Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Dear Anonymous UK GAFCON Guy

Dear anonymous UK GAFCON person,

In response to your recent document which ‘names and shames’ the Lambeth-Violators (of which it seems you think I’m one), I thought I’d take a moment to write back.

To write to you is really hard. Not because I’m especially upset by your piece (despite it acting as a potential invite to target individuals), but because (ironically, given you’ve named lots of people in your document), you’ve not revealed your name. It’s very hard to humanise a generic voice. And, well, despite the violence implied by your words, I’d rather not respond in kind. I’d rather prefer to speak to you as a human being and Christian sister/brother.

It’s also difficult to write to you as there’s a big part of me that doesn’t want to give oxygen to your position. I suspect it’s helpful for the GAFCON position to generate ‘controversy’. I hope that doesn’t do a disservice to you, but a binary mentality does rather depend on its opponent, doesn’t it?

However, I wanted to say to you, anonymous UK GAFCON guy (sorry! In my head, you are a guy), you are, despite the aggression in your document, still part of the family. God loves you and, well, I’d rather like to say ‘I love you.’ Because I think that, despite the unpleasantness of your actions, I think we’re called to love each other. And that’s blooming hard given what you said, but Christ never said it would be easy.

We are, at a profound level, still family. Family, of course, is a difficult metaphor for Church, because families are both places which can be springboards for human excellence as well as the scenes of abuse and violence.

However, I still want to say, we’re family. I suspect that – to develop the metaphor – we’re very distantly related and it’s unlikely we’re ever going to want to spend much time together, but…family, nonetheless. Christ remains central. And while it would be easy for me to cast you as the embarrassing uncle or aunt who holds deeply questionable views and who should be kept out of sight (just as, for you, I’m possibly a version of the criminal child who never should be mentioned) I’d rather not do that. I’d like to believe in the wideness of God’s mercy and the generosity of God’s parental love. I might wish you’d change your position, but I’m not going to dare pronounce you anathema just because your position is entrenched. If I am inclined to code you as ‘enemy’ (as you would me), that is an invitation to redouble the work of grace.

Having said that, I know that I speak from a position of privilege. Your words are not, for me, especially wounding. However, insofar as your position is a springboard for the diminishment of the weakest and most vulnerable and the victimization of LGBTI people, may God call you to account.

As you might be aware, the list you’ve come up with has rather been claimed as a list of honour by many. I’ve had various people from all traditions getting in touch asking to be added to the list. I suspect your action only indicates how far the Church – evangelical as well as Catholic and liberal – has moved on from your particular vision of holiness.

But – despite it being hard for me to say – I don’t want to lose you. Please don’t cut yourself off. I hope that all of us – people who want to be faithful to the hope that lies within us – can turn towards the one who is all in all and whose peace exceeds our understanding.

May God be gracious to us all and bless us.



Friday, 11 November 2016

The 21st Century Has Taken Place

 2016. It’s dangerous to call it ‘significant’, ‘world-changing’, blah, too soon, but 2016 is shaping up as the year when not only have a key number of western cultural icons have joined the Great Majority, but Brexit and Trump seem to have reconfigured our political landscapes. We are, for example, often told we’re in a post-truth, post-welfare culture.

Like everyone I’m trying to process recent events, and I’m mostly failing. In my bewilderment I’ve reached for a wee bit of history. Truth is, despite a life-long fascination with history, I’m no pro-level historian. Please bear that in mind, as you read on. (Though, in our post-truth world, maybe I should just claim to be 'the World's Greatest Historian'!! ;-))

Memory tells me that one classic way of dividing European/Western-centric political history is to claim that the '19th Century' ‘begins’ in 1815 (with Waterloo) and the 20th century in 1914 (with the outbreak of the Great War). Clearly, these dates are euro-centric and arbitrary. What, after all, is  'a Century'? However, they suggestively indicate the way ‘reading history’ creates undertows and overlaps as well as drawing on key, focal events.

Thus, 1914. Clearly, there were any number of artistic and cultural moments which anticipate and were already constructing ‘the 20th Century’ before 1914. Modris Ecksteins’ famously takes the 'riot' at the first performance of Stravinsky’s The Rites of Spring in 1913 as a performance of 20th century subjectivities; equally, one can ‘read’ Literary Modernisms in texts long before Eliot and Pound’s post-war ‘triumph’. The violences of 1914 were already anticipated in the imperial adventures of the European powers.

However, there are some grounds for claiming that 1914 signals a key blow to the Meliorist fantasy of cultural-political progress and continuity. Yes, pre-1914 was hardly the settled aspic of Edwardian lawns and white frocks it is sometimes presented as, but ‘14-18 was arguably a catastrophe for the European Imperial mind. Some have suggested that, for example, the famous Christmas Truce of 1914 was the last moment of the Victorian era. Yes, this does rather ‘read’ history one way – overstating war and violence, buying into certain kinds of politics – but it is suggestive.

So, 2016. Is it a kind of watershed? Does it signal that the 21st century has taken place? I guess the answer is – as ever – possibly. It signals something. It may be that it signals the last flicker of the horrible racist-patriarchal dream of ‘The Old White ‘Strong’ Man’ who offers a fearful bargain – 'protection' in exchange for 'submission'. Perhaps that cultural imaginary is at its most dangerous when it is most wounded. And it is (arguably) wounded. But equally it may signal the end of one kind of neo-liberal (Whiggish?) fantasy of consensus and progress – that ‘history’ flows in one direction, a progressive one. (As many have suggested, if we’re serious about rights, respect, justice etc. now may indeed be the time to organize, etc.). Some of the assumptions of the 20th century seem to have been exposed.

Equally, the death of a whole bunch of western cultural/pop culture icons in the past year or so indicates the death of one version of the 20th Century’s ideas about cultural production. The likes of Bowie and Cohen – productions of the 20th Century -  are going.

As 20th Century artistic productions disappear, so equally a number of 20th century referents become seemingly less available. In no order of significance, these include:

Earning a living as artist/musician/writer.
Having an 'ordinary' job that might generate a decent pension or enough to buy a house or even to be able to rent a house and save a bit.
A belief that society should care for the weakest and most vulnerable, including those displaced across borders.
A commitment to the claim that ‘compassion’ (after the serial violences of 20th century wars) is foundational for society, and so on.

These were just a few of the beliefs I feel the 20th century communities I was raised in held (for good or ill) as valuable and significant. And, yes, I know that as a European and and a Brit I speak from privilege and am taking a culturally-privileging position, but…

2016. The year the 21st Century took place?