Olympic fever

11 August 2008

I hadn’t realised that having a “red button” could be quite so addictive! Yet since the opening of the Olympics in Beijing, I have been moving from event to event with an ease which would have totally baffled my grandparents. But in these digital Olympics, one minute it’s archery, then cycling followed by a quick check on the rowing, before moving on to the semi final of a sport which, at any other time, I would never have dreamt of watching. I think that I have a dose of Olympic fever and at this rate it is going to be an exhausting two weeks.

Whilst most of the time I recoil at the way in which our lives have become dominated by a culture of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ – when it comes to sport, healthy competition is right at the heart of it all. It is about striving to excel and that can only be measured by running, jumping, throwing or whatever it is – faster, higher or further than everyone else.

Most of the competitors in the Olympics are youngsters who have discovered the drive, determination and self-discipline to excel in their sport. They have learnt how to believe in themselves and in their potential. In an age when we have endless headlines demonising youngsters, it is just so refreshing to see young people from around the world celebrating the self-belief which has been awakened in them through sport. Behind each of them are scores of others who didn’t make the grade to be in their national team, but who also have much to celebrate.

Of course it is not just about the Olympics. Around the world there are countless numbers of young people who have learnt how to believe in themselves and in their potential – not just in sport but also in their work, with their friends and in their communities. It is this self-belief which is the key to their confidence. Such self-belief comes from the adults – parents, coaches, teachers, friends etc – who have encouraged them. Behind each and every one of these athletes there has been that essential positive attitude and celebration. Such an approach to life won’t have come through disapproval, criticism or the much vaunted Anti-social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) – but through the encouragement, approval and commitment which young people need if they are to believe in themselves and take their place in our world.

As we can see on our screens, when youngsters receive this, their potential is released and they jump high.


Lambeth Day 15

31 July 2008

The conference ends in four days time and concern that there should be a ‘product’ from the Conference is mounting.  I find it ironic that whilst such concern comes from across the spectrum of opinion here, it includes those who are convinced that the church must not be influenced by contemporary culture.  Yet this idea that you cannot meet without a purpose and an outcome is totally driven by contemporary culture, influenced by an economy which only values an activity if it ‘feeds the bottom line’.

It is regrettable that over the years The Lambeth Conference has become associated with some kind of legislature for the Communion, with its resolutions being given the status of law….the question “do you subscribe Lambeth 1.10?” has at times taken on a McCarthyistic character.  So an expectation has developed that on Sunday evening we will be coming down the mountain (well, hill actually) on which this campus is set, with tablets under our arms having solved questions about the use and interpretation of the Bible which have challenged the church throughout its history.

In a world which falls so far short of what God intended and with so many people, each made in the image of God, not sharing in the God-given blessings of life, we need to value people of faith coming together to renew their commitment to God, to each other and to building the Kingdom of God.  We will have totally sold out to the ephemeral values of our age if we fail to celebrate the intrinsic value of worship, prayer, study and the recommitment of bishops in mission to their leadership of the church, as it works for the Kingdom of God.

The work to gather the reflections from all the Indaba Groups goes on and the panel, which has been drawn from the groups, has been working into the night drafting a communiqué which will reflect the work which has been done within those Groups.   It will provide an important record of what has taken place here – but for me, the real product has been what has occurred within the Conference, which has no cash value, but ‘feeds the bottom line’ of a Church which works in the power of the Spirit.

Lambeth Day 12

28 July 2008

This morning some Bishops went to parishes in and around Canterbury to share in their Sunday worship, whilst others were at the Cathedral.  I joined that latter group and stayed to enjoy the hospitality of the Cathedral with a buffet lunch served in the precincts.  I get the feeling that we are all in need of a quieter more restful day.

We have had a week and a half of building relationships and trust, now we need to capitalise on all this as we map a way forward for the Communion.  We are here as leaders of the Communion and that means more than just being friendly.  The key question is how do we structure the Communion without creating a centralising ‘magisterium’ of teaching and order,  which would undermine the nature of the bonds which holds us together as a worldwide Communion.

Although there has been much attention on issues in human sexuality, which are of course important, in many ways these discussions have guided  us to the complex questions about the Anglican Communion and its comprehensiveness.

One of the gifts which the Anglican Communion has offered to God and to the world has been our ability to hold together a diversity of responses to the God whom we have encountered in Jesus Christ.  Diversity which has been worked out in the way in which we have made our decisions about the order of the church.  We have been a Church which has been held together by belief, as contained in the historic creeds and the historic formularies, and not by agreeing to particular statements about that faith in each generation.   This has always frustrated those who like clarity and structure to the content of faith.

There is pressure from those in the Communion who would be happier with statements or confessions of faith, but many of us are wary of such a move as that requires churches to ‘opt in’, whereas a family is something from which you choose to ‘opt out’.   So it is going to be a busy week, but my observation is that we have been well prepared for it by the worship, prayer and personal engagements which have been the substance of the Conference thus far.

Lambeth Day 10

26 July 2008

A characteristic which appears to be common to all bishops is that they have opinions.  So, if you take 650 bishops and bring them to a campus in Kent, you have 650 opinions about most matters you discuss.  If, as a commentator on church matters, you want to run a particular slant to a story, then you are almost guaranteed to find an opinion to support the line you are taking – even though it may only be a 1/650th of the truth.

As we poise midway through this Lambeth Conference this appears to be exactly what is happening here at Canterbury and a distorted picture is emerging about Indaba Groups, the Bible Studies and the Conference outcomes.

I can report that I am really enjoying both my Bible study group and the Indaba Group – they are good opportunities to share experiences, clarify what others are thinking and they give focus as we address key areas for our mission and ministry.  Most important of all, they are forums for building relationships and, in a Communion which is fundamentally about relationships then, that is no bad thing.  So this 1/650th of the conference is encouraged by the process and valuing an outcome which feels deeply spiritual, as we build bonds of fellowship and trust.

There are those who want to rush forward to address the BIG issue, sweeping aside less important issues for the Communion.  But how could we meet as a worldwide communion and not be engaged with the challenge for the world coming from global warming?  Earlier this evening Professor Chris Rapley , Director of the Science Museum, encouraged the Communion to fill the vacuum of moral leadership in the world as we face of the mounting evidence that unless we change the way we release carbon dioxide, then the damage to the planet’s atmosphere is going bring disastrous consequences.

Over the past 10 days I have met so many bishops who are clearly leaders in their community.  Together, we represent a body of leadership which is well placed to give the moral leadership which is so absent from the politicians.  To do so we would have to re-order our priorities.  Issues within human sexuality are important, how we shape our Communion and cope the variety of approaches to the authority of scripture is important – but our stewardship of God’s gift in creation is fundamentally important for a church whose vocation comes from the one who came that we might have life and have it abundantly.

So the Conference goes on, my Indaba Group has moved off process and is finding its own way to address the issues, whilst my Bible Study Group has become an increasingly good place to be.  The outcomes are at present ‘soft’, which is frustrating for those who want ‘hard’ outcomes.  I think that these will follow quite swiftly, but they will have more ownership because they will come from the relationships which this conference appears to be fostering.

I was talking with another Bishop earlier today and he agrees with this analysis – so this blog represents 2/650ths of the opinions here at Lambeth.

Lambeth Day 2

18 July 2008

We spent today at Canterbury Cathedral on Retreat and for me it was a day not to be missed.  The Archbishop was at his best, building on his scholarship and personal spirituality, as he led us to reflect on the theme that every calling or vocation is an invitation to become, gradually, a place where God’s life is revealed.

He left us with so many pointers to mull over during the day that I can’t really do them justice, but his observation that the only way of being a successful apostle is to be incapable of distancing oneself from the weakness of others I found to be particularly helpful.  He took this idea forward to reflect that bishops can never, however much they’d like to be, become the spokesperson of a single nation, or cause, or group, however worthy they may be.

Amongst all the words offered and shared today, it will be these two phrases which will stay with me.

One of the challenges of a gathering such as this is to remember the name of the person to whom you have just been introduced.   A higlight and a name I can remember was Hector Zavala ,  Bishop of Chile. I was really glad to be able to meet him as, to mark the millennium, my parish raised money to support USPG in building 15 houses for the poorest communities in Chile.  Bishop Zavala brought me upto date on the project and how the funds we rasied had been used and in a short conversation the interconnectedness of the Communion became tangible.

Lambeth Day 1

17 July 2008

Well, we have arrived here at Canterbury and, apart from some inconsequential registration hiccups, all is going well.  The one thing which has immediately struck me is the diversity of the Anglican Communion as reflected in the Bishops and their spouses. The inevitable queues speak eloquently of the numbers who have committed themselves to this conference and to engaging with each other in studying the Bible and being together.

It is quite clear that this conference has been set up as an opportunity to listen to each other.  I encountered one journalist who was clearly looking for conflict and was a little disconcerted to find that the group I was with were very much wanting to commit themselves to listening, sharing and understanding. So we are set to be counter cultural as listening, sharing and understanding appear to be in short supply in our fast, media rich world!

One can’t help feeling that the minority who have stayed away are missing a significant moment and our listening and understanding will be diminished by us not having their contribution.  I have already has some great conversations with Bishops from different parts of the world and it all bodes well for the coming days.

………and for those who are wondering, the three Bishops from the Diocese of Lincoln have arrived safe and sound!

It is liberty to growl

3 July 2008

When I accompanied the Bishop of Lincoln earlier this week to his introduction into the House of Lords, Anthony Trollope’s words in Phineas Flynn about the British Constitution  came to mind, “It is liberty to growl about the iron fleet, or the ballot, or the taxes, or the peers, or the bishops, or anything else, except the House of Commons. That’s the British Constitution”.

There is something amazingly civilised about enabling an unrepresentative, wholly undemocratic but amazingly experienced group of people to make comment on and contribute to the governance of our nation.  As I gazed down upon the proceedings I recognised so many faces from the political establishment of the past 25 years, joined by other slightly less familiar faces, but leading lights in so many facets of our society.  The gender balance was far more evident than when I last visited the House of Lords, as was the diversity ……. and then of course there were bishops.

I am among those who find it difficult to mount a really coherent argument as to why we have this institution in a modern, democratic and egalitarian society, save that it is wonderful to have a place in the structures of our legislature where people have the ‘liberty to growl’.  The House of Lords brings together so much experience and wisdom to growl at the government.  To growl,  not because of the expedience of democratic process, but because they have the liberty and the place to express opinion, concern and disapproval.  To all of this, we hope and pray that the Bishops will bring the harmony of Kingdom of God to the sounds coming from that place.

How the people of Zimbabwe would relish having a place where the ‘liberty to growl’ is enshrined.