Monthly Archives: August 2013

We’re all going on our summer holidays!

But unlike Cliff, who went by bus, we are going by train – Eurostar and then onwards to Berlin and into Poland for a while. It will be an interesting mix of history, Stalinist architecture, sombre moments (Auschwitz) and hopefully fun. No doubt some photos will be posted!

It appears we are not the only ones to struggle with the Polish language. There is a great cartoon on line (copyrighted) where God invents Polish. God is seen tripping over a cloud spilling a box of Scrabble letters down to earth and thus Polish was invented.

“Two Wongas doesn’t make it right” (Private Eye)

Collection Plate

 

Private Eye takes no prisoners: “Two Wongas doesn’t make it right” (Eye1346 p.26) as it pokes fun at the discomfort of our Archbishop as he seeks to tackle head on the payday loan company Wonga. Ouch! That made me squirm and feel uncomfortable! Couple this with a more erudite article in Modern Believing (July 2013) by Lawler & Salzman about the Church’s 1500 year journey to overturn the principle of Luke 6.35 ‘But love your enemies and do good, and lend without expecting any return;’ (why this needs to be entwined with the current debate on human sexuality is for another day) as the church finds accommodation with the idea of lending to get a return and it opens up an interesting debate as to the church’s involvement with matters of public policy and our engagement with the banks and the whole investment culture. And, of course, our discomfort as a church comes from realising that in a very small way we have indirectly invested in Wonga ourselves. Usury is redefined from ‘lending without return’ to ‘lending without excessive return’ and in the laissez faire market of our current government it is the market that is left to define what is excessive. That makes me feel even more uncomfortable given the debacles in the banking system uncovered over the last few years: bonus driven banking; Libor scandals; mis-selling of products – it makes for shameful reading – and we are asked to let the market decide?

I stand fully behind our Archbishop’s stand and applaud what he is attempting to do even if the power of what he is advocating is undercut from within by the Church Commissioners’ investment policy. Lest I be accused of hypocrisy I write as one who spent 25 years as a solicitor putting in place secured loans for lenders, both those in the High Street and those who specialised in re-financing those already deeply in debt.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? – ‘Who guards the guards?’ seems to be a pertinent question to ask and the Archbishop is trying to answer it by supporting Credit Unions. Two Wongas doesn’t make it right but supporting Credit Unions does offer a constructive way forward given where we are in this complicated world in which we live and move and have our being.

I wonder if you share my sense of exasperation? I wrote a letter to the Church Times last week – they probably won’t publish it but this is how I feel at the moment:

Am I the only person who thinks we are a laughing stock (and not in a way that makes us fools for Christ so we can award ourselves a few gold stars) as we consistently find ways to continue to look inwards rather than outwards, absorbing ourselves in what everyone outside the church sees as endless debates about meaningless matters? Sometimes it is hard to discern if we are all playing for the same team (Remind me. Who said ‘a kingdom divided against itself’…etc?) It would be good to tackle the things we should oppose rather than tackling ourselves all the time. But it appears we can’t even do that! Even our Archbishop’s exemplary efforts are hoist on his own petard, with his essential campaign against payday loan companies exploding in his face when it is disclosed that we have invested in the very company we are taking issue with! Goal! – that is an own goal…

We sound like the football manager who is interviewed straight after his side has suffered a crushing defeat on TV who talks endlessly about “taking the positives out of the game”.  Hello – wake up – we’ve just been crushed. How about a bit of honesty? This is not a vote of confidence in the management nor a cry from the terraces more a head in hands moment which drives me to my knees.

 

First impressions

_DSF3121

When getting instructions on how to choose a new king, Samuel was reminded that ‘the LORD does not see as mortals see; mortals see only appearances but the LORD looks on the heart.’ (1 Sam 16.7) So Samuel, having inspected seven of Jesse’s sons, asks if there are any more to whom he can give ‘the once over’ and is told ‘only the youngest who is looking after the sheep’. His name is David and the rest is history… He would not have been the human choice but he was God’s choice.

We may want the discernment only God can give, but we also need to ‘see as mortals see’ as well. This is particularly the case when it comes to first impressions of our churches. The warmth of welcome is important: A smile, a handshake, or an engaging conversation will all make a lasting impression. I had a ‘head in hands’ moment recently when I learnt that many years ago when the person I was talking to started coming to one of our churches, it had taken a whole year for someone to speak to them and they were repeatedly asked on the door ‘are you visiting?’ My response, other than to put my head in my hands in shame, was to say ‘you’re a better person than I am. I would have stopped coming long before 12 months!’ People are of primary importance.

Of secondary importance are our buildings. Yet they also convey a great deal about our life as a Christian Community. Shabby, out of date notice boards, worn out service and hymn-books, and tatty clutter in our churches ‘speak volumes’ to anyone who ventures across our threshold for the first time. They may not say it but they are surely thinking ‘this looks unloved’.

So renewal is something not just for people but for our plant as well. It is good that we are caring for both as long as the latter does not usurp the former, which sadly is too often the case. But let me celebrate a new notice board erected at St Paul’s with the aid of half a dozen or so volunteers.

Where are all the wasps this summer?

The answer is – my back garden! They seem to be enjoying getting drunk on rain-putrified raspberries; no problem to us yet – but their numbers look menacing. There must be a nest close by. Let’s hope there’s no sting in the tail to this post.