing the officer and attempted to kill the officer, once with his fists and once by turning the officer’s gun on him.

Michael Brown had robbed a store earlier that evening and was filmed on CCTV using his size to brush aside the slight Pakistani store clerk’s protestation as he he suffered the crime.

Michael Brown and his accomplice Dorrien Johnson were correctly identified by the officer as the offenders, Michael Brown was carrying the stolen property and declined to stop when located 10 minutes later, walking down the middle of the street. He swore at the officer as he refused to step to move to the sidewalk for questioning.

In the course of the initial altercation the officer was punched twice in the face with the intent to cause serious harm. Those injuries were recorded and photographed immediately afterwards. People can and do get killed by punches to the head; having “ridden” and survived two such blows, whilst seated and contained in his car, the officer was reasonable to fear for his life at the hands of such an assailant, and doubted his ability to survive continuing blows. Under fear for his life, a person is lawfully permitted to use lethal force to stop the attack.

He was accordingly fully entitled in law to draw his weapon but Michael Brown reached into the car and attempted to take control of the weapon and turn it against the officer. In the struggle the gun failed to fire on two occasions adding to the officers anxiety, but a shot fired in the car, injured Michael Brown in the hand. It did not deter his determination to act in an un-constrained manner.

Michael Brown walked away but when the officer followed, in accordance with his duty to arrest the suspect, he turned and charged at the officer from a few feet away, and was shot as he did so. that renewed attack also entitled lethal force to be employed.

All the forensic evidence, including three autopsy reports, was consistent with the account given by the officer, who did not avail himself of the right to refuse to attend the Grand Jury or, once there, to remain silent before the Grand Jury under the 5th Ammendment, but submitted himself to questioning for four hours by the jury without having a lawyer present to protect his interests. The jury received considerable evidence, including eye witnesses and found the few that blamed the officer not to be consistent with each other or the forensic evidence, and not to be creditable. It is qualitatively no different from the decision made by Lord Justice Mitting against Andrew Mitchell, except they were the very people policed by Darren Wilson and threatened by Michael Brown and his accomplice.

The threshold of proof before a Grand Jury is very low: the mixed race jury heard all the evidence and decided there was no basis to suspect illegality on the part of the officer. The officer is entitled not to be drawn through lengthy and stressful prosecution if there is no proper case against him. We ought to support justice for all.

The riots that followed Mr Brown’s step father’s repeated call to “Burn this bitch down” paid every regard to a preconceived false narrative of victimhood, and none to the facts of the case.

Looters are not “the community”. Martin Luther King never fomented a riot. There may be many cases of injustice by police towards black citizens. This case is not it .

There is one story of hope emerging out of these dreadful circumstances.

A young black woman Natalie Dubose had her bakery store burned out by rioters: she was a wholly innocent party. She had sold cakes in the local market, saved her money and eventually been able to buy a store whilst supporting her two children. She was pictured weeping in the wreckage. She had done the right thing, worked hard following her American Dream only to have it destroyed but someone
Protesting his “civil rights” whilst violating hers.

Within days, money began to arrived from all over America. People of all races were moved by her plight, and the donations quickly topped $250k. For all the talk of a racially divided nation, one is minded to recall the words of Bill Clinton that ” there is nothing wrong with America that cannot be solved by what is right in America.”

The generosity was as colour blind as the jury verdict.

It is truly is “not a skin problem but a sin problem”.

Pope Francis addresses the EU

If you have not yet had an opportunity of reading Pope Francis’ address to the EU it is well worth reading .

In some ways the circumstances in which it was delivered are not too dissimilar to the address of Archbishop Justin to the General Synod of the Church of England. Each knew that their words would be carefully scanned and analysed for hidden meaning, each was speaking in a context of underlying tension and  for both there was a modicum of anxiety about how the future of the institution which was being addressed would unfold.

Each, in the event, delivered addresses of interest, breadth, and inspiration with no lack of diplomatic expertise.

After warm greeting, acknowledgement of historical context and appreciation, Pope Francis rooted his address to the primary task of the pastor – to offer encouragement and support.

With due acknowledgement of differences in history, and no little cultural diversity, he identified human rights as most  important, thereby ensuring that none could fail to find a starting point for agreement. Human dignity is dependent on the basic human rights and the meeting of basic needs, which must be accorded to all before anything more complex is attempted. Few could disagree so he had his audience “on side” at an early stage.

He then embraced the complex. Invoking the concept of the Monad – which surely left many in his audience struggling in his wake  –  but he he clarified his thinking immediately, speaking of the importance of duties, the complexity of societal relationships, and the common good.

” Unless the rights of each of individual are harmoniously ordered to the greater good, those rights will end up being considered limitless, and consequently will become a source of conflicts and violence”.

This seemed a shot across the bows of the aggressively secular or libertarian.

Reading that, Brother Ivo could not help but think of  Archbishop Justin’s words to the Synod the preceding week.

He too had paid tribute to the flourishing of the community which he addressed and he also described Anglicanism as “incredibly diverse” noting that with that diversity came tension,  which could only be held in bounds  with discipline and regard for those with whom we disagree.

“There is a prize of being able able to develop unity in diversity and also with deeper and deeper ecumenical relations demonstrating the power of Christ to break down barriers and to provide hope for a broken world”.

They may not have been singing from the same hymn sheet but the same tune was immediately recognisable to those who were reading and considering both addresses.

Bother were saying that recognising the value of “the other” is the sine qua non of expressing Christ’s love in the world even as we acknowledge sincere differences.

The same problem afflicts multi national institutions and multi-facetted Established Churches.

He did not stay for long on the comfortable territory but soon moved into ” the debatable lands”. One cannot expect a Jesuit to have much time for moral relativism.

We all have within us a “Compass deep in our hearts” . We can distinguish right from wrong and can see our own value within relationships with other peoples. Holding to , and presumably acting, upon that impulse for relationship, is necessary for us  to avoid the loneliness that afflicts many in modern society.

A challenge is there for all neighbours; neglecting the lonely is wrong.

He sees the recent  economic crisis as contributing to that loneliness in society; he also sees a link to our mistrust of institutions.

In this part of the address Brother Ivo struggles to find linkage. The two observations may be right, but if the cause has a common root it is not well developed. Is not there a certain camaraderie amongst the critics of EU institutions? Mr Farage and Signor Grillo may be many things, but they shows few signs of lonely  isolation from the wider community!

That part of the address perhaps needed to be more clearly explained or the ideas simply left separated.

He might have been better to have expressed the problem less in terms of loneliness but anger and distrust, both of the institutions and of those to whom he later turns, the migrant,

Before he gets there he describes Europe as wearying and ageing, even likening it to a a grandmother, no longer fertile and vibrant.

Dialogue permits amiable challenge.

Whilst it may be true that those countries within monetary union are struggling with vastly divergent economic needs,  the Southern nations suffering particularly through linkage with the German economy, it is plain that the British economic model serves as both a model for the value of monetary freedom and as the ” go to destination” for many migrants. They at least do not view her as feeble and the principle aspects of “grand-motherl-yness” shared by the UK would appear to be generosity, welcome and largesse.

He critiques selfish opulent life styles, which he sees as necessarily causing abandonment of the poor. He has a point, but not an overwhelming one.

One of the more intriguing pieces of recent news was the fact that a majority of Britain’s new multi- millionaires are self made. Given that to achieve such cohort supremacy, they would have had to exceed the numbers of European rich re-locating to the UK to avoid levels of penal taxation as attempted in countries such as France, their prospering is perhaps cheering and significant.

New money is perhaps more healthy than old money and not to be despised. Talents are God given for a purpose.

To become “self made” these folk will have created economic activity along the way. It is that activity that will have made work for Polish plumbers, Spanish Dentists, and Czech engineers.

One does not have to approve tasteless conspicuous consumption to appreciate that  there is a reason that the UK is the destination of choice for many migrants on the move. The British economic model has much to commend it even if the construction of the new Jerusalem for all, is still a work in progress.

In the First World War cartoon of of Bruce Bairnfather , two grubby Tommies sit in a shell hole, the one challenging the complaining other –  “If you know a better ‘ole – go to it”. The UK for all its faults and unfinished business is probably one of  the best of not too bad a bunch, considering the world wide options.

One might therefore have liked  His Holiness to have referenced the successful entrepreneurs with a little more of the encouragement and support with which he began his address. Many have achieved success precisely because they looked after their workforce as he would like.

The Pontiff invites the members of the European Union Parliament to tend to the needs of the individuals and people. With due respect to His Holiness, it may be the very eagerness to tend to everything that is the problem with the European legislators, rather than the prospective solution! The needs of the continental peoples may be for the bureaucrats to show greater willingness to step aside. It is, after all,  the only major trading bloc struggling to generate economic growth, and this is happening under the stewardship of those he was addressing.

Holy men often like to discomfort the comfortable. Europe’s elite are very comfortable.

Coming from a Latin American country with a past touched by Liberation Theology it is inevitable that Pope Francis would speak with generosity towards the poor and the migrant and we must hear him for the truths he brings and the principles he identifies; the practicalities and best structures to lift the condition of the marginalised are, however, still a matter under consideration.

One is not surprised to hear him seeking to regenerate the confidence of the young.

That is a great thing, many are anxious for their futures.

They are unlikely however, to be much lifted by the promise that bureaucrats will get around to sorting their problems out in due course. The energy of the young will best be unleashed by giving them the conditions in which to find their own salvation, yet having said that , there is no reason to assume that they will not be able to marry that with a proper respect for the truths which the Pope points to when he is speaking within his realm of primary expertise.

Using an image from a Raphael picture in the Vatican the Pope is on stronger ground, calling us to be open to the transcendent God whilst connected to the concrete reality of the everyday world.

He connects his audience to practicality when he  identifies the God given rights of Man for religious freedom to the modern world in which they are routinely breached.

He greatly values democracy, no doubt recalling living in a country where it was subverted. He sees that as the context within which talents may flourish. He no less values the family in which both young and old are properly nurtured .

Educational institutions are mentioned with a reminder that they must be more than conduits of technical expertise, and he broadens his address by speaking of the need for Europe to play its part in the preservation of ecological diversity.

He wants employment prospects to be lifted, and respect for the labourer to characterise how s/he is treated in the workplace. He identifies the need to combine market flexibility with stability and job security which will enable workers to grow stable families and educate their children. This aspect of the thinking in the speech is connected.

There is breadth in his consideration of migration, as he not only seeks to ensure a fair and proper welcome for those who migrate, but is not blind to the losses to their the countries of origins when talented people move. He did not call for greater free trade with an opening of the EU markets to enable southern economies to trade and retain their peoples, but the implication is there for those who want to argue it.

On the day Zac Goldmith rejected the watered down Government version of a Recall Bill for failed politicians, His Holiness remarked that ” the more the power men and women increases, the greater is individual and collective responsibility – I encourage you to work to make Europe rediscover the best of itself.’

Brother Ivo should be interested to overhear a conversation on accountability between Mr Goldsmith and His Holiness. it was probably not in his mind as he wrote that section but the identification of good principles will often have unlooked for application to passing events.

The speech was constantly reconnecting with the Christian teachings, challenging Mankind to fulfil the destiny which God shaped for him/her.

He offered a vision of a Europe which contemplates the heavens and pursues lofty ideals. A Europe which cares for defends and protects man, every man and woman. A Europe which bestrides the earth surely and securely, a precious point of reference for all humanity”

Offering reference points for humanity was the common theme in both Church leaders addresses. Pope Francis invited the EU to one such reference point, ArchBishop Justin offered the same challenge to the Anglican Communion.

Managing unity in diversity is plainly the theological flavour of the month – and it is none the worse for that.

Whether our individual clergy and politicians are up to the challenge set by two greater leaders and carers for their flocks is something we shall have to watch with interest.


Brother Ivo goes to Synod Part 2

Day Two of the General Synod began with a set piece debate on religious freedom and the plight of Middle Eastern minorities. It took the form of a panel discussion punctuated by questions from the floor: the gist of these questions has to be  submitted in advance so there is, to a degree a managed rather than a free debate. This seems both institutionally sensible but also, not quite a free debate. Everyone is stating a pre-prepared position and not responding to what others say which is a little regrettable. Perhaps this might need to be explored next time.

There had been a controversy in advance over the historic decision to invite a Muslim Journalist Shayk Fuard Nahdi to join the panel as the first non-Christian to be accorded this privilege. The polemical website Breitbart London had drawn attention to this gentleman having associated with some unsuitable radical Islamic figures. Brother Ivo drew this to the attention of an experienced Synod a colleague who duly notified the Church’s press office to enable it to prepare for any criticism.

The following day, Brother Ivo’s old web mentor Archbiship Cranmer delivered his own thunderous response to what he regarded as an attempt to smear the Anglican Church: he pointed out that dialogue is necessary both for the Shayk and the Communion. Whether Brother Ivo was exclusively responsible for the identification of the risk is not known, but he did draw the potential problem to the attention of Church and Cranmer in accordance with his declared interest in the social media, and encouraging the Church to engage with it.

In the event, the session was interesting and uncontroversial. The first guest was the charming head of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK Bishop Angaelos. He identified the key problem as rooted in lack of trust, urged us to keep the issue in the public eye, urged us to to press for a humanitarian response now and to appreciate the variety of views on the ground: some Christians wish to leave, whilst others are resolved to stay. He asked us to view the Eastern and Western Churches as one.

He was so impressive Brother Ivo immediately followed him on Twitter.

Shayk Nahdi was charming, self effacing, respectful and confounded anyone expecting a rabid extremist. He urged prayer, identified the pressures on the young who are first inflamed to anger by social media and then frustrated as to how to respond. The problem began in anger, he stressed ( which is spiritually harmful)  when we needed calmer responses to difficult issues.

He described the persecution of Christians as heinous, but reminded us that the largest group of victims was the Muslim population. He pointed out how long the disperate faiths have co-existed. He regretted that he and other Muslims in the public eye are constantly asked to justify the unjustified. He later added that Islam begins its engagement with others by giving one’s neighbour rights .

He described his mission to find partners not to convert, and wanted us to fight ignorance by praying together to the one God. One could not fault any of that.

Bishop Nick Baines called for more religious literacy in the media, mentioning that he had been approached by one media source seeking to find an angle on “Christian Yazidis”.

The Revd Rachel Carnegie gave  an account and reassurance about the degree of continuing co-operation between the faiths on the ground.

Later Bishop Angaelos pointed out that the problem is not a Christian/Muslim issue but one of the fringe Islamists against the rest.

It was all very measured respectful and safe but there was one glaring omission.

In the briefing paper circulated in advance,  religious freedom was described as ” the canary in the mine” which acts as the precursor and test for all other human rights.

What was wholly missing was extraordinary on the day when a Synagogue was attacked in Jerusalem and four worshippers slaughtered.

There was not a SINGLE mention, or reference to our Jewish brothers and sisters by the platform or from the floor. Perhaps we were too nervous of getting into a discussion of Gaza and Israel but even zoo, no mention ? Really?

Brother Ivo had out down a request to speak and indicated that he wished to ask if “the canary in the mine”  wasn’t Jewish?  In short, is not the plight of Jewish safety and religious freedom ( on that of all days) the real barometer of freedom and peace. The threat Jews were thereby on the agenda – and ignored.

The canary in the mine was simultaneously the elephant in the room. Now there is a challenge and a paradox for the Wittgenstein philosophers amongst us. It makes a change from the “duck/rabbit”.

We approved the acceptance of the Ango-Methodist Covenant with few objections.

We then passed a motion seeking to hold the Government to account over the Spare Room Subsidy. The debate was largely a litany of concerns about the failures of implementation

Brother Ivo was one of only three abstentions.

He did not oppose the Church calling Government to account on the implementation of its policy. There were many stories of hardship and it appears that whilst the policy is designed to encourage people to downsize, the properties simply do not exist for them to do so. Incompetence is never defensible. That said, the context advanced was to my mind inappropriately political.

It seemed to Brother Ivo to be neither immoral, nor, per se, unjust , for those holding public property in trust to seek to maximise the benefit for the most people possible.

Nobody in the debate mentioned larger families living in cramped conditions because others occupied perhaps unjustifiably larger properties. Home owners are often displaced for the greater public good, with roads rail or airport construction or when a public enterprise like the BBC moved north.  Heavens, even David Archer is having to leave Ambridge because a road scheme is considered a better use of his land than his family farm.

One can make a serious point lightly.

The “It is unjust to ask folk to move” argument seemed to overlook that in many contexts we do just that. Brother Ivo simply does not like sloppy thinking but did not want to oppose putting the practical failure to Government.

He would have pointed out that asking Government to use the money form fining the Banks £2billion to build the suitable smaller public housing would be a win – win solution for all concerned.

After that, we bade goodbye to the retiring Bishop of Newcastle and it is good for Synod to have such a closure founded on appreciation of service and good wishes.

It has been an interesting two days. Now Brother Ivo must make good on his election promise to keep his Diocese informed and promote a real sense that there is a direct and important line of communication and accountability which runs from Synod to to the most modest church in the smallest village.

Brother Ivo goes to General Synod

In the 19th Century Victor Hugo described the conditions of the prisoner Jean Valjean who was de-humanised by the assignment of the number 24601. In the mid-21st Century, Nelson Mandela became prisoner number 46664. In George Orwell’s futuristic novel 1984, Winston Smith cries ” I am not a number!” Upon joining General Synod in the 21st century one is immediately allocated a number. There is no remission for good behaviour.

Despite that apparent anachronism, one of the striking things on entering the forum is a pleasing and genuine diversity. At early morning coffee on the first day Brother Ivo was warmly welcomed and assisted by a colleague with significant disability, an armed forces chaplain and a nun. In the chamber he sat behind the deaf representatives enjoying the expressiveness of the language of translation, especially the gesture for “angels” which we should surely all adopt whenever we use the word. Think descending fluttering hands- delightful.

The promulgation of Canon on Women Bishops was undertaken with dignity and the varied legislative agenda was well explained and frequently laced with bonhomie when a potentially dull subject needed enlivening.

Sincere conviction was never far beneath the surface. Discussing Clergy Discipline Guidance we heard heartfelt devotion to the integrity of the confessional, and no less determination to banish laxity from our safeguarding procedures.

Brother Ivo made an immediate maiden speech on this issue seeking to strengthen the guidance when Clergy think there “may” an exception to the usual rules on confidentiality.

Instead of stating that clergy “should” take the advice of Safeguarding Officers he proposed that they “must” take that advice. It does not of course require them to identify those under suspicion at that evaluation point, but where the safety of the vulnerable is concerned, Brother Ivo stressed ” This is no time for amateur hour”.

The need for disciplined prayer in clergy life was emphasised as was the sheer stress and volume of advice and regulation upon our clergy.

We are to be encouraged to go ” paperless” as the cost of our a Synod paperwork now exceeds £20,000 per session. As an apostle of systemic modernity, Brother Ivo was hoist with his own petard and has resolved to make the change. He has suggested that we need a fringe meeting at the next Synod with an on hand “techie” to help the less confident Synod members to download the materials and organise them for ready access. Many will worry about doing it themselves but an ounce of practice is worth any amount of exhortation.

The highlight of the first day was unquestionably the address by Archbishop Justin. If you have not read it, it is highly recommended.

To Brother Ivo, the key paragraph is the one in which he says

” the potential of the Communion under God is beyond anything we can imagine or think about. We need to hold on to that, there is a prize, the quest for which it is worth almost anything to achieve. The prize is visible unity in Christ despite functional diversity. It is a prize that is not only of infinite value, but also requires enormous sacrifice and struggle to achieve. Yet if we even get near it we can speak with authority to a world where over the last year we have seen more than ever an incapacity to deal with difference, and a desire to oversimplify the complex and diverse nature of human existence for no better reason than we cannot manage difference and dealing with The Other. Yet in Christ we are held together. In Christ the barriers are broken, peace is held out to us as a gift established, which needs living. In Christ there is hope of a life that provides hope of peace.”

The more he has considers these words, the more Brother Ivo is impressed with the boldness of that vision.

Is he not challenging us to review the very nature of Anglicanism?

For too long we have had doctrinal strivings, aimed at winning an inter-party struggle. Do we not need to step back from even attempting theological uniformity?

With the approval of women priests we created an enclave for our Anglo-Catholic friends. We shall soon be asked to ensure that other colleagues who hold to the “headship” principle shall have a guaranteed place in the House of Bishops. Having embarked upon that institutionalisation of difference, what possible reason can we advance for not reaching similar accommodations with other sections of the communion, not least those who wish to participate in gay “marriage”.

Brother Ivo opposed the redefinition of marriage: he is on record in that view. That debate was lost.

That law  is now in place and many liberal clergy would wish to conduct such services in accordance with it. We know their views, they are open and plain in their support, even as we share the bread and the cup together. They will want no less acceptance and respect for that approach, than they were asked to accept on behalf of Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals for their issues of conscience and interpretation.

Given a vitally necessary strong defence on behalf of those who can never accept participation in such services, will this not be part of the “functional diversity” to which Archbishop Justin alludes?

To those worried about too much diversity in our gender views it is worth reflecting for a moment on the once unimaginable diversity in theology with which we currently live.

We have within the Communion, those who regard the Bible as the literal word of God, but there are others who regard it as the “inspired” word of God. Some are strongly for the historicity the Virgin birth whilst others see only an expressive truth. The reverence of some for the Virgin or Icons is for others but one step removed from idolatry. The literal body and blood of Christ for one,  is the “token of sacrifice”  another. One man’s altar is another woman’s table. To some, prayers for the dead are efficacious, for others a pointless exercise. There will be other examples.

In short, we have all swallowed so many theological camels to preserve unity, that choking on the gender gnat should be almost easy. If we are finding it hard, we need to look again at Archbishop Justin’s vision.

Of course our disagreements are a cause for repentance. Yet is that continued, and even additional, division enough for us to call it a day? Is this the time for some of us to walk away?

The reality is that we have become a federation of belief- a “federation of failure” if you like – but still with enough shared love for God to make it worth our while not to throw in our hands. There is still much we agree upon.

On Tuesday we looked at Middle Eastern issues. In that context we hoped that the protagonists will somehow, with the Grace of God, come together. Notwithstanding  the blood and rhetoric currently in evidence there,  if we can still conceive of reconciliation between Middle Eastern Jew, Muslim, and Christian , we surely cannot regard division from those currently in communion with each other whilst plainly of different gender views, just because we are approaching a decision point on gay marriage?

There will be more to say on Tuesday’s business which saw debates on the Middle East, the Methodist Covenant and the “Bedroom Subsidy” as well as a fringe meeting on Gaza. These will be the subject of the next post.

Transparency in Public Life

The Bible is quite clear about our duty to deal plainly with each other.

Even in a secular age, most people know that the Ten Commandments include a requirement that ” Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour”

Lest anyone seek “wriggle room” by limiting that interpretation to giving evidence in Court, Matthew records Jesus teaching ” But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.”

In the letter of James we are told ” But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.”

All strands of the Church can be clear and insistant about this in both public and private life, and perhaps it needs to do so  now when talking both inside and outside the Church.

There is a growing list of scandal.

Last night, the Government behaved appallingly. It had attempted to settle the controversy over the European Arrest Warrant ahead of the Rochester and Strood by election by promising a vote on the issue, but as unease grew amongst its own back benchers, they shifted their ground. Rather more accurately they became shifty. They attempted to avoid a humiliating defeat by having a global vote on a range of issues rather than seeking approval of the measure on an individual basis. That is not what they promised and it will not wash.

The speaker has righty observed that the public will be ” contemptuous ” of the Government’s lack of straight dealing”.

Their own “supporters” have complained at the lack of integrity of their Government and Whips office and no amount of bluster about the Labour Party’s intention to return to the issue will do. If the opposition brings the matter back to a specific vote it is not being “politically opportunistic” but rather it is doing its proper job as the loyal opposition

Labour is doing the right thing, yet there are several beams in their own eyes.

They have accepted that during their last administration they deliberately took a relaxed view over immigration policy. It is a policy that inevitably had consequences upon the poorest in this country in terms of employment competition, housing need, and local medical and educational resources. This issue was important and the public are unhappy at being deliberately kept in the dark. Whatever one’s view of the appropriate number of newcomers that can be properly welcomed and cared for, a seruptitios policy of unacknowledged societal transformation is wrong in a democracy.

Some of this political culture has been imported from the USA which gave its own appalling example this week.

American Healthcare needed reform. All sides of the debate agreed that, yet one does not have to consider the words of one of its political architects, James Gruber, for long without feeling outrage at the cynicism involved. Claiming that ” the stupidity of the American voter’ would have meant the defeat of the measure, Mr Gruber was happy to acknowledge to the political editor of the Daily Caller that he deliberately misled the public as to the nature of what was being proposed stating unashamedly that lack of transparency is a “huge political advantage.’

It is worth taking a moment to reflect upon the implications for democracy when such attitudes can be openly admitted by the political class. Brother Ivo would advise against any dismissal of such things as a trans-Atlantic phenomenon. Plainly we are seeing it here too.

A democracy depends upon integrity and transparency. It is fundamental to the concept. If Party Politicians and Managers think that sleight of hand is ” good enough” it is right that they be swiftly disabused of the notion, and the Church is both entitled and required to speak on this subject. We have Bishops in the upper House, they are there to remind our politicians of higher values.

Insofar as it addresses a fault in our current political mores, many will think hard before speaking out on this issue, and yet they have both a right a duty to use their ethical influence on this current political culture.

A wise priest once told Brother Ivo that he never made a criticism of his congregation that did not include himself. If he felt them ungenerous, he might begin with a story giving an example in which he had behaved badly.

We in the Church have our own beams in eyes.

We elect our own legislators to General Synod with a system which gives little information about candidates to the electorate amongst the members of the Deanery Synods. WE do not harness the power of modern communication technology to promote questioning and debate.  Our hustings are poorly attended, the election addresses are often anodine and many who have the right to vote, do not fulfil their duty. If they are not fully engaged it may be that they do not feel drawn into a process that does not make issues and attitudes clear.

In a recent by election in Brother Ivo’s Diocese few candidates declared membership of any of the major campaigning groups like WATCH, Forward in Faith, Changing,Attitudes or the like. Interestingly, a newly elected member of General Synod receives a questionnaire in which they are asked to identify their churchmanship for the purpose of enabling a balancing of committees.

Brother Ivo has been told that at General Synod, their are groupings, pre-voting meetings and temporary alliances. He never knew. He is plainly a naive and innocent soul, but imagines he is not alone in his innocence in the pews.

It is expected, not unreasonably, that Church legislators should declare their positions when they are elected. Is it not more even important that such clarification is offered before electors cast their votes?

This all seems part of the same malady.

Transparency is important in public life. Without it, those to whom we lend power over us, cannot be held accountable. We need this virtue to be asserted in times when growing cynicism by political operators exists both inside and outside the Church.

As the political maelstrom swirls, perhaps one of our a Bishops might survey the spin doctors, pollsters, whips, and political operators of Westminster and ask ” Will no one rid us of these troublesome cynics”.

Well, no Bishop can achieve this, but we can. Well informed and engaged voters are the antidote to the malady we all see before us and condemn.

‘Take up our quarrel with the foe”


Conceptual Art challenges the observer to make what s/he will of the piece in question. It “means” whatever you or I think it means, and the Tower of London Remembrance installation has proved both popular and challenging. Hundreds of thousands of us have already visited it,  and Brother Ivo will be going there this evening, drawn as many others to share in this new collective act of remembrance.

Some will see in the work the magnitude of suffering of the Great War. Others might reflect upon the supposed futility of war. The “Weeping Window” can cause us to reflect upon the continuing nature of the sacrifices, not least today, as we hear that whilst most of our troops may have been pulled out of a combat role in Iraq and Afghanistan, men of the SAS are being redeployed back into the Middle East in search of ‘Jihadi John”, the British born executioner of innocent hostages. If they find him they will kill him and few of us will feel any pangs of regret if they do.

For decades there was sympathy towards a First World War narrative that those commemorated in the work of art and in Churches and on memorials throughout the land were simply misled fools. Some have used the deaths to make a class war point, although two Prime Ministers sons made “the final sacrifice” and the greatest cohort of mortality was amongst the junior officer class rather than the men whom they led.

THat narrative is now challenged by revisited scholarship on the attitudes and values of those we commemorate today.

Many years ago Brother Ivo read a detailed work upon the Christmas Truce and the research behind it showed that the authenticated accounts of where the soldiery climbed out of their trenches at Christmas, indicated that this largely occurred amongst professional soldiers who were engaged before and afterwards in the most fierce of fighting. It may have been about respect for the Christian season, it was neither incipient pacifism nor protesting war weariness on either side.

Those who enlisted in the Second World War in similar numbers had their father’s accounts to tell them what might be in store, and yet still they volunteered and served. Thank God they did.

There were many individual reasons why men enlisted and did their duty. The art installation graphically contrasts the scale of the “big picture, with the contribution of each constituent part. The scale of losses is a number, the individual is personal each with a specific story.

Brother Ivo is already responding to the work, reflecting that whilst obedience is often collective, sacrifice is always personal.

God knew that when he gave His Son.

We engage with Christ precisely because His redemptive story story is set on a human scale, very personal and thus comprehensible. There was doubt, fear and reluctance but also strength and determination. The prophets can set the story within a larger picture of God’s plan but it is the individuality of the sacrifice that draws us in.  Just as with the Tower poppies one cannot contemplate the larger picture without thinking of the one.

This year has seen a resurgence in popularity of John McCreae’s famous poem “In Flanders Fields” not least, because it has been set to a rather fine modern musical setting, which Brother Ivo heard four young girls sing unaccompanied at his church Remembrance Service this morning.

The sermon at that service centred upon the thought that remembrance needs to go hand in hand with a commitment to Justice.

That is a large issue.

It is worth reflecting, that injustices such as  tyranny, genocide, cruelty, mass rape and oppression are never overcome only by inviting the malefactors to sing “Kum Ba Yah”. Such a strategy did not bring down the Waffen SS, and neither is there any reason to believe that the Jihadis of the Middle East will be any more disposed to temporise until rough soldiers like the “Hereford Men” have plied their rough trade and denied evil men an easy road to victory.

Sacrifice precedes reconciliation.

The sacrifice of Christ was a beginning not an end.

We are weekly enjoined to share in that sacrifice, both in the Eucharist and in our lives,  by applying ourselves in a self-giving way. It is no co-incidence that the poet keyed into recollections of such Christian sentiment of renewed struggle, just as the blood gushing from Christ’s side may be seen in Tom Piper’s “Weeping Window”.

People engage with sacrifice, and accept the challenge of its symbolism.

Tom Piper has renewed us and engaged many who thought Remembrance had no more to surprise them. John McCrae reminds us still that in the face of injustice we are challenged to “Take up our quarrel with the foe”.

Christ calls us daily by His sacrifice in acts of communion throughout the country.

Self sacrifice is active, dynamic and necessary to advance God’s Justice and God’s Kingdom here on earth and beyond.

When artists point us in that direction they renew us with that ancient wisdom and truth.We usually end up challenging ourselves if we are ready to “Go and do thou likewise”

“The times they are a’changing”

B1pqXT0IYAA9hfDBrother Ivo has been awake at unsocial hours throughout the night following the mid term elections in the USA.

Just as Michael Howard and Ed Milliband follow American sports, so Brother Ivo has had a lifelong fascination with the American political process, its characters, its failures and its processes.

Brother Ivo blames the late Alistair Cooke.

From the age of about 7, Brother Ivo would listen to his elegant, eclectic, radio programme, “Letters from America” and acquired a taste for the trans-Atlantic diversity which he described.

One week Cooke might be describing a political convention in Miami, but would be just as comfortable writing the following week about Charlie Chaplin ( who was supposed to have been the best man at his wedding) or making a point by dipping into history to describe George Washington arriving at his Boarding House late and missing supper  – having just been inaugurated as President of the United States. Those were the days.

Brother Ivo followed Cooke’s easy elegant prose as he unfolded the story of the Civil Rights Movement, its triumphs and tragedies, the Watergate drama and the tragedy of the Vietnam War. If readers have never heard him, the nearest current writer Brother Ivo can think of is perhaps Bill Bryson who reciprocates the love for his adopted country and similarly roams the country with a similar affectionate outsider’s eye for detail.

How we could have done with such mature commentary and understanding last night as the Republican Party made significant gains across the board in US Senate, Gubernatorial, and local elections. There were reasons for these turn arounds two short years after the re-election of the President but the BBC and its reporters were well below Cooke’s standards as they attempted to explain them.

In the early hours the BBC World Service was highlighting the complaint of voter suppression reducing the Democratic vote and supposedly excusing its electoral meltdown. It is a simpleDemocratic talking point/excuse, and the BBC should do better than reproducing it unchallenged.

The complaint might be encapsulated by the complaint of Mary Landrieu incumbent Senator for Louisiana who attributed her difficulties to her State having a historic problem with black people and women. In that State you have to secure 50% of the vote. She is facing a run off that she will probably lose although as the GOP ( Grand Old Party -Republican) has won everything else she might just squeak back.

Her complaint might have a little more validity had not that same electorate ( which she seemingly regards as sotto voce prejudiced)  not only voted for President Obama twice,  but has also supported her on three previous occasions. Not only this but their Governor is Republican Bobby Jhindal who, as his name confirms, is of recent Indian family extract.

Sometimes the explanation is that the voters simply regard your performance as below parr and trying to excuse it with reference to historic prejudices just won’t wash.

Alistaire Cook was never partisan. He had his favourites, the urbane Adelaide Stephenson featured regularly in his recollections, but  one cannot imagine him leaving such claims unexplored and unchallenged.

If one is looking for a “minorities” angle in these elections it is that the Republicans have continued to make good progress in diversifying its representatives.

Jodi Ernst becomes the first woman Senator from Iowa, Shelley Moore Capito achieved the same in West Virginia.  In New York Elise Stefanik becomes the youngest Congresswoman ever elected, aged 30 for the same party.

Hispanic Governor of New Mexico Susana Martinez hardly had to get out of bed to win re-election, and young Black GOP hopeful won her seat in Congress in Utah, which is not a State associated with a large black vote. In doing so, she became the first Black Republican woman in Congress.

Perhaps the most significant result of the night was in South Carolina where black Republican Tim Scott won his Senate seat. The youngest woman Governor – Nikki Haley – also retained her seat in that State as a Native American woman.

Scott celebrated his landslide in what had once been the heart of the Confederacy. Scott with a remark which encapsulated  “Hope and Change”. He reminded folk that his grandfather picked cotton and he was now taking a Senate Seat – ” This is America”.

The Republicans have gone some way to fixing their problems, not by embracing “Identity politics” but through merit, and letting those meritorious minority candidates progress without being either excluded in “smoke filled rooms” of shoehorned in by quota. Mia Love looks more like a real feminist than Jack Dromey.

It is striking that those who embraced identity politics the most seemed to have come out worst.

In Texas, Wendy Davis who made her name insisting that there was a “War on Women” under-polled by 10 points amongst women. She came to be known as” Abortion Barbie” and her Colorado colleague Mark Udell attempted the same thing with the same result, being tagged along the way with the nickname “Mark Uterus” because he never addressed any of the other issues in the race and lost.

If this was not bad enough, Democrats lost Governorships in their heartlands, in Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts. Whatever the Democrat’s problems are in these States, Voter ID is not the answer.

Parties need to look carefully at where they went wrong. The Republicans did and have returned as a viable election force. The Democrats must do the same. A balanced functional democracy needs viable alternatives.

Complaining to the media about voter ID requirements is not the way forward.

Alistair Cooke wrote often and movingly about students bussing down to the Deep South literally risking their lives to register poor black voters. Life is infinitely easier now in that regard. Approximately $3.8billion dollars have been spent on these elections. $100 million in Kentucky alone. The Democrats have been the bigger spenders.

If securing photo ID to register voters was seen as any problem of significance why has not a goodly portion of that money been used over the last 6 years to address it? Why were voters overwhelmed by campaign adds if what they really needed was photographic ID? It is a poor excuse and the BBC has bought it.

At the end of their coverage on the Today programme we had Jim Naughtie bemoaning that the American Political process is “divided”. Had Alistair Cook been alive he would surely have reminded him that it is “balanced”. It is deliberately so.

The English Gentlemen who devised the Constitution had seen despotism in the English Monarchy and resolved to make it difficult to replicate in the Republic. They deliberately divided the powers between President the House or Representatives and Senate. In the latter, each of the States has but 2 votes regardless of size.

The merit of such a settlement is that no party and certainly no President gets all of his way all of the time. The system functions through compromise and all Presidents have to deal with this,  especially as the mid-term elections often unsettle the balance against them. It is part of the merit of the system.

Both George W Bush and Bill Clinton had to manage without total control. It improved them. They lived with it.

President Obama forced through his Health Scheme Obamacare using a “supermajority in both House and Senate and without a single bi-partisan vote. Unimproved by intelligent civilised debate it has resulted in more people losing health care than gaining it. The losers are the folks paying for it. What exactly did he expect in mid-term elections? THere is a raft of other failures and discontents.

What we are seeing here is not a broken system, despite what Mr Naughtie seems to think, but rather but one working as it was intended. A wise President listens to the electorate when he loses and especially when he loses big time and in places where where he ought to be impregnable.

The old ways of calling support from the ghettos into which folks were compartmentalised for the purpose of locking them into permanent compliance is going. The people want a more rational politics, proper debate. problem solving and accordingly give and take is required of those elected yesterday.

The President is famous for spending much of his leisure time on the golf course.

He ought perhaps to enrol onto the next American series of “Dancing with the Stars” where he can be patiently taught that it takes two to tango. It may be just as well for him that Craig Revel Horwood remains on this side of the Atlantic.