Sunday, 14 February 2010

One year blogiversary

I'm probably writing this so late that everyone else has said it already. I've been trying to write it for the better part of a week, and I keep tripping over the words.

I read the Archbishop of Canterbury's address to General Synod on Tuesday. I read it, and my soul hurt.

I share some of his vision, I think. I agree that some of the language around so many debates within the Church is so adversarial, so us-and-them, that it seems people are saying "yes, we want you, but only on our terms", and I wonder whether this is really constructive.

++Rowan Williams speaks of a vision of Church where we all consider how our behaviour affects everyone else before acting. That is commendable. I share such a dream; so do many, many others, I think. How many times have I written about the ultimate interconnectedness of things, about the fact that none of our actions, however small, are in isolation from the rest of the world? What I eat for breakfast does actually affect you who are reading this, in some very small and immeasurable but definite way. What you do can show me, in small ways and large, how I might act for good in the world.

I love the Archbishop's vision of mutual care and learning. But I do not think it can be enforced; I do not think it can come about by people following "guidelines" to fit into one "structure" or another. I think freedom is something we already have, not something we can grant or withhold from one another. He speaks of restraint, as if the imposition of restraint (or not granting certain freedoms) will make people think of others before themselves... I think obedience without freedom is meaningless. He speaks of an Anglican Covenant as something which will encourage people to judge their own actions with more care, but he forgets that many people will go along with it for fear of being found unworthy by human judges.

I think that ++Rowan Williams has confused causation and correlation. He says:
To be free is to be free for relation; free to contribute what is given to us into the life of the neighbour, for the sake of their formation in Christ’s likeness, with the Holy Spirit carrying that gift from heart to heart and life to life. Fullness of freedom for each of us is in contributing to the sanctification of the neighbour. It is never simply a matter of balancing liberties, but of going to another level of thinking about liberty.

but he does not explore the possibility that those he calls to exhibit "restraint" have followed their own very valid discernment processes; he does not acknowledge that the gifts of the Holy Spirit may be exhibited differently in different people, different places, different contexts. He does not seem to see that just because diligent, caring consideration of the whole Body of Christ sometimes leads to restraint, does not mean that it always will. He does not seem to see that imposing restraint externally, rather than leading to open hearts filled with the Holy Spirit, is likely to close them.

The whole thing puts me in mind of a parent trying to sort out a squabble between siblings, not acknowledging why either did the things they did and telling one and then the other to say they are sorry. The result is surly, forced apologies, and lots of resentment for the next round of squabbles.

I know as well as anyone that it is possible to find freedom in structure. I am someone who needs a lot of structure in my life, in order to do my work effectively. Thinking about every action I take and the full range of consequences of that action would wear me out in about half a day: there are infinite possibilities, and infinite repercussions of every thing that I do, and my awareness of that is overwhelming. I need rules to systematize that, and I follow what could, I suppose, be called a Rule; I have consciously-chosen routines for different times of the day and for the most part I follow them. And on a day-to-day basis my reasoning has to be "structure says it's time to do the washing-up, so I'm going to do the washing-up now". Contrary to making me feel trapped, this structure is, for me, very freeing. I have chosen the rules as a useful strategy for getting through each day and they free me, at least partly, from the endless cascade of "what if...?" that I would get stuck in without them, or from the disengagement of just allowing routines to happen as a reaction to everything else, an unconscious set of habits. Rules for me are a strategic adaptation to the fact that every second of every day I must decide what to do next and I must often do so with insufficient information.

But a structure or set of rules that works for someone else wouldn't work for me, and what works for me might be disastrous for someone else. There are things about my structure that are useful for others, and things others do that would be useful for me. And every so often I find that I've failed to take account of something, that my strategic rules aren't working so well any more, and I have to stop and evaluate and make some changes. This is all considered quite normal, and as an adult it is recognised both that choosing my habits and structures and rules is my responsibility, and that I will sometimes mess up or need to make changes. People might have opinions on my actions, they might want to give me advice or indeed I might want to ask their advice, but ultimately I am the one who has to make the decisions. Every second of every day, I am choosing... even if what I'm choosing is to follow the rules I've chosen for myself.

Organisations, too, choose structures and rules, laws even, to navigate the intricacies of daily life in an uncertain world. Different communities in different contexts will arrive at some different conclusions as to the best way forward. So why does the Archbishop of Canterbury think that it's appropriate to chastise and scold those who re-evaluate some of their rules? Why does he think that imposing a structure externally will bring about the lovingkindness and awareness he so desires?

Lovingkindness isn't something that can be legislated, something that can be enforced. Compassion isn't something we learn by being told explicitly how to behave in a given situation; it's something we pick up by observation and example, something we might catch, like 'flu but longer in duration.

One reason I've struggled to write this post is because in my reaction to this is so full of questioning others and thinking I know some of the way. That isn't a particularly loving response. Love does not say "you are wrong" but "what can I do that would be constructive?".

I'm not sure about the answer to that. I think it does mean continuing to stay involved with local communities, continuing to do the work I do and to find out what other work there is that I could do. I think it means continuing to blog, not from a perspective of saying what I think is right but from a perspective of reflecting, of exploring. And I think it means hanging onto hope, letting go of fear, reminding myself that love is stronger than death.

Today is my one year blogiversary. I was surprised by the warm welcome I got last year; I continue to be surprised by the friends I've met and the things I've learned. Thank you all for making it such a wonderful year in so many ways.


Justin Brett said...

Happy anniversary, and thank you very much for continuing to share so much of yourself with the rest of the world.

UKViewer said...


More profound reflections on ++Rowan's address to Synod.

I can understand the feelings of perhaps puzzlement at some of the things he said. I think that the allegory of a Parent Scolding unruly children, with kindness and gentleness is one to really think about.

My one hope is that the abiding Love that Jesus showed for us by his sacrifice and the Grace of the Holy Spirit will descend whole sale upon the church and help those in difficulty to see that only Love will overcome their differences.

I also need structure and organisation to my life. Having spent the whole of my life in the Army from age 17 to 60, it is a feature which becomes inherent to who you are and perhaps what you are.

Of course, Army life requires self discipline, without which it would not function and individuals and teams would and do fail. Perhaps the same is needed within the Church an element of self restraint and self discipline to agree to disagree and to accept where God's will appears to be taking us. Which I believe to be true equality, love and respect for each other and our differences - giving dignity and respect to all.

Than, and only than, can the church do what it should be doing, which is mission and outreach to the millions of less fortunate individuals in the world.

And congratulations on a year of blogging, which has been a journey, which you have shared so well, helping others such as myself to learn and grow by thinking and praying for the real issues you raise.