Tag Archives: #tolerance

When #LoveWins is not enough.

Many years ago, when political slogans first became fashion accessories, Brother Ivo used to occasionally wear a badge bearing the slogan ” Wearing badges is not enough”.

The badge was lost somewhere along the way, and probably would not be worn now in any event, yet its recollected message was a useful reminder as images have emerged in the media, following the dreadful murders in Orlando.

Nobody can can blame those who have been lighting candles, holding vigils, and joining hands in Great Compton Street singing ” Bridge over troubled water” ; we instinctively want to do something, to show solidarity with the bereaved, and to reassure ourselves that we shall overcome.

Yet wearing badges is not enough. Hashtags do not cut much ice in the councils of Daesche, and the sad individuals trawling the internet to feed their homophobia or misogyny will view all this as confirmation of our moral weakness and national cultural degeneracy.

Terrorism is not new. Russian anarchists took to it in the 19th century, so did Irish Republicans. The tactic of the suicide bomber was developed, not in the Middle East, but by the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. Yet the present virulent strain began when a couple of thousand fighters were marauding around Iraq with little more than heavy machine guns mounted on pick up trucks, as the leader of the free world dismissed them as the ” JV (Junior Varsity) Team”.

The ISIS phenomenon was allowed to grow, when a decisive response by a more experienced or resolute US President might have prevented them from capturing vast military resource and, crucially, over a billion dollars in cash which has been used to swiftly mount a social media operation to outreach to the second generation immigrants in first world countries, who seem especially susceptible to their encouragement to actions such as we have seen in Paris, Brussels and Orlando.

The old adage ” nothing succeeds like success” applies in this field and it is worth reminding ourselves that the ” glamour” of the Waffen SS attracted recruits from France Holland Norway and Sweden. Even a few British prisoners of war joined them. There is something horribly attractive to young men in such gross and violent organisations, yet the converse is also true. Failure is not a great spur to recruitment. Young people especially, disassociate from it.

It is with this in mind, that Brother Ivo sadly concludes that the destruction of all semblance of ” Islamic State” is essential,: until it is, it will continue to function as a focus for Muslim youth when it wants to demonstrate its rebellion.

This sounds shocking. Many want to choose different “enemies”, less frightening ones. So the Orlando killings are blamed on the National Rifle Association, Donald Trump, Christian cake makers and those who disturb student sensitivities with challenges to their complacencies.

Yet one does not have to spend long considering the attitudes of militant Islam to start joining the dots between the extremist pulpit and the smell of cordite.

Though many kindly tolerant people find it deeply uncomfortable to associate their decent Muslim friends and neighbours with what -in other contexts -would be called ” hate speech”, it is unquestionably true that anyone looking for theological texts to justify the destruction of gay people, will not find the Koran lacking in such material.

We in the Christian Churches are struggling with a a handful of texts in our Bible as we try to be inclusive. Ours are less trenchant than those confronting moderate Muslims. Those seeking to read the Koran in a more ” gay friendly” fashion have infinitely more problems. One does not hear of “shared conversations” in UK Mosques; if they occur, it would not be safe to publicise them. Once that might have been conceivable; not anymore.

A recent international survey of attitudes to LGBT lifestyles shows that the Islamic world is resolutely hostile, with the percentage spectrum ranging from the high 70’s to 99%. Even in the UK 52% of Muslims believe it should still be illegal. In at least 10 Islamic countries there is a death penalty for gay behaviour.

Unless addressed, it must surely be the case that a growth of Islamic identity and population within the UK must have a potential for a cultural collision with the gay-friendly zeitgeist within the UK.

In parts of a London and other cities, we are seeing the defacement of public advertisements depicting females with less than Islamic modesty. The New Mayor of London is banning certain images from Transport for London for reasons couched in feminist terms yet congruent with Islamist attitude.

The likelihood is that “Culture Wars” may get worse before it gets better.

So how are we to head this off?

The !eft of politics in particular has been keen to attract support from sectional interests; they have not wanted LGBT people or Muslims to feel excluded from mainstream society. That sounds reasonable enough. It is an admirable aspiration. Yet what will be required of all sections of society if that is to be achieved? What if they are not interested, but inflexibly prefer to assert their religious and cultural rectitude?

Defeating Islamic State whilst holding the confidence of the UK Muslim population and simultaneously advancing gay rights, looks an increasingly difficult trick to pull off.

Wearing badges is not enough.

 

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.

A Freudian parable

The people cam forward to ask, “How shall we treat our brothers and sisters who, by reason of mental impairment are disproportionately numbered amongst the unemployed?”

After a moments pause, this parable was told.

“There were once two sisters Mary and Martha.

Mary owned a small “Vintage Cafe ” which did not make her much profit but was a great boon to her village. People visited it after Church services, she catered for small parties, for those who could not afford lavish family occasions, and the local book club would sit and discuss matters all afternoon over two pots of tea. She welcomed them.

One day her only assistant decided to leave. She could get three times the money and a pension, working for the BBC in their canteen. Mary was distraught, as it had been hard enough to find and afford help originally and she could not afford to pay much.

Martha had two sons Luke and John.

Martha had not been able to work for years because Luke suffered Down’s syndrome and John suffered from Torrettes syndrome and was prone to rather unsocial language which many who did not know him found alarming. She would have liked to get away from her caring responsibilities from time to time and thought she could manage a bit of flexible working as a cleaner. Her problem was looking after her sons.

One day Mary came up with a solution.

The boys could come and help her in the cafe whilst Martha started her cleaning business. Luke was an amiable fellow who would enjoy waiting and clearing the tables and John could help in the kitchen where his more extravagant language was something his aunt could tolerate.

The only problem was that Mary could not employ both boys, even at the national minimum wage. The cafe was simply not viable with three wages. Martha and her boys were all happy for Luke and John to work for half the previous worker’s wage, it was an affordable form of supervised care and the boys would enjoy the chance to show a little independence.

When Mary and Martha’s jealous brother Owen heard of this he was angry. He had never offered any employment for his sister or his nephews but denounced the proposal calling it ‘ exploitative, nasty, and vile’. His friends agreed and loved to cast the first stone.

Which of the family members fulfilled the law of promoting life in all its fullness?”

The people looked at each other amazed that the question was even put.

“Why, the sister who enriched her nephews lives, gave them purpose, independence, and stimulation” , they relied, “Not to mention the preservation of a community resource, and rendering modestly to Caesar” they replied.

“Go and and do thou likewise” came the reply. “But be prepared for abuse and rejection from those who rejected me before they built their  own morality”.

The ” What is truth?” question returns

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One cannot get away from it, and nobody who steps into a pulpit can avoid Pilate’s famous question if they seek to do justice to the text.

Preachers quickly earn that the answer is usually subtle and we often find ourselves refining the question to ” Which of the truths within this text speaks to our circumstances and needs today?”

People of faith are habituated to thinking in this way but sadly the secular world, particularly the political world, is more utilitarian than philosophical in its collective approach to the question.

“How can I tell the truth whilst not compromising myself?”  becomes the subtext of the Special Advisors briefing notes to his or her political master.

Brother Ivo has been brought to ponder the ancient question by a number of recent events, which remind us how much of the Bible is indeed relevant today.

Let him briefly outline them,

On the early morning radio, the BBC Today programme interviewed Professor David Miles of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee about the recent data on the economy and what it might mean. It was an interesting and intelligent piece, and it seems a pity that it was not on much later when more people would have heard it.

This Committee is charged with giving the best and informed advice to the Chancellor, and as one would hope, the Professor was low key ,scholarly and a good, if not exciting communicator on his complex subject.

Brother Ivo could no help but contrast this careful and nuanced examination of the truth with what usually comes later, when the politicians are asked to interpret the news.

When the greater part of the population – and perhaps one should say “electorate” is listening, one gets the “sound bite” the “talking point ” and the “spin”. Unlike the delivery of Professor Miles, too often one is getting not news or analysis, but party propaganda.

Readers may find Brother Ivo’s criticism of the BBC tiresome but it is well meant and intended to be corrective and constructive. When economic news is in the forefront of programmes, we should be presented with much more of the examination and less of the comment.

A classic example is over the report that “average incomes have fallen”. That is no doubt accurate, but it is not the whole truth. Many people on a regular wage will have received the same in their wage packet this month as any other.

On another programme Professor Art Laffer ( famous for the Laffer curve on tax receipts) explained that  there will be some who are worse off , and some who will doubtless suffer as a result of the economic situation. Yet another commentator pointed out that the ‘fall” is partly arithmetic.

If many people join the work force from lower benefits, they may be better off, but their addition to the workforce, if below the former average, will depress the average whilst comparatively few are actually worse off.

This is not to deny that wages are not keeping up with prices but that is a different, if equally important question which ought to be left for another day.

The point of Brother Ivo’s thought today is that we in the faith Community should bring our openness to subtlety into the everyday world. We ought to challenge the culture of the repetitious part truth – from whatever side it comes, and we should require our broadcasters to be harder on those who come, not to enlighten but to repeat a pre-prepared soundbite.

Brother Ivo flirted with the idea of suggesting that the Broadcasters might flash a “sound bite warning” on our screens whenever the well worn phrases are trotted out or a new one is obviously coined for the purpose of obfuscation.

Another news item illustrated the kind of truth problem we have in public life.

Some may know that there is a serious scandal in the USA arising out of an investigation of the Revenue Service which may have targeted certain political groups. This was one of the charges that brought down President Nixon who also famously ” lost ” 18 minutes of the famous Watergate tapes, which were “accidentally” erased.

In the latest scandal, all the emails of 20 Internal Revenue Services employees, over a two year period, have all “accidentally” been erased in simultaneous but independent hard drive crashes which have mysteriously coincided with the host servers not holding duplicates and none of the employees complying with a Federal law to keep and preserve hard copies of any erased documents.

The Judge investigating this alongside the Congressional Committee recently required an affidavit from the IRS to place on record the events, staff involved , technical explanation, and timeline so that he can begin to piece together the truth.

The document he received was remarked upon as being a masterpiece of what Brother Ivo is currently highlighting. It told the Judge nothing but the truth – but also told him nothing he did not already know; most of it was already in the public domain. We shall see how this plays out.

Here as people of faith we need to be counter cultural.

Whoever we may like or dislike politically, the commitment to hearing truth,  and to promoting integrity in public life is surely the starting point for us. Our political  constitutions have arisen out of much discord – a great deal of it was religious. It was because ultra partisanship resulted in war (and still does across the world)  that we agreed to live together with integrity under plain rules that need adherence if trust is to survive.

A commitment to truth and honest speaking is the sine qua non of a peaceful civil society.

It may not look as if there is a close relationship between the conduct of our politicians and commentators and the chaos in the Middle East and Africa but surely one of the key components of functional democracy is bona fides between opponents.

People of different opinions must be opponents not enemies.

A cynical friend once said to Brother Ivo “Truth is a precious commodity- we must use it sparingly”. That way lies not only perdition  but the political distrust and chaos that blights much of the world.

Christians should be foremost in both living and reminding the world that our “Yea should be Yea, and our Nay, Nay”. At least we shall in that manner, contribute to becoming conveyors and guardians of the truth, however subtle and elusive it may be.

The Ecology of Political Institutions

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David Cameron’s attempts to build bridges with those parts of Christian community opposed to the re-definition of marriage by praising the faith has opened up another wound for him, as the monstrous regiment of the priggishly offended, duly lined up behind the writers of the oppositional letter to the Daily Telegraph, shrieking like maiden aunts at a Chipperfields Review.

Actually, Brother Ivo takes that back; some of the broadest minded, most tolerant people he has known have been somewhat severe looking ladies whose observations on the follies of the rest of us were acute incisive and instructive.

What is intriguing is that those who are complaining  about  the PM’s. assertion that Britain is a Christian country, would almost certainly be equally assertive that they are “friends of the earth” ( capitalised or uncapitalised). How strange it is that they do not apply their thinking logically and broadly across the disciplines. Only connect.

Let Brother Ivo explain through a seemingly divergent illustration.

Researchers in the United States were recently tasked with improving the flood risk in a part of the country which was suffering rather like our own West Country. After much study they reached the conclusion that things had started to go wrong when the wolf had been removed from the local ecology.

The wolf had predate on deer. In its absence the deer population had expanded. The growing population was no longer wary of grazing the riverbanks, and both ate and trampled young riverbank saplings. The absence of saplings had resulted in decline in the beaver population which no longer dammed the rivers and created flood plains.

In short, taking out the top predator had disastrous consequences downstream. The presence of a wolf population had its downsides not only for deer, but farmer’s livestock, and yet the costs of their absence to the ecology both near and far was devastating.

Those who signed the letter calling for the removal of Christianity from public life, decrying its historic naughtiness, would of course, be equally united in decrying the removal of wolf from its role as top predator in the ecological pyramid. Ask them to explain and protect the complex web of relationships in the natural world and they will have both energy and understanding,  protesting to maintain the smallest variant of of an obscure weed rather than give way to a road by-pass.

So why the blind spot?

Why the seemingly total incapacity to understand that the Constitution of Britain, and indeed all the Constitutions and Institutions of the Anglosphere and the other political environments which evolved from the Protestant Reformation,. are themselves illustrative of the much approved principle ” survival of the fittest”.

Those who seek to preserve the natural world in aspic are frequent the same people perversely cavalier in tearing down the finely tuned political ecosphere which is responsible for the happy free and once tolerant society in which they have lived.

In Britain, our Established Church is an amazingly successful coalition of Catholic, Liberal, Evangelical and Charismatic views. We frequently contend seriously and passionately on deeply held issues. We do not share, still less enforce, much doctrinal orthodoxy and yet a bloody history of contention has taught us much an this has passed by osmosis into the body politic.

The tolerance we learned to accord each other, based upon good Queen Elizabeth I ‘s disinclination to “open a window on men’s souls” influenced the political sphere so that we are greatly blessed that traditionally, our political leaders have been opponents not enemies.

That is currently under threat from the doctrinaire ” progressives” and other heirs to the more European forms of the “Enlightenment” – the wonderful folks that brought you the French Revolution, Marxism and Fascism, whilst dear old fashioned Britain stuck with a Constitutional settlement that bemuses the narrowly logical in the same way that an ant cannot appreciate what goes on beyond its programmed allegiance to its narrowly understood community.

It is should be a historical joy that somehow we have benefitted from this guided evolution. At many decision points, there has been intelligent design -and those intelligent values have been predominantly Christian.

Instead of scrapping the past and building afresh on atheist logic -the North Korean and Albanian model –  we have traditionally and pragmatically built upon our Reformation and Restoration past,

In this distinctly British political ecology, the Lion has learnt to live with the Unicorn, and the lambs have been happy to prosper in that same environment. It is why Ed Milliband’s father was able to find refuge here, though he did tend to ungraciously bite the hand that fed him.

Why did so many faiths find a home here if not because they could prosper under the penumbra of our Christian Establishment?

Once, there was strict legislation against Catholics, Jews, and Non-Conformists but isn’t the point that our Established Church and associated Institutions have demonstrated the capacity to both evolve and nurture that which is not itself?

What the Telegraph signatories do not seem to take into account ( or more worryingly not even to know) is that in an environment it matters who the top predator is.

Mouthing words about “diversity” whilst sawing the trunk of the tree under which you -and it -have flourished is simply crass.

Many of course are the same folk using their free speech to promote Government regulation of the press.

Diversity, of itself does not develop tolerance or peaceful co-existence. Syria is diverse, so is Lebanon. It is secular “liberal” France that has banned the veil, and secular America that hounds Christianity from the public space through litigation.

If you want to see what happens when you remove institutions in diversity rich countries you may go to any number of failed states which struggle to bring together suspicious factions.

Those willing to break the institutional eggs to make a diversity omelette actually have no idea how they will put Humpty together again.

Building a tolerant free country is a long slow process. Our country went through that difficult and costly centuries ago and whilst the architecture of its happy outcome is hardly characterised by its clean logical lines, it still manages to hold us together.

Those who believe that there is a functional alternative might usefully put their talents to the test by building some prototype institutions which demonstrate similar resilience and strength to that of Christian Britain. Good luck bringing the gay, the Islamic, the vegan and the tribal into your Ark.

In contrast, we already have within our Established Church, huge diversity. In our Christian Monarch we have a wise Queen welcomed as Head of State or Commonwealth across the largest network of family and political ties in the world. Our Parliament holds multi party, multi faith views: none of this was designed, but came about by the very natural selection that the National Secular Society is anxious to teach in our schools.

How strange therefore, that they and the Metro-liberals who distain the Established order never pause to reflect that this country remains amongst the best to live in precisely because the Christian faith, analogous to a ” top predator”,  has shaped the environment for the benefit of all, whether they know it or not.

To those who signed the Telegraph letter, Brother Ivo remembers and adapts the old First World War Bruce Bairnfather cartoon of the soldier Old Bill.

” If you know a better political ecology -go to it”!

New Music for Churches – the horror!

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the point?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brother Ivo is devoted to sharing interesting views.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The immigration debate is as much about the complexity of community, as race.

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The issue of immigration continues to hold a high place in the news narratives whether directly or indirectly.

The year may have begun with consideration of the response of Rumanians and Bulgarians to their improved rights of migration and continued with the political prospects for UKIP but the immigration debate was not limited to the most obvious forms of consideration of such issues.

The Inquest result into the shooting of Mark Duggen remains in the news agenda largely because he came from a section of society that is easily regarded as “other’, and perceives itself as disadvantaged because of its immigrant origins.

When we speak of the minimum wage or providing work for the unemployed we are often drawn into an appraisal of the effects of newcomers willing to work for lower wages than the indigenous workforce will accept.

When we talk of school standards in our inner cities, or the provision of any other aspect of any services provided by the State, it will never be long before the question of multiple languages comes into consideration

Before Christmas, the patriotism of Ed Milliband’s father drifted between being doubted because of his Marxism and also his non British origins.

Often such controversies serve as surrogate disputes over the underlying problems of immigration and the challenges it poses to the stability of communities when they have to cope with rapid change.

We shall have to get used to this routine intrusion of immigration factors into many of our discussions whether we choose to or not, yet does this seemingly persistent consciousness of immigration mean that we are intolerant or “racist”? Brother Ivo thinks not.

The issue has been with us for half a century.

Brother Ivo recalls his mother speaking of running in fear when she first saw a black man in the street; it was as striking an even to her as when Aboriginal peoples first encountering Captain Cook, yet Brother Ivo was later brought up in an area where an incoming population gradually settled, and became largely invisible to his eye, such is the effect of habituation and the establishment of the new “normal”.

As this was happening, Brother Ivo watched the news reels of the 1960’s and adopted Martin Luther King as his hero, thrilling to his words that a man should be judged by the content of his character and not by the colour of his skin.

It was in many ways, an easy ethical standard for Dr King to assert.

 He was the son and grandson of Ministers of Religion. He was steeped in the Exodus narrative and its message of patience and hope. He was well educated and keenly aware of the promise of America as enshrined in its Constitution. 

Dr King was not in dispute with the principles upon which his nation was founded, but rather intent upon claiming its promises for all, and especially for those in his own African American community who had been excluded from “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ by slavery and the segregation years that followed.

He never used the phrase later popularised by Bill Clinton that there was “nothing wrong with America that could not be set right by what is right with America”, but that sentiment encapsulated the way he went about agitating for his people to share in the Founding Father’s vision of Justice through equal rights and opportunity.

He wanted a fair shot, not a guaranteed outcome. His father “Daddy King” had taught him that the three steps to success were to get a Vote, a job, and a mortgage, and so there was no element of confrontation with his country’s values involved in either’s teachings.

If you had asked him “How shall we judge a Man?” he would have done so by the ideals   of mainstream America. America may not have been living up t those ideals but Dr King wanted what it “said on the tin”.

However estranged from the American dream his people might have been, he sought to lead them by Christian forbearance and Ghandian non-violence, towards the same objectives hopes and aspirations as every other American citizen.

Although the path was a difficult one, and although he never lived to lead his people into that promised land, Dr King’s task was in many ways easier than that currently facing anyone who seeks to build community in the UK’s present circumstances.

Today we not only have a significant arrival of newcomers, but the British people are in many ways unclear what is the character of the community into which such people are to be inducted. Many hold to a traditional vision of the UK and seek to maintain it as it was defended in two world wars, some want to see it integrated into a European super State to rival the USA, some seek to fracture that unity with independence for parts of the Kingdom whilst others deny that there ever was such an identity as “Englishness”.

We seem to be simultaneously urged  to welcome others into the “community” whilst being utterly at odds as to what that community might comprise. No wonder we end up confused.

Meanwhile there is a breakdown of trust in institutions whether political parties BBC or the police, and with it all the faith of the past is marginalised by attitude and legislation alike.

We need to resolve what is the nature of the community into which we shall confidently welcome the newcomer.

We may wish to battle intolerance yet “If the trumpet sound an uncertain note who shall prepare himself for battle”?

We have made great strides in the past 50 years. Overt racial prejudice is no longer an acceptable feature of our common life. Not only do we not see signs in lodging houses declaring “No Blacks-No Irish” but if we removed the legal sanction, there is a high probability that they would not appear. We are a different society already.

There is no element of shock in seeing someone of a different culture which once would have driven fear and suspicion. We are therefore probably over the first hurdle of unknowing prejudice against all who might be unlike us, but that is not to say that we have resolved all our problems – far from it.

We now find ourselves in a far more complex phase, for whatever the laws and the cultural messages may be, many of the problems we face are not rooted in the issue of overt hatred or discrimination. Our problems are those of managing complexity.

Dr King’s goal was to open the door to a common life. What that common life comprised was not in issue.

The problem that we in the UK are constantly running up against is what that common life might comprise. In Christian terms we will surely  speak in terms of “community”, yet ours is no longer a nation that accepts that vision uncritically, we are just part of the mix now.

Those of us who have lived long  with a large immigrant community within a locality will have had the opportunity over time to identify common values, common interests, and common life – all the things that make for community feeling. 

Thus in Brother Ivo’s case, the local Sikh community quickly established itself as one that ran shops, building companies etc. They appeared in the Banks and Hospitals and even frequented the local pubs supporting India at the cricket – but England at football. Their soccer teams played in the local league, and many indigenous families gradually gained experience of the newcomers as being good neighbours . 

The identification of commonality enabled community to grow, but herein lies the problem.

Dr King sought to join the culture of mainstream America; many of his people joined him but many did not. They developed an “alternative” culture, one which continues to live uneasily with the dominant values that formed the nation.

Many parts of our new immigrant cultures saw themselves through the prism of Britishness, but within each,  there was an element that did not, thereby laying down and adding layer of complexity to the development of community life.

Because of our past we, are terribly sensitive to the charge of racism, and we often hear those who are uneasy with what is happening in their areas insisting they are not racist; many probably do have friends from other cultures, but that does not of itself ensure that community harmony occurs.

Brother Ivo suggests that the biggest problem we have is not inherent racism, but rather the complexity of dealing with rapid and often un-comprehended change. Having simultaneously lost the certainty of past community structures, pub, church, youth club, High Street, makes the problem significantly worse

Complexity is a complex matter. Integrating four different cultures is probably more that twice as complex as integrating two, and so it multiplies.

Yet now we live in the world where people can and do migrate quicker than at any other time. They arrive with very different cultural mindsets. Some prioritise the opportunity to work every hour that God sends, some need to pray five times a day. Some arrive rejoicing that gay people can live openly within this society, others are anxious to establish areas of Sharia Law in our major cities.

Once Dr King’s test was easily applied, Americans broadly agreed on the “content of character”, but in a very diverse “community”, where are the common values by which that “character” may be judged? Should the newcomer necessarily accept feminism, gay rights, democracy? What if the newcomers will not? He is told he has a has a right to individuality, and may resent imposition of alien standards within a culture that in many ways prioritises individual choice. His choice may not be that of 21st century liberalism.

In cities where new cultures are still arriving the very idea of “community” may be premature.

It is for this reason that Brother Ivo is slow to write off every complainant of multi-culturalism as intolerant or “racist”. He has met only a handful of people in his life who could warrant such  description.

He does however sense a more widespread and substantial anxiety at the loss of community, and that is a much more sympathetic complaint.

It is hard to love you neighbour if you do not know her and cannot communicate with her. It is even harder if you are not allowed to know her. The less you and your neighbour have in common, the harder it is for anyone to develop common feeling and when some communities arrive with a declared suspicion of western society, its values and its culture, one cannot help but become a tad gloomy.

Yet we are where we are, and we shall have to invent our way through the minefield of competing values and aspirations. If some suggest slowing the pace of change that might simply be based upon weary pragmatism rather than inherent nastiness. Whether the slowing of the pace of change is possible is itself uncertain.

What Brother Ivo is sure of is that we shall not resolve these matters unless and until we allow ourselves to explore the problems with openess and honesty, and as such the closing of the discourse by too ready an accusation of racist intolerance will not serve us well.

There is much generosity  amongst the poor towards the newcomers in their midst who seemingly threaten what is available to them. What is surprising is not how much ill will is expressed by such peoples towards the newcomer but how little, given that immigration so often directly impacts those at the poorer end of the spectrum more sharply than the rich.

Brother Ivo builds on that humanity of feeling and trusts human kindness.

He prefers to regard many of the concerns of ordinary people over immigration as impulses to defend the cohesion of community rather than to be nasty to the stranger when he calls.

In praise of “tolerance” – Every “Big Tent” needs a porch

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For some reason which is unclear to Brother Ivo, Pink News recently carried a ”story”  about a somewhat uninhibited UKIP Councillor who had used his Facebook account in a rather florid “stream of conscious” fashion. It was not quiet as startling as some of the Parliamentarians exposed by Guido Fawkes last year, but nevertheless Councillor Sam Fletcher was offering “too much information” about his private life which would not not win him too many plaudits within the orthodox Christian community. That is probably not the reason Pink News ran the story.

It really is not terribly shocking or new. Cllr Fletcher confesses himself baffled by same sex attraction, and rather oddly likened his current thinking to his former regard for mushrooms which he formerly could not abide, but can cope with now.

No doubt he might have expressed himself more wisely, yet the report resulted in much criticism on social media for his less than wholehearted enthusiasm for such “alternative” lifestyles.

His political affiliation is surely irrelevant. There will be orthodox Muslims, Jews and Christians in every political party who still hold to traditional teachings upon such matters who have nevertheless accepted societal and legislative change in the secular spheres. Cllr Fletcher may or may not be good at representing his ward members, but his views in such matters ought not to reflect in any meaningful sense upon the reputation of the party to which he and others who think like him belong.

All parties in this regard are ethical and theological coalitions – rather like the C of E , you might say.

It was not this that caught Brother Ivo’s attention.

What interested him was criticism of his expression that he “tolerated” gay people.

This is a recurring problem in this and other matters, for in the world of the politically correct, expressing “toleration” is regarded as just the right side of rabid persecution. To “tolerate” is no longer a respectable liberal position in a society where the personal is political and all views accorded equal respect -except the views of the non-progressive.

As the truly liberal and tolerant comedian Lenny Bruce once said, “Liberals can understand anything, except people who can’t understand them”.

Yet tolerance was once an important traditional liberal virtue, and Brother Ivo sorrows that it is ceasing to be so. We need our liberal friends to restore the value of toleration to its proper place in the Progressive pantheon which, to their credit, they helped to create.

Brother Ivo remains proud to proclaim his attachment to it:  tolerance allows him to engage with intellectual opponents whilst refining the discussion and narrowing the ground that stands between his position and theirs. Tolerance is an essential component to anything approaching a truly diverse community, for it rejects uniformity and acts as a buffer between those who might otherwise fall into the acrimony of small difference.

One only has to look to the countries and societies which have not learnt, and do not attempt tolerance to see what a God send it is.  One can choose so many bad examples of societies which lack this cardinal virtue. Even in our Churches there is intolerance between those who agree on the entire contents of the Creeds but find other points of highly specific but principled difference over which to obsess.

Saint Paul had to exercise tolerance as he engaged in dialogue with the Athenians over the altar to the “Unknown God”. He exercised less when he disputed with St Peter on the importance of circumcision. He was not at his best during that particular exchange, and one suspects that he knew it.

In the secular field, we need to win the battle anew to make tolerance a central social value once more. We must learn to live peaceably in civil society with those with whom we are in disagreement. One can disagree yet still like one’s opponent yet a lack of tolerance renders this virtually impossible and with that, any hope of resolution of difference goes. Without tolerance the only resolution is conquest and oppression.

In this regard, Brother Ivo would pray in aid the example of the Church porch, which architecturally expresses  a very real theological idea which is largely lost in a religiously illiterate age.

When a candidate for Baptism arrived at a Church in bygone times, the service might begin in the porch. The physical space stood neither wholly within, nor wholly outside the Church. It reflected the theological state of the candidate at the start of the service. In a similar way, anyone might stand in that space observing what was happening without total engagement, until they were ready to seek complete fellowship with what was happening inside.

A few years ago, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair described their political projects in term of a ” Big Tent” which contained many strains of opinion without close ideological agreement.

It is still an ambition of our political class.

If one is to have any hope of creating such a foretaste of heaven,  a lot of PC folk like those at Pink News might do well to brush up on their Church architecture and apply the lessons.

So today, Brother Ivo invites the religious illiterate to consider the meaning of the Church porch which physically offers and embodies shelter and invitation, engagement and practicality. Those who planned the structure had to think about and made it at a cost. The same is true of tolerance.

Disparate peoples and cultures cannot just be thrown together and expected to gel into a cohesive group. Those possessed of deep strong opinion will not surrender themselves and their traditions to insult ridicule or coercion. If people are to be enticed into harmonious relations it has to be by a process more akin to seduction rather than confrontation.

So to those who espouse the rhetoric of the diverse multi-cultural-society “Big Tent”,  Brother Ivo offers a word of advice.

Erect your “Big Tent” by all means, put up the posters expounding its virtues, by all means, stitch into its walls a pink panel for the gay, bisexual and transgendered, a Yellow and white one for the Catholic, green ones of varying hue for the many strains of Islam, find colours  for the atheist, vegan and Scientologist but do make sure that your Big Tent has porches -several of them, all of them large and capacious, for Brother Ivo senses that folks will need to spend many hours in the porches of tolerance before they decide whether to enter the main event.

You may plan to get everyone singing Kum Ba Yah from the same song sheet, but it make sense to offer folks a practice space first, to iron out the disharmonies.

Leigh Church Porch blog

We need to hear Anjem Choudary

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The controversy over the appearance of Anjem Choudary on the BBC radio 4 flagship programme Today expresses our collective rejection of his brand of Islam, but those who move from a stance of contempt for everything he stands for,  to criticising the interview and wanting such confrontations banned are profoundly mistaken. 

It is a foundational principle of our democratic life that truth is ascertained through debate, and the exploration, dissection and evaluation of argument is so essential to that process, that sometimes we have to engage with people whom we find profoundly distasteful.

It is odd that amongst those complaining of the exchange between Choudary and John Humphrys are those like the Sun editorial team which would, in other circumstances, be opposed to political correctness and all who might attempt to police what can and cannot be said in the public space.

This is not an unprecedented controversy.

A few years ago the equally unpleasant Prime Minister of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was invited to speak at Columbia University in the USA. It was a contraversial invitation and attracted the opprobrium of a variety of interest groups including patriots, gay activists, and pro-Israeli students alike.

The President of the University, Lee Bollinger is a noted liberal, one whose opinions Brother Ivo often critiques but he has also written extensively on the issue of Freedom of Speech.

During the debate, he advanced a clear and intelligently new way of thinking about these matters.

So often, we think in terms of the speaker’s right to speak, and it is that which we are comfortable curtailing. We don’t like people like Mr Choudary, and we are comfortable infringing his rights, partly because he is rejects our values comprehensively and is profoundly objectionable at many levels.

One common defence of his rights is founded upon the proposition that if he is silenced today, other unpopular opinion, including yours and mine, may be curtailed tomorrow. The silencers may be motivated by a variety of populist impulses, political, religious, cultural etc.

Mr Bollinger approached the matter afresh.

Silencing the likes of Mr Choudary does not only infringe his right to speak; it also infringes your and my right to hear.

Hearing and evaluating different opinions is a crucial part of developing new thought. We cannot develop intellectually without it.

One might liken listening to Mr Choudary  to the necessary unpleasantness of dissecting cadavers, which early anatomists undertook to advance our understanding of the human body.

Seen in that light, we feel slightly differently.

John Humphrys took Choudary’s belief system apart with patient forensic skill. He exposed what a truly unpleasant and disgusting set of beliefs this strand of Islamism espouses and represents. It is so easy for tolerant and liberal people to believe that all people are alike and basically decent: confronting such a contrary truth is both necessary and useful. Few understand how men like the Woolwich murderers became so depraved but now they have an inkling of how it happens.

What illustrates the value of this approach is the example of Brother Ivo and  Mr Bollinger.

Lee Bollinger believes and has said much with which Brother Ivo disagrees but listening to him taught the listener a valuable lesson. We now agree, as a result of Brother Ivo being exposed to his thought. It would have been equally valuable had listening and reading Mr Bollinger sharpened Brother Ivo’s rejection of his ideas. You simply do not know where you will reach if you refuse to start the listening process.

We need not assume such intelligence in Mr Choudary’s case, but his cheerful clarification that Islamists of his character reject democracy was worth hearing. Many in our society may never have realised how deeply antithetical such people are to our core British values and our way of life.

If this is the first exposure most have had to the presence of such poison within the Islamic community then the interview was justified.

It also alerts us to the need to devise ways of invigorating, supporting and encouraging the fight back within Britain’s Mosques the majority of whom have been neighbourly enough to wish us all a joyful”Christmas”