Monthly Archives: February 2015

Enter the Bishop of Clacton?

The growing dispute over MP’s outside jobs and interests must surely be a suitable occasion to take up the challenge from our Anglican Bishops in their recent Pastoral Letter, in which they urged us to step aside from partisanship and to analyse exactly what it is that will best promote the public good.

Rarely can this be more important than when the free composition of our ancient Parliament is being considered, in the light of what may – or may not – be breaches of the rules by two senior Parliamentarians

The Bishops’ letter covers a range of issues but must be relevant in relation to this topical question about securing the best representatives and legislators to serve the nation. The Bishops encourage us, whether we be Christian or not, to engage in the conversation, so Brother Ivo takes up the challenge.

The exercise begins with the hope that at the end of the enquiry,  we shall be fearlessly represented by free men and women of character. competence, experience integrity  and dedication to the task. Ultimately securing that outcome can never be about the making of rules but the exercise of judgement by those choosing the representatives , whether for the candidates list or ultimately by the wider electorate.

How we shall best ensure that those representing us bring the necessary  qualities to their role is important. Breadth of representation by the most talented is also an important objective.

The exercise surely begins with personal responsibility, not of the would be politician but with the electorate. If we do not participate in political parties ourselves, not least in their selection committees and processes, then we can scarcely complain at the character of those in the House of Commons?

Jesus told us that “in my father’s house there are many mansions”, and there was a range of character and both his disciples and early followers so perhaps we should predispose ourselves to the idea that diversity has more to offer than uniformity of any kind.

Love them or loath them, Sir Nicholas Soames, Dennis Skinner, David Lammy, Sajid Javid, Nadine Dorries and Sarah Teather are vastly different characters, and yet each represents a part of British life that needs representing in the House of Commons. Some have outside interests or affiliations, some have independent means, others do not. All types of MP bring important perspectives to a variety of questions, social, economic constitutional, and religious. It is odd to outwardly promote diversity whilst simultaneously excluding those whose personal circumstances don’t match a 9-5 working mentality.

Flexible and creative minds are surely to be encouraged?

It is the function performed rather than the uniformity of the mould that best guarantees the availability of a multiplicity of skills from which the welfare of the nation may be formed.

Brother Ivo is frankly concerned that to restrictive a drawing of rules will compress the pool from which MP’s may be drawn. It is, after all, a bit rum, for the present Party Leadership to fulminate against those who have second jobs.

David Cameron and Ed Miliband are both wealthy and have high earning wives: second jobs were always irrelevant to them. Nick Clegg has been described as one of the few people who can make both look positively middle class, having both inherited wealth, and a rich wife. George Osborne, Harriett Harman and many others are similarly hardly dependent on Parliamentary salary; Gordon Brown and George Galloway have been amongst the richest of outside earners whilst advocating for the common man. Bans on outside work will not touch any of these but may deter political engagement by many ordinary folk considering putting their careers on hold to contest seats that may never offer job security for an income less than many secondary head teachers enjoy.

There was a time, paradoxically when the estimation of MP’s was higher than it is today; it was when we did not pay MP’s at all.

Even that had its merits: if a man owned half of Berwickshire he might not empathise much with the rat catcher of Romford ( a task once performed by Brother Ivo’s grandfather!) but at least one did not have to worry over much about his selling his opinion to the highest bidder.

On the other hand, the paying of MP’s enabled the curmudgeonly Mr Skinner to bring an entirely different approach to the steering of the ship of state.

Every solution to the conundrum of how to remunerate and constrain our legislators has pluses and minuses, but we must not throw the baby out with the bathwater just to satisfy political spitefulness or to solve a passing  problem of the moment.

An early question must surely be whether we want to promote a fully professionalised dedicated political class?

The polls suggest a public inconsistency, not to say immaturity.

At one and the same time. many of us seem to be simultaneously complaining that our MP’s are out of touch with ordinary life – whilst also insisting that they should spend all their time working in the Westminster bubble.

We need to flag up this weak thinking.

Neither do we seem to be entirely clear on what the task a “full time MP” might look like. Is it enough that they work 35 hours, 40 or 45 hours? If so, is it really so outrageous if they earn money outside of those times rather than say, watching Netflix? As Dt Jonson said, a man is never so innocently employed as when he is making money. This is, provided there is transparency. When that is missing, then impropriety arises soon after.

One of the prickly questions one might even ask is whether this ” full time commitment” is compatible with being the mother of young children? Brother Ivo accepts that it is, but wonders whether the pressures, distractions and crisis management inherent in the multi-tasking of such ladies is actually less of a distraction to them than a once a week Board Meeting of a family business?

The value of current and ongoing outside experiences brought by farmers, duty solicitors, GP’s and military reservists is surely much appreciated by the public when they hear their parliamentarians examining issues with real life understanding, rather than the reading of briefings from special advisors, time serving before their opportunity to step up another rung on the career ladder that began with the PPE degree at Oxford.

A Parliamentary salary is greater than many earn in the country. That is no reason to conclude that those of talent are grasping. exploitative, and “only in it for themselves”. The rules may need modification but ultimately does it not depend upon the character and caliber of those whom we ultimately have a responsibility to vet and hold to account?

It is transparency and accountability that was at the heart of Zac Goldsmith’s recall bill which was emasculated by the party hierarchies – the folk who are currently vying to occupy the moral high ground.

If the local electorate choose candidates in open primaries and can recall an MP via a by election triggered by a petition of 10% of the electorate, the behaviour of Messrs Straw and Rifkind are surely best judged in the court of their most local public opinion.

Brother Ivo finds the idea of artificially restricting outside activities deeply unattractive. Many of our best politicians have been polymaths, people of exceptional breadth organisational skills and energy.

A simple analogy to put before the electorate is that of professional football and the maximum wage.

Were we to return to the old days of the “maximum wage” and legislate that football players be paid only an MP’s salary with no International duties or outside sponsorships, can you imagine the uproar? Would not fans instantly see that it would result in an exit of talent, a “dumbing down” and a resulting mediocrity of journeyman without flair?

Brother Ivo does not want to be only represented by the very rich or those whose ambition is limited to holding onto a lifelong job on a respectable but not spectacular salary. He sees such MP’s as excessively prone to influence by the Whips Office: the model of those who have to hold onto their jobs through compliance, contrasted with those free from economic fear looks suspiciously like the old  “gentlemen and players” model of yesteryear: one we should be slow to go back to.

Nothing illustrates the distain of the patrician class for the ordinary folk more than the entry in the members Register of Interests, which records a gift to Andy Burnham of a day at the Wimbledon tennis from Harriet Harman. It cost £2000.

It may be a pretty gesture between wealthy friends, but it surely sits ill for them to then rail against the ambition of more workaday MP’s who want and can suitably work for their families to have what the richest MP’s can so easily take for granted. Think of that day, when criticising the MP who put 400 hours  at night and weekends as a duty solicitor on not much money for his firm

Brother Ivo wants representation by the businessman who knows whether regulation is ” just right” or holding back enterprise and job creation. He likes the awkward ex Union Official whose members may not be as monolithic – or PC – as the party hierarchy. He wants farmers to speak for the countryside. He wants the GP or that  duty solicitor who can talk to the drug addict, and Police Sergeant alike at 3 in the morning and encounter what it is like trying to get a bed for the mentally ill under those circumstances, rather than hearing a civil servant’s regurgitation of  statistics.

All this is applying the spirit of the Bishops’ letter to this current problem. They seem to be encouraging us to engage more, and put in another way, it reminds us that the real problem is not that MP’s are not paying enough attention to their job, but rather that it is the electorate which is sloppy, and under performing. WE should have been more outraged when the recall bill was defeated by party interests who wanted to keep their power over the people’s representatives and did not want the electorate to exercise the discipline over its MP’S

Surely Christians seeking to improve the body politic need to be saying -“get involved, vet your candidates before you elect them. Hold your MP to account for poor standards. If they let you down, don’t hold to tribal loyalty – ‘ throw the bums out!” -as our American friends say.

We soon reach one of Brother Ivo’s beloved paradoxes – or in this case, perhaps an irony.

In such encouragement to take responsibility for our democracy, the Bishops are aligning themselves intellectually with no one on the current political scene so much as Douglas Carswell of UKIP, who has written persuasively on the subject

Now, who would have thought that?

Who is Mohammed? (and who can answer?)

” Who is Mohammed?”

This was the rather arresting headline on the front page of Brother Ivo’s free local newspaper. With such an attention grabbing front page it thereby avoided being cast aside unread, and partial answers were seen to be offered in the words of George Bernard Shaw, Mahatma Gandhi, Thomas Carlisle and others, all offering respectful opinions telling us how unique, compassionate and utterly admirable he was.

How much these alleged character witnesses knew of the man is not entirely clear, yet their high opinion of the Muslim prophet was plainly advanced to whet our appetites.

If the present tense of the headline had not alerted him, the offer at the foot of the page gave the game away, with a website offering to take the reader to the Qu’ran online and a telephone number to call to obtain a free copy.

This was paid advertising.

It was all very enterprising.

Who this man Mohammed was, is indeed an interesting and important question in the modern world, so putting the question into the public domain is superficially to be welcomed, and yet, it brings with it, a necessary corresponding question. Can any alternative view be safely advanced examined and published?

Can it be said in a local newspaper that , for example , Mohammed was a trader whose travels around the Arabian peninsular brought him into contact with the Gnostic Christian heresies which fled and established themselves there after being rejected by orthodox Christianity at the Council of Nicea?

Could one advertise, or respond through the letters page that his reporting of Christian historic belief and doctrine was/is demonstratively false and misleading – something which God is not likely have got wrong had the Qu’ranic revelation truly been a Godly revelation?

Might anyone say that Mohammed became a warlord capable of generosity and mercy, yet also according to Islamic sources, responsible for the murder of prisoners, a whole tribe of Jews,  the poisoning of critics and the sexual abuse of his 9 year old child bride?

Will anyone explore the circularity of his truth claims?  Mohammed is God’s final prophet, so says the Qu’aran, brought to you exclusively by Mohammed who is to be believed because he is God’s prophet etc..etc

Would the paid advertisers allow others to engage with the question by pointing out that if Mohammed lived today, the principle question raised by the modern secularists would be whether he should appear first before the Central Criminal Court, the International Court at The Hague for modern day war crimes, , or the Child Protection Court?

It may be unduly sceptical, but Brother Ivo will not be looking at the letters pages over the next few weeks in expectation of vigorous theological jousting, neither will he encourage others to offer paid advertising of a contrary opinion to those encouraging us to embrace Mohammed and his reported revelations.

It is much to be welcomed that Muslims have taken the trouble and paid the costs of putting the question “out there”. The problem is that a full engagement will not occur because the newspaper will censor serious critical engagement with the chosen question, not least, lest some of Brother Ivo’s identified issues be raised.

None of them are new, yet all are legitimate questions.

Nobody is similarly inhibited over questioning Christianity.

If Brother Ivo declared” Jesus is Lord”another can, and doubtless will riposte “Oh no he isn’t”, and Brother Ivo accepts that as a price worth paying for the freedom to speak the truth as he sees it. That is the Faustian bargain that believers and non believers have struck in order to create the largely tolerant free flow of ideas within our society and this is precisely what differentiates it from the intolerant regimes that many have fled, together with the violence and strife that follows soon after.

It is not that we have avoided intolerance; rather we have learnt to live with challenges to our values as the least worst option.

Even if the newspaper were to be willing to put its editor and staff at risk, many in the community will have taken note of what has happened in Paris and Copenhagen to those bold enough to apply criticism to the object of Islamist veneration. Many will avoid engaging with the question posed – and that too is a betrayal  of our most valued contribution to peaceful society – the honest and peaceful acceptance of difference of opinion.

When historian Tom Holland wrote and presented a critically acute historical examination of a Islam for Channel 4, ” Islam The Untold Story”, it did not make it to a public screening: such were the sensitivities of Mohammed’s admirers which the broadcasters were at excessive pains to protect. Most people know this and act accordingly, censoring criticism rather than risk controversy. That is how religious freedom dies, not with a bang but a whimper.

All this presents a Brother Ivo with another of his many paradoxes.

He wants to welcome the decision of some Muslims to ask their question, but can only do so provisionally. Engaging in public religious discourse in a pluralistic society carries responsibilities as well as rights. If one asks open questions about one’s faith, all involved have to expect and accept an uncensored and potentially offensive subsequent debate.

So do we have it – or do we walk away?

When Judges and Bishops “rebel”

Sir Nicholas Creighton is not a politician, neither is he a bishop. Brother Ivo does not know if he is a Christian, but as he discharges his duties as a District Judge in the specialist Drug and Alcohol Family Court in London, he demonstrates much that is similar in approach to that of the Anglicans Bishops whose recently published pastoral letter urges a fresh approach upon those about to contest the general election.

If you do not know about Sir Nicholas’ innovative work in resolving intractable family problems you can read about it here. http://www.lawgazette.co.uk/practice/family-drug-and-alcohol-court-breaking-the-habit/5041570.fullarticle

In a nutshell the Court which he has created in a pilot scheme, targets the most complex and intractable of cases where parents have failed their children through misuse of drugs or alcohol.

Many of the parents will have been brought up by neglectful cruel or incompetent parents themselves, so the problems are compounded by emotional issues which would be difficult enough to resolve as stand alone problems, even before substance abuse and inevitable poverty potentiated the difficulties.

These “families” are characterised by lack of routine, multiple relationships, and state dependency, and having been neglected or actively subverted by societal messaging that drug use and single parenthood is perfectly capable of delivering ” good enough” parenting.

Such parents are shocked when State and its agents suddenly turn from being indulgent provider to aggressive accuser, giving such fragile parents just 6 months to turn around the habits of a lifetime,  with the penalty of losing their children forever should they be incapable of pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.

Sir Nicholas identifies the problem succinctly.

“A system that goes on removing children because of drug and alcohol issues, but does nothing about the core problem, is a ‘failing system’, he adds: ‘We know from experience that a mother who has a child removed deliberately goes out to get pregnant again because it is the only way she can heal the wound of the loss.’

They inevitably return , they cannot heal themselves : “if they knew better, they’d do better”.

These are people with tragic lives, often the product of poor decisions – many their own. Whilst we are enjoined not to be judgemental, they have almost invariably failed to follow the very simple basic rules for avoiding poverty, and family chaos.

1) Don’t drop out of school
2) Don’t have children under 21 years
3) Get married before having children
4) Don’t engage in substance abuse

Our societal failure to promulgate these simple basic rules is at the heart of many of tragedies that arrive in the family courts. Our Bishops could help in this regard but rarely do so with clarity.

Sir Nicholas  tired of seeing the pain of families being administered into heartbreaking separation, and of his part in letting it happen. Having seen the value of joined up thinking in the Courts of Santa Barbara California, he started a bold initiative to do things better in London. He convinced Government Departments and Local Authorities to give him enough free rein and funding – “peanuts” – to do things differently,

When Court proceedings are started, parents are brought to him quickly. He sets out a programme in consultation with independent social workers, therapists, child and adult psychiatrists, substance abuse experts and a clinical nurse. He talks plainly, offering failing parents a promise of a fair chance and real support in return for determined engagement and total honesty. If the parents agree, they enter a programme of intensive change, support and regular drug testing.

It is not perfect, it has many failures when even these efforts cannot rescue parents from deep habits and emotional fragility. The project has, however, markedly improved the prospects of success for families staying together- and when this happens the case ends with congratulations and applause for all the hard work – led by the Judge.

So what has this to do with our Bishop’s pastoral letter enjoining politicians to change their modus operandi?

The Judge, like the Bishops, recognised that standing imperiously above the process and passing judgement, was not enough. To achieve what was needed required him to re-define his role. Our Bishops seem of similar mind.

He engages the failing families with direct and refreshing honesty. One might say that he engages them with equality, and refreshing respect: he does not condescend or dissemble. He put the challenge bluntly, offered a hand up, but does not shirk from making a tough decision when the primary interest of the children required it.

He sees that the common good – of the families and the wider community – have a mutual interest in investing time effort and resources  to reverse the cycle of failure, which frequently cascades down through the generations.

He plainly believes that the failed families before him were worth the effort of redemption.

He recognises that the people he has spend years judging have a culture of failure; it is not, as our politically correct friends would have us believe, an equally valid life style choice. Nevertheless he offers them respect though a real choice: nobody can do this  for them, although if they accept the challenge they may succeed. Nothing is guaranteed, nobody can succeed for them, but the specialist Court gives them their best chance.

Neither the Judge, nor the bishops have got it all right. Both are venturing outside of their traditional roles. Both are motivated by a combination of compassion and informed practicality. We should welcome the good that can come out of it, yet this can only happen if we too fully engage with the process.

There is much to approve in the Bishop’s initiative, yet also a strand of paternalism and trust in the benefits State intervention that many find jarring, especially when they look at our own past and the French present.

Sir Nicholas seems to have struck the balance rather better.

Help is offered – but accompanied by realistic expectation.

Personal responsibility is not overlooked.

Bad destructive values are bluntly challenged.

Resources are targeted in a timely manner, but contractually based, and for carefully defined purpose.

There is compassion, but not indulgent sentimentality.

It is a blend of optimism, tempered by real world experience.

With a Judges talent for succinct communication Sir Nicholas can also encapsulate his thinking in considerably less than 52 pages, Our Bishops might do well to learn by this example.

50 Shades of Brother Ivo

It is very noticeable that Valentine’s Day this year is awash with reviews of the film of the EL James novel ” 50 Shades of Grey”.

Plainly the film’s distributors have chosen the time of release to coincide with the ncreasingly less romantic but more secular consumer festival, and the fact that the book has sold over 100 million copies, despite its execrable prose, suggests that as Louis B Meyer once famously observed “Nobody ever went bust underestimating the taste of the general public”.

There are many and various responses.

Some are warning that the 50 Shades story sends all the wrong messages about domestic abuse, and they are right. Whilst there are those whom have assert that “safe” (sic) sado-masochism can be gender equal, the reality is that a book like this, backed with much marketing, drive, publicity and money, will make it easier for some abusers to first cajole and then “pretend-bully” their way to the satisfactions of dominant power.

In a rather more English approach, others just greet it with hilarious disdain, like the fellow at the quiz, who, when asked the name of the author, replied ” EL Wisty” . Anyone who remembers the anarchic humour of the late Peter Cook must surely regret that he is not here to subvert this festival of amateur bondage.

Apparently, midwives are predicting a mini-baby boom in late November: Brother Ivo approves of babies being born. Maybe some good will inadvertently come out of this rather bathetic little novel after all.

Brother Ivo’s brief for his blog is to be interesting, to try to say something original in all this. To do so, he is helped by a recent visit to Venice where he engaged his own private passion – studying and enjoying renaissance art.

He sometimes teases his friends that he only looks at pictures painted before 1605, and Venice indulged him to the full.

He came away from La Serennissima having accidentally encountered a splendid but lesser known collection at the Church of San Polo. There he adored the Vivarini alterpiece but it was the Stations of the Cross by Tiepolo which surprised him. He has not much engaged with this artist before but spent some time entranced by how a master can present a familiar yet challenging story.

It is not disrespectful to either the painter, or the theology of such work to say that objectively speaking, there are some superficial similarities between what pleases Brother Ivo and what engages the 50 Shades audience.

If we were to ask Joe and Jo Public, it is likely that they could “read” the “philosophy” underlying the 50 Shades narrative.

The heroine, Ana is attracted to the billionaire Christian Grey ( is that Christian name significant?). He is apparently emotionally “damaged goods”. She submits to him, and by that self-sacrificial submission ultimately moves towards delivering him from his demons.

It is all rather Mills and Boon: yet that extraction of a “moral” would probably be within the capacity of most who read it, even if they don’t exactly read it for the moral uplift which it impliedly seeks credit for in the chosen happy ending.

Artistically, Christian Grey could have morphed into Fred West: yet that would be too close to real life. In this kind of fiction: there is a very controlled, safe danger. A better author might have redeemed the novel by taking it in that direction.

Now, imagine asking that same readership to “read”/ deconstruct the theology of the Stations of the Cross.

Is it fanciful to suggest that there would be some confusion in a modern viewer, whereas those of past centuries would have “seen” and “read” the painter’s mind easily and accurately?

The graphic portrayal of Christ’s degradation, beating and torture, which lies on the other side of Lent
will be repellant to many in the modern world. This is the real nature of cruelty which grows from detachment from God. The 50 Shades reader may empathise with Christ the victim, but, Brother Ivo suggests that, if asked where God is in the series of pictures, they would instantly identify Him as the malevolent force making the suffering happen.

The theology of the Incarnation is neither easy nor deeply appreciated.

It is extraordinary to Brother Ivo that what was plain to earlier generations will often be missed by the religiously illiterate.

The story of Chist’s passion begins with that incarnation; it is prefigured in the gifts of frankincense and myrrh offered to the new born. It is his destiny, which he accepts.

This generation will need to be taught again that in the superficially familiar story of Easter, God has laid aside his power and entitlement. The only thing he brings to the story of redemption, at that moment is his suffering. It is not a twisted God making the suffering happen, as Stelhen Fry might postulate, but humanity which has taken the freedoms presented by a liberating God, and used them perversely, hurting the One who loves them the most.

Put in the same perverse and superficial terms, the better to make it plain for modern readers, we may have to explain to people that God incarnated in Jesus “is” Ana” not “Christian”. We are “Christian” in Tiepolo’s telling of the story- the cruel damaged goods in need of redemption by love.

Above the Statiions of the Cross, Tiepolo has painted a panel celebrating the denouement of the story, Christ in victory, having transcended the earthly passage of betrayal suffering and death.

The depiction of the risen Christ is breathtakingly audacious. Seen from below, the perspective brilliantly captured, Christ is leaping heavenwards; his body, no longer broken, is young, beautiful and vigorous. The leap put Brother Ivo in mind of someone just taking off into a triumphant cosmic Fosbury Flop.

It was all very exhilarating.

So, we have passed from the ridiculous to the sublime, which is of course, to put things the wrong way round in the eyes of the world, but that, for a true Christian, is precisely what we should be doing,

It is right that the public be cautioned about the abuse of sexual power, and the dangers of tasting forbidden fruit. Instead of denouncing the novel however, we can and should be capable of engaging with it and desrcribing its context and values the better to put a lost people’s aright.

This in itself may upset some who prefer to simply condemn but ” getting alongside, the better to put on the right path is surely the best Christian response to a popular if rather inferior public.
phenomenon.

Brother Ivo will forgive you however. if you don’t attempt this at tomorrow’s All Age Service.

Synod must approach the Lord Green controversy proportionately.

General Synod will be meeting this week to discuss the future shape and direction of the Church and how it will fulfil its mission to spread the Gospel. Amongst the papers under discussion will be proposals which touch upon the selection of future senior leaders, which have been prepared by Lord Green who was the Head of the HSBC, and later a Trade Minister in the Coalition Government. He is now an Anglican priest.

The Green proposals are informed by modern business practice. Under them, future potential bishops may be spotted early and will have their leadership enhanced by ” MBA style” training: this injection of business training and performance standards is viewed with suspicion in certain quarters.

Nobody is suggesting that the future Church leadership should be solely shaped by modern business thinking, but neither is it unreasonable to examine these proposals with our own due diligence.

So far so good.

Already however, the politicised question of whether Lord Green was complicit in any legal impropriety is seeping into references to him and his report. That must be resisted by all Synod members as they fulfill their proper duties of deciding whether the Green proposals have merit or not.

Brother Ivo is disturbed at how the Green Issue is being presented by the BBC. It is speaking of whether HSBC helped its clients to “duck” or “dodge” UK taxes. Synod representatives must be astute enough not to allow such terms to intrude into its thinking. The issue of probity turns upon complicity in criminal evasion not lawful avoidance or tax planning.

We all “duck/dodge” tax when we shelter our savings in ISAs or make a lump sum payment into our pensions.

In business, tax breaks are offered by Governments to stimulate activity in approved but potentially risky activities such as the British Film Industry. The tainting of lawful activity by “Arthur Daley” terminology is more to the shame of our State broadcaster than anyone engaged in the lawful activity of the Banking Sector.

It does not help that episode after episode of BBC comedy has made the profession of Banker synonymous with “inappropriate behaviour”.

Brother Ivo does not know what Lorf Green did or did not know about the way in which a Swiss subsidiary conducted its business. He does know that that HSBC was one of the few Banking Institutions that was so well managed that it did not need and did not take public money, when many in the Banking World had gambled their way into precarious instability.

He also knows that virtually every Institution and profession in the UK has had its scandals; some politicians exploited expenses, some journalist hacked, some NHS managers neglected the elderly, some at the BBC presided over a culture of immunity for child molesters. In short, damning a proposal because of prejudice towards the entire sector of the community from which they come, is shallow and a betrayal of our responsibilities to seriously examine the question of developing our own future leaders.

We must play the ball, not the man.

Lord Green is currently declining to engage with journalistic attempts to “doorstep ” him. He may not rush to issue immediate statements as called for by politicians in an election year.

Brother Ivo is not surprised and will cast no stones. Apparently over 1000 people may be interviewed about what has happened and why. The areas of concern are currently diffuse. If criminality, corporate or personal, has occurred, it has not yet been formulated. It would be a highly imprudent former Chief Executive who engages too early in assuaging journalistic appetite or facilitating political exploitation.

When the Church has its scandals we expect our Archbishops and Bishops to ascertain the facts and understand the issues before opening their mouths. We should expect nothing different from those who have offered their skills to help us re-engineer the structures of our church.

The Green proposals need discussion because they offer a new perspective. We might adapt Gamaliel’s advice, accepting that if such recommendations have merit, they should be apparent regardless of provenance. Past association does not prevent us listening to St Paul – and his past
“inappropriate behaviour” was beyond question.

The Green Report may be good bad or “curate’s egg” Brother Ivo wants to hear the debate and make his mind up. He suggests thatSynod should leave the politics for another time and do its job of examining what is before it.

It’s time for Anglicans to become Lean Mean Mobile Agile and Hostile”!

In fulfilment of his pre-election promise to “get around and meet” those whom he nominally represents on General Synod, Brother Ivo went to spend time at a Deanery Synod at the weekend.

It was deliberately a very different encounter from the churches he has visited so far.

After All Age worship in a school based church, a Forward in Faith parish mass, and visiting a poor urban Evangelical project, his last encounter was very different.

The churches of that Deanery are very very different.

Most of their churches are rural, many 12th century. The congregations will be older and pretty comfortably off. Many lie within the affluent commuter belt of London They were hardly “stick in the mud” however.

Their Synod was open to outsiders. They attracted good numbers from the community having invited a speaker from ” Stop the Traffic” to raise awareness of human trafficking, and worship was enthusiastically offered despite the older attenders being accompanied by a vicar playing a Djembe drum!

Over breakfast, Brother Ivo heard of a newly established Saturday Messy Church which is attracting a largely new congregation of young families. It was very encouraging.

Brother Ivo  was there to talk about The General Synod which  may not have seemed an invigorating subject, and the latest plethora of policy papers could have all benefited from further editorial enthusiasm, nevertheless there are reasons to be cheerful buried within the crowded Synod agenda. It was how to get the wheat from the chaff that Brother Ivo put his mind

How to deliver that essence was a challenge to anyone who has to boil down and present a complex agenda to its bare essentials yet unexpectedly, an old idea came to the rescue.

Some readers may recall Brother Ivo having once embraced the sports mantra of the US college football team Alabama State who famously enjoyed sustained sucess. Their coach embodied their philosophy in five words.

The team was determined to be-

“Lean, mean, mobile, agile and hostile”!

Now Brother Ivo will concede that this seems an improbable strap line for mainstream Anglicanism – but bear with him a while.

What is the ” Simplification ” agenda advanced by Bishop Peter Broadbent and his colleagues about if not being ” Leaner” and fitter?

If our old legislative structures prevent our adapting to the fast moving modern world, should we not sweep them away?  If “offending eyes” should be ” plucked out” then how much more intolerant should we be of deadwood regulation. The 72 Disciples were sent on their way highly un-encumbered. Bishop Peter is surely pointing us towards Biblical leanness.

“Meanness” is not often considered a Christian virtue, and yet the wise virgins know that timely expenditure of resources are needed if purpose is to be achieved. So the paper from the Church Commissioners explaining that they will release capital to promote regeneration of the Church – but not indiscriminately, is both visionary – and yet a bit mean.  Projects will prioritise the poor, they will be be managed by more business savvy Bishops and only if there is a coherent plan with realistic resources and objectives will those funds be authorised. THere should be no flabby largesse but a carefully calculated drive for effectiveness.

Martin Luther King described power in positive terms, as the ” ability to active purpose”. The Church Commissioners fine initiative is both generous spirited and properly “mean”. You may have the power to grown but not freedom to be profligate.

“Mobile” is represented in various ways.

Bishop Stephen Croft’s paper on auditing Dioceses with benchmarks for developing Discipleship may seem rather managerial and his complementary thinking on Ministry is, as yet, concentrating on clergy,  yet plainly we are being invited to explore different solutions in different places.

If “church” is best developed by an informal church set temporarily in a school(as Brother Ivo has seen thriving) then go there. By implication, if one of Bishop Peter’s Semi-decommissioned “Festival Churches” can be returned to life with lay led services from time to time -sobeit.

“Agility” is more problematic. It’s not clear that Anglicans yet do “agility” , and if there is currently a weak point this must be it.

“Simplification” is part of it but more to the point we need speed of communication, speed of response. Brother Ivo reminded his Deanery audience that ISIL raised a conquering army in six months thanks to harnessing modern social media communication. Nevertheless agility sits with latent power amidst the other initiatives. We need to get up to speed with digital communication and probably secure outside expertise on how this can be done.

“Hostility” is less problematic than it seems.

Are we not already called to be ” hostile” towards  injustice, to exploitation of abused children,and sex workers ? Are we not “hostile to religious intolerance? Jesus was ” hostile” to the slavery of sin , and Archbishop Justin has already told us that there is sometimes too much bland niceness in our preaching. So maybe we can get away with importuning some hostility into our thinking.

Having sketched out the energy hidden within the dense paperwork of the General Synod Agenda, Brother Ivo offered the challenge to his superficially Conservative looking audience.

If we want to address People Trafficking, we need to address the context of transience within communities within which it can flourish. The comfortably off Churches may find resources re-directed towards on that front line. in transient communities it is often the Church that is the last link with mainstream society that remains after the shops, social services, pubs and police  have withdrawn.

The run down urban church that presented a Christmas Panto and fed 37 lonely people with a Chistmas Dinner might be strengthened by closing rural churches with small ( if faithful ) congregations and reallocating the resources. In short the “costs of discipleship” may be carried by Deaneries just like yours”.

And how was this received?

With enthusiasm!

They absolutely got it.

If we give our Christian Brothers and Sisters dry process, consultation, detail and partisanship they switch off. Yet give them a Gosel vision, give them a role on the team which they understand and much can be achieved.

A janitor at NASA was once asked what his job was and replied that his job was to help put a man on the moon.

People respond to vision, that’s what drives mission.

Synod must do its essential scrutinising job but after that, we need to prepare our own people and enthuse them. We cannot rouse the nation from spiritual sleep until we have embraced what one listener to Brither Ivo described as the “dangerousness” latent within these strategies.

Danger can be good. Risk taking can be good.

“Lean Mean Mobile Agile and Hostile” caught the imagination of a Rural Home Counties Deanery seemingly / superficially with much to lose, yet they saw that winning the Nation for Christ was a prize worth pursuing -a pearl of great price for those willing to risk what they have.

Anglicans – in all their unexpected unpredictable generous variety.

Don’t you just love” em?

Dear Stephen Fry……

I am sorry it has taken me a few days before I felt able to address your recent thoughts on the wickedness of God. Sometimes is is better to find the right words, rather than rush to response, and in these matters it is best to seek to encourage rather than confront or condemn.

I begin with a gentle ribbing.

Rejecting God is “so last century”.

It was prevalent after the First World War, the Holocaust and the AIDS epidemic, that makes it neither wrong per se, nor unsayable. We Christians gave up burning folk for blasphemy a long time ago. It does mean it is not exactly a ground breaking point of view.

Biblical scholars will tell you that in the earliest days of the formation of Christian thelogy, we had the Gnostics insisting that only a nasty evil cosmic presence could explain the creation of the world as we see it. Centuries before that, Job’s comforters urged the suffering man to ” Curse God and die”; so you see, you stand in a long rejectionist tradition. Indeed if I may be mischievous, I might say that it really is not like you to be so quotidian.

Faith in the loving God,  announced in the Gospels has nevertheless persisted, indeed it has long outlasted all of those who advanced your view, and will surely survive your scorn. Few things are as certain in life.

Yet that is not to dismiss your critique: already, the internet is awash with Christians empathising with your anger. I hope you find their lack of anger encouraging. Some of those with deep faith have the deepest troubles of their own, Many of them are are intellectually able and well entitled to see the point you make yet  find nothing in the philosophy you promote.

When one contemplates the difficulties and tragedies, seemingly hard wired into the very fabric of existence, most believers contemplate the impossibility of  belief in the loving Creator, yet the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard offered a helpful image, that of of the tightrope walker whose exploits also seem impossible to contemplate.

As Blondin stepped out to traverse Naiagra, every fibre of the rationalist’s being brought scepticism into play. Yet despite the ease with which the faithful can topple to either side, holding to the seemingly impossible happens everyday – before your very eyes! It does,of course, take devotion to practice and experience. If you can’t yet do it, the lesson might lie in that last sentence

You have doubtless encountered Ludwig Wittgenstein’s observation that sometimes all one can do with a truth is to ” show it”.

Like an Eschler drawing, one can either ” see ” it or one cannot. If one cannot, no amount of verbal explanation will make the revelation happen. Equally, no amount of verbal refutation will negate the truth that there is another way of Attachment-1“seeing the other”.

This is of course akin to paradox.

Your “rationalist friends ” live with paradox all the time, not least in the growing field of particle physics.

There are particles which can only be described with reference to their speed and location but whose nature cannot be grasped simultaneously by measurement. When they have speed they have no position, when they have position they have no speed. They might even “be” in two places at once. Science is confirming what religion has always asserted. Existence isn’t always as it straightforwards as it seems. Sometimes within a “rational system, there are nevertheless apparent unexplainable “contradictions”. Quantuum physics are not currently compatible with Newtonian physics as you probably appreciate. We are not clever enough yet to reconcile the two.

It can be the same with religion.

Remember that it was the religious mind that first spoke of the rationally impossible truth – The beginning and end of time, the fundamental link between light, energy, and matter, and not least the beginning of a colossal universe exploding in an instant of “coming into being from a single point” out of nothingness.

When the Big Bang theory was first articulated – by Catholic priest the atheist scientists and philosophers were both sceptical and outraged. God was back in the game -with a bang!

Bertrand Russell thought he had packed all that “moment of Creation” nonsense away when he identified that if God had always existed, why not the steady state universe? Well, that didn’t last did it? Russell was the sort of smart rationalist that folk admire and some see when they look at you, though you are much more modest about your own limitations.

The notion of a ” beyond-ness ” to our intellectual capacity, may offend those habituated to being able to out-think their fellows in many spheres of life, but smart religious folk become reconciled to this.

I touch on these issues to make the point that philosophical rationalism isn’t always what it is cracked up to be. This is as true in the moral as the physical fields of conjecture.

If I were to offer you a starting point to this way of overcoming your doubts and anger, there are two places you might consider starting. The first is linguistic.

You tell us that cannot understand = or tolerate- a God who allows bad things to happen as a corollary to allowing us freedom to be who we chose.

I often invite people to consider that word ” under stand”. In once sense it implies intellectual mastery, which you are familiar with and perhaps overly wedded to.

There is a another idea within the word – to “stand under”.

In this sense we place ourselves under the paradigm and examine from within.

Consider, perhaps what you make if a tree from a distance, and then how different it appears when you stand close to its mighty trunk, under its boughs and taking in its nature from that very different perspective. Understanding in this light is like the Eschler drawings I spoke of earlier. The same material, yet radically reformed in our mind by a different “understanding”.

The God revealed by Christ is equally complex: you can ” see ” the God of the text but do not forget that it was the failings and inadequacy of that textual interaction with humankind which caused Him to take a different  approach.

Christ is God incarnate, entering his world to redeem it, by example, from within.

NB ” by example” not by “text”, laws, or institutions.

This is why Christ’s earliest disciples talked not of being Christians but of being    ” followers of the Way “. If that sounds a bit Zen – I can live with that.

So it is, that we, His followers struggle, as you do, with paradox.

The Creator of the Universe – incarnated as a baby:
The law giver who will not condemn the woman taken in adultery
The One who only promises one person salvation, and who was that ? – The repentant thief who does absolutely nothing to deserve it save to acknowledge his just punishment and look to Christ for mercy.

So you see, we strange Christian folk are every bit as odd as you think. We know that we cannot think our way to what we rather grandiosely call ” salvation” neither can we earn it. It arrives by that curiosity that we call Grace which arrives at the most unexpected times.

I know you are a fan of Oscar Wilde, and have doubtless read his deeply moving work ”  De Profoundis”, written at the end when all the wit, notoriety, style, adulation had passed. Do go back and read it again.

I know you have written humbly and movingly about wrestling with your own demons. Wilde found that it was only when all that had passed along with his fame and fortunes that the truth of Christ’s love and grace slipped out unexpectedly from behind everything he had formerly valued, including his own formidable intellect. You may find the same.

It was the parable of the Prodigal Son that caught Wilde’s imagination; only when all was lost, when he was at his wit’s end and at his most bereft that he stopped doing things his way, and went back to “under-stand” his father love. He found it was greater than he realised, was totally beyond all rational explanation, and easier that he dared dream. He found the tight rope of faith a safe path to acceptance.

Wilde may be the one who shows you the way. There are many others.

Being with people of faith will teach you more than any debate or disputation.

When brother Ivo finds himself perplexed -especially when his Christian brothers and sisters muddy the waters with their disputations, he tends to retrace his steps to the simplest formulations of faith which might be a helpful starting point to “under-standing”.

His personal favourite  comes from another turbulent controversialist who sometimes despaired of the over confident.

The former Bishop of Durham, David Jenkin,s was once the byword for theological troublemaking. You dear Stephen, are a mere novice at it.

Bishop David boiled his faith down to a 14 word Creed which you might try contemplating after re-discovering ” De Profundis”.

“God is
He is as He is in Jesus Christ
So there is hope”

Assuring you of my kindest regards and prayers

Brother Ivo