Finding Common Ground After The Election!

It’s 12th December and I’m writing this letter on the day of the General Election! Although it may have been interesting to write after the Election and once the result is known, I thought that perhaps it might be fairer and more helpful to write a comment before we do so! Because it seems to me that one of the things that the election has drawn out and made clear is just how divided we are as a nation! It’s not just simply a case as to whether one voted Labour or Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Brexit or Green – the divisions in our society are much broader and deeper than that; whether one voted for ‘Leave’ or ‘Remain’; whether you be rich or poor; privileged or disadvantaged; old or young; male or female; employed or unemployed; from the north or the south; socially conservative or liberal; married or not – and all these things challenge and shape our perspective. Not only this but despite the fact that our parliamentary system isn’t supposed to be presidential, the focus was very much on personalities rather than policy – with some of the language used being vile and abusive. So where can we find unity and how can we develop trust?

It’s interesting to note that the BBC wrote an article entitled Crossing Divides – What unites us: 10 reasons why we’re not a divided nation, in an attempt to find and construct a new sense of unity, being:

1. Being faithful to our partners
2. The principle of equal pay
3. Viewing a woman’s role as no longer in the home
4. Seeing gay relationships as “not wrong at all”
5. Supporting a woman’s right to have an abortion
6. Trusting science and scientists
7. Believing in the NHS
8. Believing the Royal Family is important
9. Thinking climate change is at least partly caused by humans
10. Loving David Attenborough, health charities, Heinz, Lego, Google Maps and Malteasers

Whilst the majority of Britain’s may agree with some of these attitudes, it only takes a moment to appreciate that not everyone will agree with all of them, particularly those of a more traditional, socially conservative or religious persuasion. Perhaps in truth this list reflects more of a ‘wish list’ held by those who run the BBC.

For as John Stevens an online commentator observes ‘unity cannot be established or maintained on the basis of values and attitudes that do not in fact capture the hearts and minds of the vast majority of the people’ and I would like to add that it cannot be imposed upon us either.

The Christian will immediately recognise that what we need is a higher narrative, something that looks beyond our immediate, narrow and somewhat self-absorbed (and perhaps selfish) perspective and gives us a new standard and guide to live by, something that transforms our hearts and minds for the better. No one is saying that the Church is perfect or that it can’t ever make mistakes or disagree, but it does have a larger vision than that presented by party politics and a common framework by which it can promote reconciliation and encourage unity and trust within itself and the wider community. A kinder, gentler politics always has to begin with us as we try to serve one another in the loving manner that Christ served us, and I’d like to encourage you all to give it a try.

May I wish you all a very happy and peaceful new year.


“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3.5-6


 

It’s All A Matter Of Perspective: The Norwich Cathedral Helter Skelter

Helter Skelter

For ten days or so in August, it appeared that Brexit was not the only topic to divide national opinion but whether the decision to install a helter skelter within the Nave of Norwich Cathedral was really a good or a bad idea! Certainly, The Dean, The Very Revd Jane Hedges, appeared to be enjoying herself as she came swishing down the slide accompanied by a number of her Cathedral’s choristers captured on the BBC’s national news, but the wisdom of such a move was soon brought into question by The Right Revd Dr Gavin Ashenden (former chaplain to the Queen), who thought that the whole enterprise ‘smacked of desperation’ as the Cathedral tried to tempt visitors through its doors. He was concerned that the apparent frivolity of the helter skelter detracted from the holiness of the place; the awesome nature of God and the seriously sacrificial nature of the Gospel as demonstrated by Jesus and his death upon the cross. The vast and awesome nature of the Cathedral space with its north and south transepts symbolically representing the cross could and should encourage people to look upwards and prayerfully contemplate the presence of God – if only they weren’t distracted!

Ironically, this inspirational aspect of the building was not lost on the Cathedral staff whose campaign was entitled ‘Seeing it differently’, encouraging people to use their imaginations as they saw the Cathedral from a new perspective engageing with its structure and ‘salvation story’ as they admired its ancient roof bosses which depict the whole Bible story from Genesis to Revelation – all easier to see from the slide’s 40ft high viewing platform.

In response to Gavin Ashenden’s criticism, Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church at Oxford University observed that although some would think that the installation of the helter skelter was ‘trendy’ and a somewhat ‘undignified’ attempt to appeal to people in an increasingly secular society, in reality Cathedral attendances are growing and “so this shouldn’t be seen as a desperate attempt to get people in the building”.

So what is it? Well in my view – it is a joyful invitation! It’s a joyful invitation not only to encourage people into the building – but to make them feel welcome and what could be more welcoming than effectively saying ‘here you are – ride this! It’s fun!’ So many people, even Christians, tend to think of God as a great big killjoy and nothing could be further from the truth. God himself knows joy and he wants his people to know joy too. Psalm 104.31 speaks of God as rejoicing in all of his creative works – and what is the pinnacle of his creation? We are! Of course we should naturally respect God and honour his name but we should never, ever forget that God rejoices in us – because in and through Christ he loves us. Of course, being welcomed into the Cathedral is one thing, but if through that one visit, experience or conversation someone finds faith in God and wants to know more about the Cathedral, and it’s worship then how much more glorious and joyful is that! A simple welcome into the Cathedral becomes a joyful invitation into the ‘Kingdom of God’. So, perhaps for a mere ten days the helter skelter in the Nave should be viewed not so much a distraction to heartfelt worship and prayer – but as a warm invitation and proper attraction to it.


May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may he rejoice in all his works. Psalm 104.31


Image 2
Bishop Jonathan Meyrick – 18th August 2019

To Print Or Not To Print – That Is The Question!

Sir Cliff Richard awarded damage sum in BBC trial

Let’s ‘print and be damned’ has often been the unsaid mantra used by journalists, newspapers and media outlets for many years, and is ironically said to have arisen from a statement uttered by the Duke of Wellington, when confronted with a letter threatening to reveal salacious details about an affair. The Duke would not give in to blackmail and so suggested that the publisher should print as he wished and therefore reap the consequences.

The consequences can be profound as we have seen from the recent case between Sir Cliff Richard and the BBC, when the High Court judge Mr Justice Mann ruled in favour of the singer and awarded him £210,000 in damages, agreeing that promoting unsubstantiated accusations against Sir Cliff and publishing sensational video footage of the singer’s home being searched when he was never arrested or charged, was a ‘serious invasion of his privacy’. In response, the BBC were considering an appeal, suggesting that not being able to publish the name of a suspect prior to a formal charge was a serious restriction of the ‘freedom of the press’ and would not be in the public interest. This overlooks the terrible hurt personally caused to Sir Cliff and the irreparable damage done to his reputation, coupled with the judge’s own conclusion that ‘no matter of public interest’ was served in this case. Although emotionally unable to comment on the steps of the High Court, Sir Cliff made it clear in his interview with ITV that he had no desire to curtail the ‘freedom of the press’ but to ensure that the privacy of the individual was respected until the point that a formal charge is made. After all, it is a fundamental principle of our society that all people are innocent until proven guilty and as Sir Cliff himself observed ‘freedom without responsibility is anarchy’.

It seems to me that although it’s right to promote openness and transparency, we all need to accept that this doesn’t give us an automatic right to know everything about every individual or institution. The problem is that we are all nosy, and gossip sells newspapers, and we simply can’t bear not knowing and this is where the dilemma lies – we expect to have everything laid out on a plate and become frustrated and disgruntled when it isn’t so. The BBC may have hoped that its reputation for rigorous journalism would be enhanced, but they forgot (or perhaps didn’t care) that it’s prize scoop came at the expenses of trashing the reputation of an innocent person.

Perhaps we should all remember that only God knows everything and that one day our lives will be judged by him as if it were an ‘open book’, but until then we need to live, love and respect each other with as much grace and dignity as we can muster. Doing ‘to others as you would have them do to you’ (Luke 6.31), otherwise we will all have to suffer the consequences.


 “And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6.8