Happy New Year?

1 January 2011

BBC Radio Humberside – New Year’s Day

Well I wish you a very happy New Year . But, having said that  I realise that we start 2011 with many problems before us – the weather, the economy and those myriad of personal issues which can so weigh us down.  So what does it need for us to be happy in this New Year?  Oscar Wildle that great manufacturer of sharp quotations observed that “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go”

But I am much more drawn to the anonymous observation that “Happiness is not the absence of problems but the ability to deal with them.”, because unless that’s true, then we are doomed to unhappiness, because throughout my life I have never known a time when there haven’t been problems to deal with and I suspect that’s true for all of us.  Indeed it is the problems which give life a texture and responding to them can bring out some of our best qualities.

There was a fashion for imagining a world which was problem free, one of the most famous versions was a book  by Sir Thomas More written some 500 years ago which he called Utopia – a fictional island in the Atlantic Ocean where there was no poverty or misery and all lived in harmony.  As we grapple with the recession, unemployment and all that comes with them, Utopia sounds a good place to be.  Of course the story of Utopia echoes the story of the Garden of Eden at the beginning of the Bible, where God places Adam and Eve in a paradise where there were no problems. An experience of harmony and peace which they can enjoy as long as they used their freedom of choice responsibly.

The story goes on that once Adam and Eve misused their freedom of choice, then paradise became an impossible place for them, because paradise requires a depth of responsibility which enables harmony to exist.  But as we look over human history and read our headlines today, it is clear that such a depth of responsibility seems beyond our capacity to achieve.  The distinctiveness of Jesus is not really so much about him being ‘good’, but about the depth of responsibility which he lived out – to such an extent, that those who met him had the experienced that something of paradise had come close to them.

In wishing you a happy new year, I am not offering a meaningless phrase, but a hope that we will each find the ability to deal with the problems and concerns which lie ahead, whilst at the same time discovering an inner sense of responsibility in the way in which we make our choices, so that something of paradise is found within us to enrich our lives in 2011.  So I do wish you a very happy new year…….



Beware the simplicty of extremists

26 October 2009

Article in the Cleethorpes Chronicle  – 29.10.2009

There was a stark contrast between some of the views being aired on last Thursday’s BBC Question Time and the gathering of the Normandy Veterans Association in Westminster Abbey last weekend.  During Question Time we glimpsed the sort of extremism which feeds on demonising a particular group of people and, in contrast, on Sunday the veterans remembered the enormous human cost of combating extremism once it takes hold of power.  Extremism, whether it is political, economic or social, brings in its wake human suffering and misery – how little we learn from history.

The essential feature of the extremist is simplicity.  Simplistic answers to the problems of the age.  In a democracy it is seductive stuff because the simplicity of the extremist offers quick and easy remedies.  In Germany in the 1930’s it was the Jews who were blamed for all the problems and finding a final solution to the Jews would ensure that all would be well.  Tragically there is a long list in modern history where the simplistic answers of the extremists have led to appalling violence, genocide and ethnic cleansing.  In fact I cannot think of any situation where extremism has led to human happiness and flourishing.

The problem with extremist views is that they are cloaked in sounding plausible. Yet they have to distort the truth because they actually have no ability to answer the deep problems of society.    So for the extremist, all asylum seekers are ‘bogus’, people living on benefits are ‘scroungers’,  unemployment  is cause by immigrants and if only we could get back to the purity of the indigenous English people, then all would be well.

D-day vetsWhat utter nonsense it is, yet it is seductive because at elections we want to give power to those who are going to sort things out.  If only life was like that.  Yet as those D-day veterans know only too well – give power to an extremist and it has to be wrestled from them at great cost.

The Normandy Veterans gathering begins this season of remembrance leading up to 11th November.  Once again I will be thanking God for the sacrifice of so many in wresting power from the extremists, whilst praying that we will never again be seduced by their simplicity – for it masks the dark side of human nature which is crucifyingly costly to defeat.

Come off it Bishop!

3 June 2008

I feel quite proud of the headline “Come off it Bishop!” which I received in a local paper following an open meeting in a parish about possibilities for re-ordering the interior of the parish church- possibilities which might (or might not) have resulted in the removal of some of the pews. Passions ran high and have continued so to do, with much correspondence (copied to the local press) relating various fallings out between parishioners and anger at the church leadership for not being decisive in the face of the challenge of change.

It has always surprised me how otherwise calm, dignified Christian people can become quite hostile and antagonistic in the face of change. Letters are quickly sent to the press (and to anyone who will listen), calling for action and lamenting the fecklessness of those in leadership who allow such things to happen. It really doesn’t make for a very attractive church, for it suggests that our priorities are heritage and preservation – for when do we capture the headlines by being passionate for peace, justice or forgiveness? But more to the point, it shows how far we have allowed the priorities of the Gospel to slip from our agenda and how much we have allowed the ephemera of being church to become the object for our passion.

As UN representatives meet today in Rome for talks about the world food crisis, we have to reflect that in Gospel terms the plight of the world’s poor should be the focus for our anger and passion. It sometimes appears that we have allowed the institutions of the church to have become the message itself, rather than the structures which deliver the message.

The Micah Challenge, reminds Christians of what the Lord requires “to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God”. (Micah 6:8) It is a call to the church to grab the headlines for Kingdom values, to speak with one voice for the impoverished and the marginalised, calling on the world leaders to fulfil the Millennium Goals which we committed ourselves to achieving by 2015. If you haven’t heard of the Millennium Goals, then you might find watching this video helpful.

There is nothing wrong with being passionate or, at times, being angry at injustice – but it will be in the cause of the Gospel that such human emotions are going to be used to best effect.