It's a year to the day since I started this blog, on the anniversary of my ordination, except that I got it wrong last year. I was priested on 19th September 1970, Deaconed on 20th September 1969. Same place, same Bishop. That makes thirty seven years in public ministry, an amazing period of change. Even in those days there was a looming energy crisis and a looming environmental pollution crisis. Now more people know about the problems, which continue unabated, and don't yet have the whole world united in tackling them. In those days, the Cold War was being waged, and enough nukes to destroy the planet a thousand times over were still aimed at each other.
Nuclear stockpiles have been reduced, but the number of governments holding them has increased. Not exactly good for the future of the world, on top of the other concerns.
It was great to see a BBC web-page report of Archbishop Barry's criticism of the proposal to renew the British Trident submarine 'deterrent' programme. He's quite right. Trident is no longer justifiable in an era when threats to humanity arise without recourse to heavy engineering or high technology from people determined to blow themselves up to destroy others. Such hatred and contempt for life has its origins in deep fears about the worthlessness and meaninglessness of the lives people are compelled to endure through poverty, racism and injustice. It can't be put right by force, only by a paradigm shift in human relationships, by sharing more fairly our planetary resouces, freer exchanges, mutual consultations in decision making at every level of human existence. It's just that fear gets in the way.
One way or another there's been a pervasive climate of anxiety, real or imagined, throughout the world in the time my ministry has been exercised. Ever since the sixties, when I first read his books I've been sustained by Thomas Merton's analysis of the world. He was a leading advocate of contronting the folly of nuclear war. "The root of war is fear, fear of everything ..." he stated. The world into which Christ was born was also dominated by "the Great Fear", he wrote in his exposition of the nativity stories. Into the Great Fear comes the Great Joy of God's grace through the incarnate Word. Didn't Jesus say? "Do not be afraid ... I AM". St John summed it up. "There is no fear in love. Perfect love casts out fear." That's what we all need to be working towards, by whatever means. That's how I've understood my life's work, so far.
There hasn't been much opportunity for me to reflect on the passage of time over these years. The present and the possibilities of the emerging future have always held my fascination. We are living in an era of uncertainty and confusion leading to more paradigm shifts, to changes in consciousness and the ways we interpret the world. But are we doing so in an age that has too much self-assurance and no longer enough humility and faith, I wonder? In a way this moment resembles the early twentieth century when Relativity and Quantum Physics were born, and many millions died in war. Many more then, compared to wars today. The new theories soon had a huge influence on how science was done and technology developed. Today, the consequential evolution of computers and their use, speeding up year on year, is leading to new social inventions, ways of working together, inventing and shaping the future, involving more participants than any other social movement in human history. Also shaping how wars are made, fought and ended.
Yet, the Great Fear still stalks the world. More than ever the Great Joy needs to be shared, so that it can be the determining influence that leads us away from annihilation by Mutually Assured Destruction, whether by an exchange of nukes, out of control climate change or the deadly embrace of a zealot with an explosive belt.
Fanatics of all kind are frightened people, inside and outside of religion. The church like every other known religious institution has its share of them. Sometimes it seems as if their numbers are growing, to the extent that they could overwhelm the rest, spread the infection of their fear everywhere. The old framework of moral and religious authority in the churches is breaking up, and occupying too much of our leaders' time and creativity. Their efforts are well intended but misplaced. I feel lots happier when my boss is challenging the ethics of defence policy, than when he's defending forms of institutional church well past their use-by date. I just wish we could do more creative work together on new forms for the future of the church, that empower and include, build community, challenge pious illusion, and build confident faith in fearless people. The world needs this too.
In a time of paradigm shift one has to live with confusion and contention, rival models for analysis and decision making. When the new comes it will surprise everyone, and expose all our weaknesses. But I suspect we're all terrified of being found lacking when called to account. The supreme example was, indeed, in the coming of Jesus, his teaching and his way of life, and the reaction to it. From him we learned openness to change, to be surprised by the new that embraces and transforms the old. From him we learn not to be afraid. How to face death and live to the full. He offered the paradigm shift in our way of self understanding, as human creatures, children of God. It's a pity not all of it has yet sunk in, and that much of our thought and reaction to life is still rooted in pre-Christian values.
The breakdown of the Anglican Communion seems imminent if we take seriously reports appearing on that eminently thoughtful blog Thinking Anglicans Should I be worried? No. I shall refuse to excommunicate anyone, and refuse to accept their excommunications. Welcome, acceptance of differences comes first every time, hard cases and all. For example, I'd rather the druggie didn't sit outside the church and beg for cash to buy a fix. I hate what he's doing to himself. But I won't engineer his removal, or punishment. We have to live uncomfortably with each other and the gulf between until we can learn how best to talk constructively, therapeutically with each other as human beings about things that really matter. Same with those 'orthodox' and the fundamentalist souls who can't accept gays. How can they re-learn what welcome and acceptance really means, when they seem to have forgotten? And how can I restrain my impatience and resentment for them?
Will conflicting opinions and beliefs lead to violence other than slander? That's my chief concern. Renouncing violence as a means to resolve disputes is far from universally accepted as a tenet of Christian faith. Theories of 'just war' soon degenerate into justifying just another war to stop violence, being cruel to be kind. And on it goes. We all have to go back to working on the fear, stop being afraid of disagreement and disunity. Stop being afraid of seeming like fools every time unbelievers play us off against each other in our differences, and make us look like childish idiots. Have we forgotten about being "...fools for Christ's sake."?
Is it that we can't accept others being different from us, because we can't really accept ourselves either?
There's so much work still needing to be done I resent having what seems like so little time left to do it in. Whole years rush by so quickly nowadays.