Monthly Archives: January 2016

Migrant Children – compassion is not enough.

The plight of unaccompanied migrant children has been attracting much media attention in recent days and political capital is being made about the Government’s disinclination to set an early number on how many children  it is willing to admit, whether those accepted are best drawn from the refugee camps of Syria, and whether the proposed 3000  are within, or in addition to, the Government commitment to accept 20,000 refugees in all.

It is very easy to express anger at an apparent slowness of pace, and this is but one of many issues where “virtue signalling” becomes widespread.

Given the current net migration figure of 333,000 per annum, the number involved looks very small but anyone with experience of such matters will have begun unpacking the complexity of the task that is in prospect.

Each year the Child Protection Services of England and Wales are already charged with the task of finding new homes for some thousands of children removed from their UK birth families, by reason of either an actually or perceived risk of “significant harm”.

It is a task which they find very difficult to keep up with. The entire process of advertising  for carers, providing them with relevant information , meeting, vetting, matching  volunteers and then introducing individual children to their possible carers, is both complex and time consuming. Even after placement there is a considerable necessity to monitor and follow up; some children will have ongoing therapeutic needs given their experience of broken family.

A significant number of such placements, whether temporary foster carers or long term adopters, fail, with particularly damaging results to the child concerned.

Older children are notoriously difficult to place, not least because they tend to have longer histories of disturbance and/or rejection. Failed placements hit these young people especially hard.

In the final stages of Care Proceedings, where Placement Orders are considered. Courts are regularly reminded  – and if not , many Judges remind themselves that – “The State is a notoriously bad parent”.

Look at the statistics of young people falling into crime, substance abuse, homelessness, depression or self harm and you will find those with a history of State Care significantly over represented within that cohort.

The young girls abused by the Rotherham sex abusers were all in State Care, and as we now hear of a young Swedish volunteer murdered by a 15 year old refugee, we see that the venue of the attack was a hurriedly put together hostel to “warehouse” young people whose numbers have overwhelmed the normal assessment processes with appropriate risk management.

In the UK we already have a significant “backlog” of unplaced children numbering several thousand. Distasteful as it is to say, certain children are more “marketable” when it comes to securing stable long term homes. The new born are plainly easier to place than those with a history of psychological disturbance and multiple placement breakdown.

Every would be substitute parent has a choice, and whilst there are saints – many drawn from the Christian community – who will deliberately take in the child with restricted life span or acute disability, there are a large number of children who struggle to find suitable matching.

Again it is distasteful to record, but it is a fact, that mixed race children are over represented in the cohort of those still awaiting placement. The arrival of new children into the pool of those awaiting new families will negatively impact upon those who have already been waiting too long ,

Any consideration of the acceptance of refugee children needs to take place in the knowledge of such facts as they stand on the ground.

“Calling for” children to be admitted is easy; managing their arrival involves a huge logistical exercise for a system that was already struggling before the problem of unaccompanied refugee children presented itself.

Many of the new children will present specific problems.

They may come from multiple cultures. Do we try and match them, as was always regarded as a proper approach?

Do we try to place a Muslim child with a Muslim carer? Leaving aside Sunni/Shia complexity, many of our own Muslim families come from the Indian sub-continent. Not only is there a massive cultural and linguistic divide, but those cultures do not have a tradition of fostering and adoption – in difficult cases within such communities extended family routinely steps in.

There is no criticism behind this, simply a recognition that matching is not straightforward if one begins to apply the usual standards of finding suitable matches to maximise the prospects of success.

Are we going to place such children with gay couples? How will that play out if the young people are kept in touch with their ethnic communities in some fashion, or do we abandon any attempt at cultural sensitivity?

Many of these children will have had very traumatic experiences. Will the well meaning volunteers be up to the task that their kindness leads them towards?  The full measure of the impact of this was brought home to Brother Ivo when he recently read that since 1999 over 130,000 US War veterans have committed suicide.

Will we warn would-be carers of the full gamut of problems which they may encounter?

Some of the children will have learned a hard form of independence, having already  lost a capacity to trust, a steely self reliance and possibly a recourse to sexual manipulation, which may come as a shock to carers, as behaviour is exhibited either towards other children in the household or the carers themselves. This is especially the case where children have been rescued from traffickers.

Many of the children will have learnt to act beyond their years and be unwilling or unable to give up the self confidence that got them across Europe. Some will claim to be younger than their true age whilst, counter intuitively, others will pretend to be older to preserve a degree of self determination. Giving over your hard won self determination to complete strangers may not come easy.

All of the considerations – and more – will come into play as real desperate needs cry out to be met.

Brother Ivo’s is not a voice against meeting the needs of such vulnerable children, but if those charged with making the plan work seem slow, cautious, or bureaucratic, we must appreciate that getting a good outcome must be the first priority.

Making it up as we go along is not a good strategy.

A successfully integrated outcome of rescued children akin to those who benefitted from the Kindertransport programme of the 1930’s is one to be aspired to. Many of the dispossessed children we are now looking to take will have much greater histories of trauma than the who were sent from Nazi Germany.

If we do not meet the children’s needs in a broad, well planned individually considered, long term fashion, we shall simply produce a resentful cohort of angry, let down ,adolescents ripe for radicalisation and resentment.

It is more important to implement the right measures than simple to admit numbers to satisfy our desire to feel good about ourselves. We should get on with the task purposefully, but not without careful planning and proper resourcing.

Compassion is not enough.

In what way do we “Belong”

Three story lines seem to be dominating the news headlines at the moment and each has the same underlying question.

Much of a recent “Today Programme” was devoted to the commitment of £20m of public funds to increase the capacity of Muslim women to speak English; a major story of last week, centred upon the issue of whether the Anglican Communion could hold together in any meaningful semblance of unity ( Hold the front page – it can! ) ; and it will not be long before the relationship between the United Kingdom and the European community returns to prominence in our news channels.

The underlying theme is that of “belonging”.

That may not surprise philosophers and theologians; in our secular age, many have cut themselves free from ties of connection which formerly answered their questions of identity, and unsurprisingly human beings, who are social animals, look for “people like us” with whom to associate.

Go to a comedy club, an art exhibition which “challenges” social mores, or any anti-Establishment demonstration, and you will find a collection of folk with remarkably uniformity in their collective attitudes proclaiming their counter cultural credentials. Individualism isn’t what it used to be.

Underneath all the three issues I have identified – and doubtless many more- lies the old questions “Who belongs?” and “How do we know?”,

The second question discloses an interesting divergence of discernment technique. One can draw up a collection of rules and demand allegiance and compliance; one can simplify them into a checklist of questions – a score of 95% and above gets you in the club. This is a very black and white technique – and yet encompasses an inherent weakness.

What if one plainly and strongly scores well on 94% of the criteria but weakly fails the final 1%?

A binary approach lacks any concept of “weight”.

Take the vexed and recurring issue of what it is to be “British”.

There are any number of criteria which could be suggested. We could invite nominations to add to a “basket” of matters to be evaluated. These might include, understanding of the complexities of our still largely unwritten Constitution, but also, inter alia, a love of sport, sentimentality towards animals, and an interest in Television soap operas and reality shows. Yet one who scores lowly on all of these factors might redeem themselves by the sheer weight of enthusiasm which they display towards gardening and the Royal Family.

On the European front we might test our commitment with a similar cultural comparison. Imagine a Football World Cup Final between a British Home Nation team and a South American opponent. There may be a few die hard fans of another Home Nation who would cheer for the opponents but wouldn’t most UK citizens instinctively identified with the British option? Now imagine the match is between a South American Team and an EU partner side. Would you assume a similar generalised identification? Probably not. In fact many of us have more in common with our American or Australian cousins than most of the EU population with whom we are nominally encompassed.

The gravitational pull of some identities are plainly stronger than others.

The more Brother Ivo reflected upon this the more he appreciated that the more incisive question is not “ What are British Values” “Why are we European” or “What are the rules of the Anglican Communion” but a rather more diffuse one.

“In what way does this person belong?

Posing the question in such a way allows the individual to offer up their case in personal and broader terms. You can hear and evaluate their choices of priority, their tone of voice and even more importantly, the warmth with which they advance their claim to belonging.

As the Archbishops depart from the 2016 Primates Meeting they can be judged by the content of their communiques and explanations; we might bring out our clipboards which may be annotated with our chosen questions, so that by their responses, we rule them in or out of association. We might even have a selection of preferred trigger words or phrases by which we label them as sheep or goats. “Inclusive” … “Bible believing”, “Inerrant” , “diverse” – you know the kind of thing.

Archbishop Justin has set the bar for inclusion into the Anglican Communion pretty low. If the Primates want to continue “walking together” they may freely do so; if they don’t, they are free to wander off. That is not weakness but a recognition of the reality of the institution, but it is more than that.

It is a permitting of each of the flock to determine whether there is enough of core identification present to enable them to continue that ‘walking together”.

Whilst many would have liked the meeting to have centred upon the principle points of division, the meeting explored their Catholicity which is not only a highbrow concept of what it means to be Church, but also enabled them to identify through prayer fasting and worship the many areas in which they are and remain very much a community which belongs together.

Brother Ivo does not know whether they specifically asked themselves to look across the room and ask “In what way does that brother belong?” but much of final position implies that they might thereby have assembled not only a lengthy list but one of considerable weight.

Jesus wished all his people to be as one; His is the voice of the Good Shepherd to which the flock individually and collectively responds. Even the lost sheep continues to belong, but we are surely united in our faith that the Master will not easily abandon them.

We may identify that we belong on a variety of levels; often that implies exclusion, but the ultimate test of belonging may be more generous than we realise.

Dogged Theology

It is Little Dog’s second birthday today.

At the moment she looks like a rather fluffy Dalmation, but in a couple of months she will be back looking like a Rastafarian Old English Sheepdog with “cords” more typical of the breed.

The Spanish Water Dog is a ” primitive breed ” which, though comparatively new to Kennel Club registration, is depicted in paintings over a thousand years ago, and thought by some to be the origins of both the Spaniel and a Poodle families. If you cross those dogs in various forms you end up with an approximation of what was known in Spain as the ” Turkish dog”, Spaniel ears and Poodle coat ,though more rustic. They probably originate in the Middle East and made their way to the Iberian peninsular via the North African coast. They are cousins to the Portuguese Water Dog made famous by President Obama’s dog, Bo.

Little Dog has been the Inspiration for more than one sermon.

She has a name, but is commonly referred to as “Little Dog” as a reminder of the Syrophonecian woman who used such creatures to model the supplicant nature of all those of us, scarcely daring to hope that we to might share in the feast, but asking for inclusion anyway. She teaches us that persistent petitioning has its reward and thus encourages us to pray in similar hope and expectation.

When preaching before Christmas on the meeting of the Virgin Mary and her cousin Elizabeth, Brother Ivo’s sermon centered on that part of the story where Elizabeth reports St John the Baptist “leaping in the womb” at the approaching Messiah.

The ancient Jews had a custom of never speaking the name of Jehovah or Yahweh: there are two words that cannot be spoken in Little Dog’s presence. They are spelt out w-a-l-k and b-a-l-l.

Imprudent use of the words launches Little Dog into paroxysm of enthusiasm, characterised by joyful leaping!

Do we contemplate the coming of the Messiah with anything like such a response? We ought to and are put to shame by our canine friends in their expressions of delight.

She is not always active.

If one is tired, ill, or despondent, one finds oneself accompanied by quiet reassuring companionship, wordless but nonetheless valued. Dogs seem to have a talent for empathy from which we all may learn. Simple presence is sometimes enough for the downcast, but often we withhold even that.

Finally there is the trusting faithfulness.

Leave Little Dog alone and on return she will be found by the front door patiently waiting her master to return. It may be hours; when Brother Ivo’s grandfather died, his dog would go to the end of street to sit patiently as he had done lunchtime and evening throughout their lives together.

Do we show such faithful patience? Do we not regard our time as the priority, our wishes pre-eminent, our needs to the for? Maybe when God leaves our petitions in abeyance there is a higher priority and we need to sit and abide our Master’s wishes, as Little Dog seems content to do.

Of course, tomorrow may be different; she may be racing around, being a playful nuisance, showing her guarding instinct by barking at every household visitor, chewing up a rubber ball under the sofa, but today she is being addressed by one of her more affectionate nicknames  which is ” the Finest Dog in the Kingdom”; just maybe if he learns and follows some of the simple virtues she displays, Brother Ivo might have a sporting chance of joining her there.

Why I signed the Letter to the Archbishops

Today a letter has been publicly addressed to our Archbishops as they meet with other leaders of the Anglican Communion to address the divisions that painfully exist around our understanding of gender and sexuality.

The text of the letter is relatively short. Perhaps it needs to be in order to attract signatures from as wide a spectrum as possible: had a more detailed or nuanced letter been offered, the negotiations over amendments would have been prolonged and taken the process beyond the available deadline for publication.

Dr Martin Luther King Jnr spoke of the ” paralysis of analysis ” and sometimes the pressing needs of the times requires us to unite behind a less than perfect proposition.

Here is the letter in full

The Most Revd and Rt Hon Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury

The Most Revd and Rt Hon Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York

Your Graces

We the undersigned ask you, our Archbishops, to take an unequivocal message to your meeting of fellow Primates this week that the time has now come for:


Acknowledgement that we, the Church, have failed in our duty of care to LGBTI members of the Body of Christ around the world. We have not loved them as we should, and have treated them as a problem to be solved rather than as brothers and sisters in Christ to be embraced and celebrated. We have made them feel second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God, often abandoned and alone.

Repentance for accepting and promoting discrimination on the grounds of sexuality, and for the pain and rejection that this has caused. We, the Church, need to apologise for our part in perpetuating rather than challenging ill-informed beliefs about LGBTI people, such as the slanderous view that homosexuals have a predisposition to prey on the young.
We understand that the Primates come from a variety of contexts with differing ways of interpreting the Scriptures, but we urge you to be prophetic in your action and Christ-like in your love towards our LGBTI sisters and brothers who have been ignored and even vilified for too long.

Please be assured of our prayers for you at this time, and that the world will know by our words and actions that everyone who is baptised into the faith is of equal value in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Yours sincerely

Brother Ivo was amongst the earliest oppponents of the redefinition of marriage; he is critical of many of the tactics adopted by some supporters of the wider LGBTI agenda. Yet when invited to join the initiative he felt it important to accept.

Being a great supporter of the institution of traditional marriage was never necessarily antagonistic to gay people; one can hold such a position whilst fully supportive of the need for our gay friends to enjoy legal rights and securities which Civil Partnership conferred – and more.

Brother Ivo shares the view of like-minded, much-loved, gay friends who say “we can never be married – we are not male and female”. Yet is perfectly possible to wish to uphold traditional marriage and to simultaneously to wish to embrace and celebrate gay relationships as they are, for what they are.

In parenthesis, Brother Ivo is not greatly enamoured of historic apologies: we have more than enough of our own deficiencies to repent, without donning second hand sackcloth and ashes.

Yet reading this text there is an important core of truth.

We as a Church are not always welcoming to those who are “different” in a variety of ways: we have prevaricated for too long on this subject probably out of cowardice: we are frequently insensitive to gay Christians as they seek to join in our worship of The Lord and offer service to the needy. We know that in some parts of the Communion, the Church remains complicit in some dreadful treatment of gay people legally and culturally and we ought to have been more active against it.

Brother Ivo knows from professional engagement that the confusion of homosexual orientation and paedophilia is mistaken,

These thoughts alone would probably have been sufficiently persuasive, but the sermon by the Preacher to the Papal Household, Fr Raniero Cantalamessa at the Westminster Abbey service at the opening of General Synod was decisively influential . The sermon was entitled “Rebuild my House”.

Set within the context of our leaving behind historic and unnecessary division, Fr. Raniero urged –

“We should never allow a moral issue like that of sexuality divide us more than love for Jesus Christ unites us.”

Those words should be etched onto all our hearts.

In the spirit of this, bridge building is needed, and so it was that Brother Ivo reminded himself that if we are going to find a way forward, compromises will have to be made. If he presses compromises on others, it seemed incubent upon him to set an example and to accept “the good ” even if it is not “the nuanced best”, even if does not say all that he might wish in the way he would prefer.

Making that choice is not cost free. Asking Christians in other parts of the world to remain within a more gay friendly communion,  asks them to accept greater tension with Islam in areas where that is a hard ask- easier for us than them.

Yet it is the treatment of our gay brothers and sisters in Africa that also made a difference for this Christian. Even the firmest upholders of strict biblical interpretation within our own country are surely troubled by the oppressive legislation throughout much of the African continent

We must, however trust our leaders and allow them some “wiggle room” – not being too prescriptive in our expectations as to how they present and when they they raise these issues. Sometimes in negotiation, the timing is as important as the substance. What is agreed on the fourth day would often have been impossible at the outset

If the talks break down, as well they might, Archbishop Justin has already said that the door will remain open. That is good.

One might therefore ask, “Then why sign the letter” at all?

At the last General Synod, Brother Ivo attended the launch of the Church Army course on sharing the Gospel “Faith Pictures”, at which Archbishop Justin confided his own early embarrassment when asked to join in public evangelisation. Even today, he told us that his personal mantra immediately before engaging inevery interview is ” Don’t forget to mention Jesus”.

On that basis, one trusts he and Archbishop John will not take it amiss if they are invited to adopt a similar mantra as they enter these present discussions –

” Don’t forget the pain of our LBGTI brothers and sisters”.

Do we need a liturgy celebrating Companionship?

Companionship is one of the deepest of human needs.

When God contemplated the singular human being he made in Adam his first response was that “it is not good for man to be alone” and He immediately fashioned him a companion, one with whom he could break bread – for that is the derivation of the word.

Towards the end of his life,  Jesus seals his ongoing companionship, not only with his immediate companion-disciples,  but with all future followers, when he breaks bread and distributes it to future generations, so that we too are drawn into a relationship of special significance, we with Him and He with us.

Companionship takes many forms. Some describe themselves as “soulmates”, special people with whom similarities and differences can be shared with a special confidence, and with whom discord and loss is felt with particular acuteness. Other relationships may be less intimate but no less meaningful.

Companionship is important not least because both in its desire and fulfilment, it is God Given.

We might pick examples of companionship from a multitude of sources biblical, personal, even fictional.

In 1 Samuel 18;3 we are told “And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself”.

At John 21;20 we read  – ” Peter turned and saw following them the disciple that Jesus loved, who had lain close to his breast at the supper”, a signifier of close companionship even by He who loved the whole world.

Close companions are not immune from discord. Consider, in a secular non-sexual context the songwriting partnership of  Lennon and McCartney; they are inseparably linked as the embodiment of an era; they became estranged, but who can doubt that the loss of John Lennon was felt especially deeply by his rival/companion Paul?

We could easily make a lengthy list, which might include inter alia Boswell and Johnson, Holmes and Watson, and then there was Grey Friars Bobby.

We almost define our humanity by the relationships and loyalties which we develop and sustain, and few of us would wish to experienced prolonged periods of loneliness, even if we had our eight favourite gramophone records to remind us of happier times.

The bond of marriage is a recognition of such companionship, though in practice that comes in a variety of forms. Few of us can know the interior lives of most marriages, but the well documented and unconventional relationship of Harold Nicholson and Vita Sackville West was both challenging to most of our notions as to what a marriage should be, and yet touchingly human in its devotion.

Sexual relations may or may not feature in marriage or companionship; in the right context it is plainly a fortifying blessing. It can also be a stumbling block and a difficulty to be negotiated patiently and sensitively, sometimes with suffering, as with the marriage of Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard.

The more one thinks about this subject, the more textured and complex it becomes. Companionship is undoubtedly a blessing which is identifiable when seen, but difficult to define.

Last year, soon after his election to General Synod, and as he realised that he was going to have to address difficult issues of sexuality, Brother Ivo was recommended the book “Covenant and Calling” by Robert Song. It  has been one of those works to which one’s mind returns from time to time to reflect on events as they arise.

As a prelude to its exploration to the nature of non-procreating relationships,  Robert Song offered the interesting invitation to consider that, whilst marriage is an institutional good, it is, in Biblical Terms, a temporary state.  It may be the right context for the multiplying of humankind, yet our heavenly future lies in a relationship beyond marriage, with God, and within that relationship, all who can be will already be; there will be no reproductive imperative in heaven, and all need for companionship will be fulfilled in the restored relationship with God through the sacrifice of Christ.

This longer perspective matters. Marriage is not a sine qua non of salvation indeed Robert Song reminds us that initially, celibacy was the more recommended status for believers. Our needs for earthly companionship were recognised as strong and so the accommodation of human desire was acknowledged as the Church matured.

Not all good intimate relationships of trust and vulnerability are marriages; whether married or not, they may or may not have a sexual component.

When they are deep, meaningful, and defining of identity, should not the church not have a liturgy of blessing for them? We may debate the qualifying criteria, but in principle..?

Everyone in the Church knows we are going to have to look again at issues of human gender and sexuality, and many dread it because we cannot see a way through without pain and fracture, yet this book opens up the thinking on the subject without being dismissive either of traditional scriptural thinking or of the needs of those who suffer pain and rejection because of their minority orientation.

Is it  even possible to reconcile such diversity of views within a single institution? Many think not, but we do declare that with Christ, all things are possible, and exploring a liturgy for Companionship  may be part of the process by which we edge towards the seemingly impossible.

How we approach these issues obliquely without polarising the discussions immediately is, of course, the underlying question facing our Archbishops as they engage with the diversity of Primates from across the Communion in the coming days. It will also arise during the term of office of members of the newly elected General Synod.

Robert Song was a University tutor of Archbishop Justin. One suspects that the theological subtlety and integrity of “Covenant and Calling” will have informed the preparations for the meeting of Primates. Certainly the openness of our Archbishops in  not setting an agenda of their devising, but rather inviting the attenders to prayerfully construct their own,  is entirely congruent with the exploratory spirit of Robert Song’s writing.

In the last General Synod there was significant support for two Members motions; neither was debated whilst we awaited the outcome of the  “shared conversations”. One motion affirmed that marriage was between a man and woman, the other seeking to open it to gay people.

In a time when some are prepared to espouse the cause of “gender fluidity” it was interesting that there was not a motion to take us beyond thinking soley in binary terms.

Is this all we have to offer?

Will moving the needle of opinion from 49% /51% one way to 51%/49% the other way do anyone any good all – least of all the institutional Church?

Robert Song may help us to approach the subject from a very different angle.

Not all gay people want to get “married”. Indeed some share entirely the traditionalist view that ” we cannot be married – we are not male and female”. That cannot be the entirety of the discussion, unless we see early fracture of the Communion as a desirable outcome.

One only has to listen to the pain expressed by those who have tried to live lives of fidelity to traditional models of gender, and “failed” to reconfigure their orientation, to understand the peace we could confer upon them by celebrating “Companionship-Covenant Relationships” even without conceding the entire surrender to the redefinition of marriage.

Let us not ignore those in deep non-sexual relationships for whom such a liturgy might also be a blessing. A rite that was serious in intent, low key and inclusive might offer a useful contrast to the razzmatazz of some of the wedding parties we see using our Churches as a backdrop.

At the conclusion of the book, which is a prolonged invitation to think about these issues deeply and seriously, Robert Song writes as follows

“..we might make a start by pondering observations such as the following; people will be drawn to the good by beauty rather than forced to it by the law; romantic and erotic desire point us towards God rather than away from God: it is better to make goodness possible rather than condemn where it is absent; marriages and committed relationships exist for goods beyond themselves, not just for the mutual satisfaction of the parties, and so on.” 

Earlier, reflecting upon how we “seek emotional survival and retain a degree of persona integrity” he suggests

..part of this is looking for guidance and reassurance from sources of authority that make sense.. not those that lay oppressive burdens of moral rectitude, but those that manage to evoke in people some sense of personal meaningfulness and hope of a way forward’.

That sense of the discussion opening the way forward, to re-examine the importance of relationships – of all characters of seriousness and  meaningfulness- seems to Brother Ivo to be important.

If Synod were to consider developing a liturgy celebrating  companionship, a celebration of ” all this is, and all it may please God for it to be” it would be a “good” not only in and of itself, but also as a prelude to the discussion of what marriage is, whether we retain it in its traditional form or bow to the zeitgeist.

Brother Ivo has always been a defender of traditional marriage for a variety of reasons which he may re-state another time. Yet the contemplation of a liturgy which blesses companionship, for the Davids and the Jonathans, and many others, does not seem to him to be Biblically offensive.

Prioritising the debate of such a liturgy may even be profoundly beneficial to the restoration of marriage as “an Honourable Estate”, from which it has frankly slipped under the weight of secular redefinition.

That is not a reference to the re-definition of “marriage” for gay people, but rather by its morphing into a rather vulgar consumer fest of which this is but the latest rather gross example.

Such lavish extravagance  poses the question, which is the greater affront to the Institution of Matrimony; which treats it with more serious and God centred respect, the performance art of the celebrity bash, or the request for extended affirmation of the companionship of those who love God and seek to serve his Church within their calling?

“Covenant and Calling” does not take us to the promised land where all will be well; if we were to explore a liturgy to celebrate companionship, we will still have to touch upon issues of difference , but we would be doing so in a context in which the world can see that we are open to explore and celebrate goodness with a seriousness that often slips from the debate when it is is conducted in unsophisticated terms.

 

Is Donald Trump the new Cassius Clay?

Brash, boastful, boorish, successful, not much of a gentleman, riding for a fall, hated – all words and phrases that might be applied to Donald Trump at a time when many British people have petitioned Parliament to ban from entry to the UK, the man who could become the next President of the United States of America.

Was it not only a few weeks ago that we entertained the Chinese Premier without any such foolishness, notwithstanding that the Chinese Government is infinitely less congenial to British values than ” The Donald ” will ever be?

What his detractors appear to miss is that Mr Trump thrives on the disapproval of those who dislike him. Both in this, and the full set of unflattering epithets listed above, Mr Trump resembles none other than another upstart braggart hated on these shores – one Cassius Marcellus Clay, the ” Louisville Lip” whose outrageous pronouncements propelled him to become both the heavyweight boxing champion of the world – and in later life, to the status of “National Treasure”, under his new name, Mohammed Ali.

In public perception as in theology, one can be “born again”.

Along the way, Ali flirted with some borderline racism in his association with the Black Power movement. He upset the Establishment, sporting and political, and eventually won his detractors round by doing exactly what he said he was going to do.

America loves success and forgives winners.

Could this be the fate of Donald Trump? He is certainly talking a similarly good game. He also has the media dancing to his tune.

His promise to ” Make America Great Again” resonates with many of those who once threw reason and caution to the winds to deliver with acclamation a landslide victory to Barrack Obama, who had similarly stepped onto the National political stage with no record of political achievement but a lot of populist rhetoric.

The public is fickle and may be again. Nevertheless, from time to time they take to an outsider. That certainly applies to the Republican Party field which is dominated by successes from outsider cañdidates. Trump, Cruz, Carson and Fiorina have all performed better than expected. Even Hillary Clinton now tries to step aside from her First Lady and Secretary of State status, and attempts portray herself as outsider champion whilst being challenged by another genuine candidate from ” Left field” in Bernie Sanders.

A dissection of the proletarians claims of Ms Clinton is best left to another time.

Like Ali, Trump is the master of the counter punch. Opponents who attack him see their subsequent poll ratings fall. You can’t best him on one liners and if you try to fight ugly, he can roll in the gutter with the best ( ie the worst) of them.

When Hillary Clinton accused him of sexism, he showed no squeamishness, and put into play her own complicity and lack of feminist outrage over the multiple women abused by her husband, and silenced by the Clinton “War Room”. Asked if his own less than pristine marital history was also in play Trump disarmingly answered ” Of course”.

Like Ali, he dominates both the centre of the ring, and the pre and post match interviews. He intimidates many, so that they are emotionally beaten before they begin. What is especially alarming to the political Establishment of both parties is his extraordinary personal resources- which he has not even begun to spend yet. Ms Clinton is very rich woman – her net worth is about $38m : her husband is worth around $80m. Mr Trump’s income last year was approximately $400k

Getting into a financial battle with a Donald Trump is like entering a bleeding competition with a blood bank. This even intimidates National Parties, especially the GOP that is terrified of him running as a third party candidate.

Unlike the British, Americans love this.

For the first time, the inner beltway Washington political machine and the lobbyists who work within it are bemused; they have  an opponent they don’t like, who they can’t outspend, can’t crush, can’t shame, doesn’t need their money and can dictate the terms of fight as a complete loose cannon. Joe Public USA loves the sport.

So does this make him the next GOP President?

Possibly, but far from certainly.

Those who think Ms Clinton invincible are drawn largely from those who thought the same when she fought Barrack Obama. Her husband’s legendary campaigning skills nor their formidable campaigning machine  did not save her then, and not only does she have her own vulnerabilities today, but her husband’s charm may not cut it with the new generation of PC voters they helped to create: they may be less charitable towards his predatory behaviour than the electorate of 16 years ago.

If you talk to Boxing fans about which fighters from another era could live with the supreme Mohammed Ali only two names are offered.

Rocky Marciano’s record is better, but those he fought were inferior to those with whom Ali contended.

In more recent times only one name recurs, that of the Canadian born Lennox Lewis. He was never so popular, but had a formidable physique, great technical ability, was equally resilient and of greater stature. He might have had what it takes to defeat the self proclaimed “Greatest”.

Of Donald Trump’s opponents there is also one whose raw intellect outguns even “The Donald’s” intimidating 154 IQ. He too is a Washington outsider, one who can draw and hold not only those who dislike Donald Trump, but those who adore him : that should not be underestimated.

He is younger, even more hungry, forensically equipped to dissect the Clinton record and has a cleaner record than either of his possible opponents. His name is Ted Cruz: he too was born in Canada.