Burn all the pedestals; on being more real about human beings

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He was a man I looked up to, a voice I like to listen to, whose insights I valued and whose books I enjoyed reading. Today Jean Vanier is being described as “manipulative and emotionally abusive”.

She was a rising star, dancing her way into the nation’s hearts, becoming the vivacious host of the latest reality hit show. Then overnight she is shown in a different light, an alleged perpetrator of domestic violence. Caroline Flack unable to come to terms with a seeming all too public fall from grace tragically takes her own life.

Whether it is celebrities in the world of entertainment, super humans on the sports field, or saints, holy men and women, in the aisle of faith, we set people on pedestals and then fain shock when they come tumbling down.

When we cast people as either heroes or villains we reduce them to a caricature of themselves. The multi-faceted reality that makes up each human being is reduced to a single, inevitably distorting, single dimension. The good in a human beings should not blind us to their faults. The bad in a human beings should not blind us to their goodness.

Wrong and criminal behaviour must be called out and people must be held responsible for their actions. The behaviours of Jean Vanier need to be named and his victims heard. It rightly changes the light in which we see him but it does not in and of itself invalidate the work he did or the insights his writings gave. Domestic violence is wrong but Caroline’s action on that night do not mean she was less of the loving, vivacious person her friends knew.

Truth is not single stranded. Different truths about any human being can and do exist alongside each other. Each of our lives is an intertwining of many strands and many stories. These strands may deeply contradict each other but they do not necessarily invalidate each other. We need to depose the idea of celebrity, resist the idea of both the super hero and the evil villain and debunk the idea of the specially holy. These false and alienating concepts distort our understanding of the reality of what it means to be human. They can blind us both to the harm people do and to the good of which they may be capable.

Such simplistic assessments of humankind infect and distort so much of the way we relate to one another. Too quickly we make a judgement based on where and how people live, the way they dress, the job they do and their apparent education. We divide people into skilled and unskilled, those we want to welcome to our shores and those we will not admit, the deserving and the so-called undeserving poor. We categorise people, like butterflies pinned in a frame, then turn on them when they fail to live up to our narrow expectation.

From the lens of Christian theology all have fallen short. Before our heavenly Judge we are all worthy of condemnation. The mystery at the heart of Christianity is of a God who knows us for who we truly are, and from whom no secrets are hidden, and yet never stops loving us – a God who needs us to face the reality of who we are and recognise our own need of divine grace.

We need to burn all pedestals. We all have feet of clay and our understanding of each other needs to be properly earthed. Human beings are capable of great evil and of great good. We are all a mix of the ugly and the beautiful. To over flatter or to over condemn any human being is in all probability a misrepresentation. If a person seems to be too good to be true they usually are. If we are told a person is all evil we should not be surprised if there is also another story.

No more putting people on pedestals. Let us be more honest about being human. May our approach to truth be more nuanced, understanding its multi-faceted nature. In response to the other may we neither eulogise nor demonise. We must each face up to what we have done. May none of us be portrayed in a one dimension caricature of our true selves. May the final assessment of our lives be both rounded and honest.

Christmas; a foretaste of what is to come.

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What do you see when you stop and look at the crib. All the familiar figures are there but what do you see? Will you let your eyes and your heart be drawn deeper?

The busyness of the season can stop us from stopping, staring and really wondering. In some ways the themes of Christmas are almost too important to be explored at Christmas – there are too many distractions to do them justice. In particular the beginning and the end of Jesus’ life are intimately connected – the end can be seen in the beginning. The Passion of our Lord begins with the Passion of His Birth.

He who was born in the virgin’s womb will bring new life from the cold tomb. Out of nothing comes everything. And when we gather to celebrate this birth we know there is no better way than remembering the night he was betrayed and sharing in his body and blood. He is truly born to die but in dying he will give new life to all.

These great events have their own foreshadowing. Elizabeth greets Mary as blessed among women and the child leaps in her woman. In a village in Bethany another woman will kneel and anoint Jesus’ feet in preparation for his burial. Both understand the importance of what is to come.

It is said the victory of the cross was won in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he embraced the Cup of Suffering, but then surely our Salvation was won in Mary’s YES to the Angel. And always there will be the doubters. Joseph doubts the message of the angel and Thomas doubts the possibility of the resurrection.

But doubt is never the full story. Joseph stands by Mary. When Jesus turns his face to Jerusalem it is Thomas who says: Let us go with him that we may die with him. It is faithfulness, not doubt for which both should be remembered.

The mythical donkey on the road to Bethlehem has his counterpart in the donkey that carries Jesus in Jerusalem. Both are journeys to royal cities. Both journeys will lead to rejection. There is no room in the inn and Jesus dies outside the city wall. Jesus is born in the muck of the stable and dies at Golgotha, the rubbish heap of Jerusalem. For all our talk of faith, our synagogues, temples, churches and cathedrals, so often when it matters there is no room for God.

Despite what one apocryphal gospel claims, there would have been Mary’s cries of labour. And at his end there were her cries at the foot of the cross. His life is framed, beginning and end, with the tears of Mary – the first and last sounds he would have heard in his earthly life.

And Manger and Cross are unlikely thrones for the King of the Universe. Both are easily overlooked but both once seen are impossible to forget. He is born a helpless child and dies helpless, nailed to a cross. These are images of utter weakness and vulnerability yet revealing a power the world too often does not recognise, the deep transforming power of love.

Such are these events that heaven cannot contain itself. Angels sing and point shepherds towards the stable. In a tomb angels point away from death to resurrection. Nor can those caught up in the story keep the story to themselves. The shepherds run from the tomb telling of what they have seen. Mary Magdalene runs from the tomb to break the news. Neither shepherds nor Mary M are the obvious heralds for these great acts of salvation but that is the way of God, working in and through the ordinary and the everyday.

The links between these two great birth and death passion narratives, which are of course part of the one great Passion story, are myriad. But the response is always the same – worship. The Magi open their treasures, then kneel and worship. Jesus ascends to heaven and the disciples first response is to worship.

At Christmas there is so much we feel we have to do but the danger is it stops us seeing what really needs to be seen. To truly celebrate Christmas we have to find time to allow ourselves to go deeper, to get caught up in this great Passion story. Christmas is not Christmas unless we find time to stop, to stare, to wonder – to kneel and to worship.

Three Cheers for British Politics

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I want to start a new campaign: Hug a Politician!  I am not sure this campaign is going to catch on but that is exactly why I think it is important.

We all assume that it is natural to be cynical about the world of politics.  It is easy to suggest that they are self-serving, not to be trusted, they are cut off from reality in their Westminster bubble.  We think they are too extreme, too centrist, too loyal to their political party, not loyal enough.  Everything and anything they do can be taken as evidence of their failing.

Of course politicians regularly over-promise and under-deliver, but they are not the only ones who do that.  In the midst of politic debate the language they use can be over-forceful, and at times inappropriate, but actually not as bad as some of those who think it is acceptable to troll politicians on social media.

We are tempted to think that our times are somehow worse than anything that has gone before.  We embrace the delusion that once there was a golden age when all politicians were charming and honourable.  The truth is that in every age those who offer themselves as politicians have faced the slings and arrows of public opinion, faced ridicule and had their credentials questioned.  24hour media and social media may add to the volume of the criticism but, at heart, the world of politics has always been a world we love to hate.

Of course there are a handful of politicians whose behaviour lets the side down, but that is true also of clergy and indeed of every profession.  But at heart those who stand as politicians are in their own way wanting to make our country a better place.  I have lived in many different places across the country but when I have been privileged to spend time talking to my local MP or local Councillor, regardless of whether I agree with their political opinions, I have found them to be genuinely committed to serving their local area, people who earn my respect.  

In the national media our politicians are presented as one-dimensional characters, cartoons of their real selves.  They are set-up to be mocked and ridiculed.  The main image of our parliament with which we are presented is Prime Ministers Question Time when the House is at its most partisan, noisy and unattractive.  Away from this weekly set piece much of the life of Parliament is more gentle, where debate is calmer and more real, where there are surprising alliances and often co-operation, particularly so in the Select Committees.

Of course there are ways that are democracy could be strengthened and improved but before we throw-up our hands in horror at the latest General Election debate, we need to pause and take a look around the world.  In so many countries people long to have the democracy that we are too quick to criticise. In too many countries there is no affective opposition, the right to protest is met by armed troops, to speak against the government is to risk imprisonment, corruption is endemic and to be critical of the leaders is a criminal offence.

As Christians we need to be more thankful for living when and where we do.  We need to be grateful for those willing to stand for Parliament or their local Council.  We need to reject the one-dimensional portrayal of those standing for election and take time to get to know the real person.  Whilst being passionate about the changes we want to see in our society, we need to be slower to judge and criticise those who hold views contrary to our own.  We need to learn to listen, to hear what is being said beyond the soundbite and understand where we may need to learn and re-shape our own views.  We need to learn to model good disagreement.  Remember that person who holds views directly opposite to your own is also beloved of God – just as you are.

Politics is loud, brash and messy and never more so than during a General Election.  It is far from perfect, but I would so rather this than be living in many another country.  Amidst the din, ugliness and confusion of all the campaigning, I still want to raise three cheers for British politics.

And if one of your local candidates comes knocking on your door surprise them – give them a hug and say thank you.  Truly thank God for those who are willing to offer themselves to stand in this crazy but necessary world of politics.  

No comment; just prayer

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After the past week in Parliament it is tempting to want to write a comment, to add to the host of words already written.  Everybody seems to want to have their say, to add their two-pennyworth to the on-going saga that is our political life in 2019.

How should we respond to the daily evolving events that everyone seems helpless to change or stop? Despite growing feelings of helplessness that many feel, we must never forget that Christians have always affirmed the value of the small act – the power of the yeast in the dough.

So, may we be encouraged to remember that all members of Parliament are beloved of God, as are indeed all members of the human family.  We are brothers and sisters under God and must not demonise others – even if they demonise us.

Never forget the importance of prayer. Not the type of prayer that seeks to get God on our side but that which genuinely holds a situation, our confusion, our uncertainty, our powerlessness, before God.  In the midst of the storm it is the importance of standing silently before God – and waiting.

And if we are to ask anything of God, then let it be a prayer for wisdom – deep wisdom.  When in a stuck place it is only divine wisdom that can save us – a wisdom that may often seem foolish to the wise.

Then when we are tempted to react to the latest development in this seemingly never ending story, may we each take time to pause, to see the weakness in our own argument and to see what it may be we can learn from the comments of those with whom we most disagree.

Perhaps precisely because so much is being said by so many, we each need to learn to say less and then only speak words which are healing, making sure our words do not hurt, divide or judge.

A frail offering in a stormy sea perhaps but surely it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.

Enough words; time to stop. No comment; just prayers. 

Seeing it Differently; the conversations and encounters beyond the images of a helter-skelter

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Do you think anyone noticed that there was a helter-skelter in Norwich Cathedral?

Now it is all packed away and on its way to Prague. Looking back on the last eleven days what should we remember?

I could write of the numbers that visited the Cathedral, the amount of media coverage or the quantities of Christian literature given away.  But this was never about driving up visitor numbers or getting lots of publicity.

Instead Seeing it Differently was always about the encounters and conversations that would take place.  The main focus was not the helter-skelter, nor the other installations, but on the fourteen trained volunteers in the Cathedral each day, engaging with our visitors and the connections that were made. And throughout those eleven days those encounters kept happening and they are the true legacy of this memorable event.

As one self-confessed lapsed Christian put it, ”for the first time in years I started to feel a connection with the Church again”. For many this was their first time in the Cathedral and having been drawn in by the helter-skelter, they went on to enjoy exploring the rest of the building, “I never thought you would get me in a cathedral, but I am definitely coming back”.

A man walking the Trust Trail took off his blindfold and spoke of how the experience had made him reconsider his understanding of trust and he would need to go away and think further about this.  A woman leave the Bible Box spoke of feeling hugged by the Word of God.  An atheist reading the Stories of Seeing it Differently spoke of being moved reading the stories of journalists and scientists explaining why they believe. An older woman finished reading the stories and said, “This is wonderful – it will stay with me for the rest of my life”.

Walking the labyrinth, a grandmother finally found the strength to talk to her grandchild about the death of her husband; their grandfather.  Lying down and looking up at the Nativity roof bosses a man spoke of finding a connection with God.

Around the helter-skelter the most repeated word was “joy”. Those who climbed to the top of the helter-skelter spoke of the impression made by the great West window seen close up, the beauty of the bosses and the chance to see the Cathedral from a different perspective.  And many older folk spoke of reliving their childhood on the slide back down.  A child left a message saying, “Today my Grandpa was young again”.  A woman told a member of staff in the shop, “I saw the laughter and the smiles, and I knew God was in this place”.

Cathedrals are places which seek to acknowledge the whole of life and are large enough to contain a range of activity and emotion at the same time.  The buzz around the helter-skelter and the stillness of those lying down and looking up.  Conversations about the stories side by side with the lighting of candles and the writing of prayers.  Visitors mid explore caught up in the daily pattern of worship that went on in its unbroken rhythm.

Sometimes these can collide in unexpected ways.  A woman began her day going to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital to receive radiotherapy only to be told she was too ill to receive the treatment.  Her friend suggested a visit to Norwich Cathedral.  Perhaps they both came expecting peace and quiet but instead they discovered Seeing it Differently.  At the end of the day she sent us a message, “Thank you for today at the Cathedral, for all the fun and smiles.  It provided a much needed distraction on what has otherwise been a difficult day”.

Many spoke of the warmth of the welcome and how the Cathedral felt accessible and inclusive, but one visitor made us all see things differently, “Being Autistic I see differently but I struggle to see the same.  A series like this allows people like me who see differently to be included among those who normally only want us to try to see their same way”.

For a small minority, and mainly people who did not come to the Cathedral, the presence of the helter-skelter seemed irreverent but one six year old offered her own insight in response.  She told the volunteer how much she loved the colour in the West window seen from the top of the helter-skelter.  Then she wrinkled up her heard thinking and pronounced, “I think God likes colour.  I think he’d like all the colours in my rainbows” – she had rainbows on her dress. The volunteer took the cue and told a certain Ark Bible story at the end of which the little girl turned with a big grin and said, “God made colour for us, He wants us to be happy”.

Seeing it Differently created many memories and offered a unique experience and the stories keep coming in.  Last Sunday, away from the Cathedral, someone new came to a Norfolk church. When greeted at the door she said that half way down the helter-skelter she felt God say to her that she should go back to church – so there she was.

Seeing it Differently was always intended as mission.  It may not be how everyone sees mission, but it was mission.  It was the Cathedral doing what Cathedrals have always done, re-telling the story, engaging in conversations about faith and inviting people to see things differently.

Of shoes, helter-skelters and learning to see things differently

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I probably should have been paying attention to what everyone else was saying but sitting there in the circle with the rest of the group, the one thing I most noticed was that we were all wearing different shoes.  All sorts, shapes and sizes were represented in the circle.

Looking at all these different shoes it suddenly came home to me how we all walk differently through life.  None of us quite approach life in the same way.

It is perhaps obvious to say that I see the world through my own eyes.  But it goes further than that.  I have my own sense of what is important, beautiful, and of value.  There are particular individuals whose opinions I like listening to, certain authors that I like reading, and a distinctive selection of people I follow on social media. There are things I think it is normal to spend money on, foods I enjoy eating and places I like to visit.

And what is true of my approach to life in general is also true to matters of faith.  There are particular passages of the Bible I am drawn to, I prefer certain styles of liturgy, and have clear preferences as to music in churches.  There are particular aspects of God on which I tend to focus, certain of Jesus’ sayings and stories that I quote, and I have my own sense of what the Spirit is moving me to do.

But you, in your different size, style and colour of shoe, approach life differently to me and have contrasting likes and dislikes.  The very thing that I may feel is important and significant, you may feel is dull and of little significance. You see the world through your own eyes

Of course, intellectually I know this is the case, but nevertheless I live my life as if everyone sees and experiences life just like me.  On the whole I tend to associate with those who, in the main, hold views not too dissimilar to my own and whose approach to life is not too distinctive from my own.  This is comforting and reassures me that I am not too different, too much out on a limb.  But sometimes this safe and secure world view I have built for myself gets ripped open.

The present debates and political divisions that besige our nation have brought home how much people both see and experience life differently.  For too long we had assumed that there was more that united us than divided us and that we were all agreed on the overall direction of travel for our nation and its place in the world. Suddenly these comforting assumptions are gone and we are left wondering where the present uncertainties will lead us.  Some long for a return to the old certainties, others long for new and different horizons and many of us just feel plain old confused.

As in the political realm so too in the spiritual realm.  There are real and profound differences on how we should handle and approach the Bible and in the priorities for the life of the Church. This shows up in our approaches to gender and sexuality and our attitudes to mission and evangelism, to church growing and kingdom building.

The temptation at such moments is to hunker down and adopt a bunker mentality, to retreat into one’s own world view and become more strident in asserting it and generally huff and puff when others express contrary points of view – the adult version of sticking one’s fingers in one’s ear and singing when someone else is talking.

However for me the present impasse in our nation has made me determined to ensure that I am listening to other voices, not always mixing with the like-minded and being willing to stray out of my comfort zone to try and see through other people’s eyes, to observe how other’s walk through life and see what I can learn and how I may need to change.

For me Norwich Cathedral’s summer adventure, Seeing it Differently, could not be more timely.  We are all going to need to see things from fresh perspectives if we are to be able to reach out to one another and heal the divisions that beset our country and sadly also our Church.

I get why for some the image of a giant helter-skelter sitting in this great Nave feels slightly shocking.  It does provoke and it begs the question, what is this space for?  The walls of this great building have seen many things through their 900 years and I suspect will take this latest arrival in their stride.

But climbing 50ft above the Nave floor will helps us see this space differently, it will give us a new perspective.  It is precisely because it is not we usually do that it can speak to us, challenge us and invite us to see the space differently, and to see ourselves and one another differently, even God differently.

Whether it is lying down and looking up, walking a blind trust trail, sitting inside the Bible or following the labyrinth, each holds out the same invitation: can you see it differently? Can we, dare we, open ourselves up to approach familiar things differently, to see the world through other people’s eyes and from their experiences, can we allow ourselves to be searched by fresh understanding and insight.

Healing a broken nation, strengthening the unity of the Church, will take more than us each being more strident in our own point of view.  It will come when we are able to appreciate, value and learn from the experiences and insights of others, when I can let go of my treasured world view and learn to see it differently.

And if we find ourselves in a group together, forgive me if you find me from time to time admiring your shoes and wondering what they are like to walk in. But beyond your shoes I wonder what I can learn from you, how you might enrich my life by helping me see things differently.  And together, might we grow in understanding of how God would want us to see this precious world differently?

On the importance of hearing voices – other people’s voices.

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We live in strange times. The world of politics grows daily more bizarre until we have reached the point where almost nothing surprises or shocks us.  We have reached a point where the only predictable thing is the unpredictable.

Political commentators try their best to explain what has happened and what might happen but in the end they all conclude, “but anything could happen”. “Unchartered waters” has become an over-used phrase.

The familiar landmarks by which we guided our public life, the norms of political behaviour, have gone. For some this means we are entering into an exciting time of new possibilities.  For others they are genuinely fearful of where all this will lead us.

But the hardest truth to face is that we are reaping the results of a whirlwind that we ourselves have sown.

For most of the final decades of the last century and into this century there have been certain political assumptions that were assumed to be held in common.  It was assumed that economic growth and development was for the good of the whole people, that a multi-cultural, multi-faith society was enriching for all and that globalisation would bring benefit for everyone.

But so often those vaunting this wonderful progress, were not those experiencing their consequences. The rich were getting richer, but the poor were also getting poorer.  The ideal of wealth trickling down was a delusion.  Those championing the richness of multiculturalism were all too often not those seeing their local streets change beyond recognition. The globalisation that promoted the project of European union failed to take in to account that for many their local town hall felt remote and inaccessible yet alone those living in the gilded cage of London – a European parliament felt so remote it was beyond foreign.

If such thoughts were ever acknowledged, it was assumed they were just the views of a minority and not what most (good) people thought.  Minority perhaps, but a significant minority and others would argue that actually it was a growing majority for whom the assumed political values of the age were not working.

These assumptions were stripped naked during the banking crisis.  The richest in the West were bailed out by governments in the belief that this was for the good of us all.  However, the resulting policy of austerity meant that the poorest once again suffered most.  The growing deep dissatisfaction with the assumed political order finally found its voice in the EU referendum – they would be heard.

Our politicians are still struggling to come to terms with what has happened.  Some are still hoping that the clock can be turned back, and we can pretend none of this has happened.  But for too long, too many people have felt unheard.  And when people feel unheard, they are more likely to turn to the more extreme political leaders, those least like those who have been ignoring them.  Rightly those who have found a voice will not be silenced.

There is nothing in and of itself wrong with growing the wealth of the nation, nor of developing a multi-cultural and multi-faith society, nor of closer co-operation between the nations of Europe and of wider globalisation.  But such developments need to take the whole nation with them and be clearly seen to benefit all not just some.  However, people have learnt to be suspicious of proclaimed progress that in fact leaves them and others behind.

The Church has the potential to have a vital part in healing our broken and divided nations.  Churches need to be rooted in their local communities, listening to the concerns and struggles of those living around them, and helping give voice to those who feel they have no voice.  Much as the Church may want to win friends and influence people it must remember that Christianity is always essentially biased to the poorest. Where churches become obsessed with their own survival or growth, where they turn inwards, then they are failing their communities.  If the Church is to help stitch our nation back together it will be the depth of our service to our neighbourhoods that will be the true witness to God’s healing work.

Each time I react to yet another stranger-than-fiction moment in our political life, I remind myself that we are in this place because for too long people like me listened too much to the voices that said what I wanted to hear.  I ignored too long the voices from those not like me.  Each new and strange political twist renews my commitment to reach out more to those who hold different views from me, whose perspective on life comes from a different place.  In a divided society I need to learn to be a bridge builder and let others help me see life differently.

There is no such thing as a “domestic”; stand up for victims of domestic abuse.

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I do not know what went on in the Boris Johnson household nor do I know anything about the motivations of the neighbour who reported the alleged incident.

I do know that we must be very careful how we talk about domestic abuse and nothing in the response to this story must be allowed to further trap individuals in situations of domestic abuse nor make it less likely that such abuse will be reported.

The idea that what goes on in the privacy of someone’s house is no one else’s business is a very dangerous road.  When I began as a counsellor over thirty years ago, when clients shared stories of domestic abuse they, and we, often felt completely powerless.  If the police were called, they often refused to intervene saying it was “just a domestic”. Vulnerable women (and some men) were left trapped in relationships, denied the protection of the law.  And there was almost no point in even trying to challenge rape in marriage.

Thankfully the attitude of both the law and the police has changed.  It is still incredibly difficult for a victim of domestic abuse to challenge and report what has happened to them but thankfully, if called, the police are less likely to just dismiss it as “a domestic”.

Similarly, a concerned neighbour can often be an essential part of challenging the actions of an abuser and can even be a life-saver for a victim of abuse.

Everyone has a right to feel safe in their own home. Violence is violence, abuse is abuse, rape is rape, neither the location nor the relationship between victim or perpetrator is ever any excuse.

Neither friends or newspapers wanting to defend Boris Johnson, nor those championing the neighbour, must be allowed to say or do anything that will make it harder for a person to report abuse themselves or for a neighbour to do so.  To claim that this is a domestic, a private matter, runs the risk of setting back the progress that has been made in more recent times in challenging domestic abuse.

If, following this story, and the way it is presented, an abuser can trap their victim but saying their words or actions are private, or a neighbour hesitates to report an overheard incident, then the damage from this story is of far greater concern than the possible hurt to an individual’s political ambition.

Please let us all be very careful and let nothing we say or do in response to these events undermine our stand against domestic violence.

Climate protestors are both right and wrong

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At long last the issue of climate change seems to be getting the attention it needs.  Two weeks of protests in London has certainly bumped the issue up the headlines although it remains to be seen whether a government paralysed by Brexit will actually make any concrete response.  

We cannot continue to ignore the reality that in the West we have for too long adopted lifestyles that are unsustainable. For too long the basis of economic development has been based on exploiting the planet’s resources rather than learning to live in harmony with creation.  

For too long we have lacked a real sense of urgency in our approach to climate change.  We have tinkered with small changes hoping it will be enough, avoiding facing up to the extent to which we are all going to have to change our lifestyles if the impact of climate change is to be stopped yet alone reversed.

Extinction Rebellion argue that there is no other issue so urgent and that this justifies the level of disruption they have been causing on the streets of London.  The crisis is now and facing up to it requires action now.

Without wanting to detract from this very real sense of urgency nevertheless I want to suggest that there is one issue which is even more urgent.  An issue that has faced humanity ever since we first walked on this planet.  An issue that grows ever more urgent as populations grow and communities become ever more inter-connected.  An issue which, if not resolved, will frustrate the best efforts at halting climate change.

And the issue is this: how as human beings can we learn to live in harmony and co-operation with each other?

Our animal instinct is to exclude.  The herd seeks to protect its territory, defend its food sources and its females for mating.  Human society has followed the same instinct, with tribes and nations seeking to maintain borders, control migration, protect food supplies.  We divide the world in to those that are like us and those who are not like us.  At best this leads to avoidance and suspicion and at worst it leads to oppression and war. 

Tragically religion has echoed rather than challenged this divisive approach to living on this shared planet.  Each faith claiming their faith is the true faith, dividing the world into those who are saved and those who are not, those who are in and those who are out. It is the belief that God is on my side. This echoed in the language of evangelism and conversion.  Sadly, it is there even with divisions within faith groups. Although words such as welcome, inclusion and love are much spoken about, the reality is that too often religion has been for the dividing and not the healing of nations and peoples.

The world of politics is similarly so often is about divide and rule.  A powerful individual or group dictating the direction of a nation.  The best democracies know that they have to be more than dictatorship by the majority but the governments that genuinely seek consensus are few and far between.  Despite the ideal of the United Nations as a forum for co-operation the structure of the Security Council ensures that the old fault lines amongst the nations are endlessly replayed.

The inability of humans to live together in a spirit of mutual co-operation leads to numerous places of conflict and millions fleeing as refugees, the suffering of many in the face of oppression and millions being trapped in poverty, the murder of people in their places of worship and the persecution of people for their beliefs or political ideals.

As critical as the challenges of the climate crisis may be, unless humans can discover new ways to co-exist, then the prospects of deep and lasting change seem all too unlikely.

We need politicians who build bridges and promote co-operation, who reach out to learn from those who hold opposing views and who cherish shared ground and the common good.  We need faith groups known for their depth of generosity, the sincerity of their welcome, the quality of their inclusion and their lack of judgement.

Each day I am challenged by the words of St Benedict to treat the visitor as if they were none other than Christ himself. The truth is I would most likely have found much of what Jesus said and did rather annoying. I would have criticised his teachings and, even if not one of those shouting “crucify”, I would have been quite glad when the authorities finally got him off the streets. And yet this is the one I find who can most truly teach me the true meaning of love

If I could treat each person I met, especially those who I do not naturally warm to, those who hold contrary views to my own, whose approach life in a different way to me, as I would want to treat Jesus, then maybe, just maybe there is a chance.

Extinction Rebellion is right that the crisis is now. However, unless we humans can learn to reach out to one another, break down the barriers that too easily divide us and build a new consensus across the global community, then I fear all that will be left from these current protests is not rebellion but just extinction.

Tiggers seeking breakfast: reflections on Brexit and MPs who say No. No. No.

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Tiggers love everything.  Tiggers love everything…except honey, and haycorns, and thistles and…

As Pooh put it, “ all the good things which an animal likes have the wrong sort of swallow or too many spikes”

More worryingly Pooh concludes “ whatever his weight in pounds, shillings and ounces, he always seems bigger because of his bounces.”

Despite everyone’s best efforts Tigger cannot find any breakfast.  Somehow everyone just assumed Tiggers would know what they liked for breakfast.

Brexit is the new arrival in the One Hundred Acre Wood.  Everyone, we are told, will love Brexit but sadly nobody knows the kind of Brexit they would like.  We all will like Brexit (so the story goes) but not hard, and not soft, and not Norwegian.  All the good things Brexit might bring either mean we are too in or too out and so it is too hard to swallow.  Meanwhile as the deadline approaches Brexit just gets bouncier.

Whilst Tigger claims to like everything, Tigger finds it easier to decide what he does not like rather than to know what he does like.  MPs are very clear what they do not want but cannot agree what they do want. 

And of course what is true of MPs is actually true of us all – too often in life (and not just in Brexit) it is much easier to say what you do not want than to make a decision and say what you do want. We like keeping our options open.  The moment we make a decision other options disappear and the ghost of regret threatens to haunt us.

To travel down one road means there are other paths that will not be taken.  Standing at the crossroads is a place full of possibility but to realise those possibilities a decision has to be taken and some routes will never be travelled.  Each of the paths on from the crossroads has its dangers, each evokes its own set of fears, but each has its opportunities too.  Much depends on the attitude we bring to the journey – if we are resentful then fears may well abound, if we travel open to the adventure then surprising opportunities may be discovered. Rabbit will learn that a bouncing Tigger can be a very welcome sight.

That is the art and the beauty of travel – the adventure begins with deciding the direction of travel.  The adventure unfolds because you have chosen a direction of travel.  You can never know what would have happened if you had set out in a different direction of travel.  There is no perfect “yes” but without a “yes” nothing happens and there is no adventure.  All adventures involve good times and bad times, all have different consequences but all also have opportunities. The path you may despise is not necessarily without its blessings.

Tigger keeps visiting the inhabitants of the wood in his search for breakfast.  In the end he swallows what Roo did not want and discovers that this was what Tiggers liked best – Extract of Malt; Roo’s Strengthening Medicine.  Pooh thought Tigger had been strengthened quite enough but, despite Rabbit’s best efforts, Tiggers cannot be unbounced.  Indeed in seeking to unbounce Tigger it is Rabbit that becomes lost and is only saved by discovering a bouncing Tigger is a thing of beauty

The decision we make about the type of Brexit may not be the best option, most likely it will bring difficult times – no journey is all smooth – but by working together even the most difficult path can be worked for good.

Tigger makes his home with Kanga.  Tigger is not perhaps the ideal house companion – Roo is easily over-excited.  Sadly it will be discovered that Tiggers can neither fly nor climb trees and instead are better at falling.  But in the end Tigger is a welcome addition to the One Hundred Acre Wood family.

There is something very tigerish about Brexit, promising more than it can deliver, but that does not make it wrong, and does not mean we cannot befriend it and together make a success of it, which ever direction we take at the crossroads.