Saturday, 28 November 2015

Learning to walk in the dark

I have just started reading, for Advent, Barbara Brown Taylor's book, the title of which I've stolen for this blog post. In her introduction, she describes her experience of "full solar spirituality", which 'focuses on staying in the light of God around the clock, both absorbing and reflecting the sunny side of faith.' 'You can usually recognize a full solar church,' she suggests, 'by its emphasis on the benefits of faith, which include a sure sense of God's presence, certainty of belief, divine guidance in all things, and reliable answers to prayer. Members strive to be positive in attitude, firm in conviction, helpful in relationship, and unwavering in faith.' (p.7)

Although for Taylor '[t]here are days when I would give anything to share their vision of the world and their ability to navigate it safely,' her spiritual gifts 'do not seem to include the gift of solar spirituality. Instead, I have been given the gift of lunar spirituality, in which the divine light available to me waxes and wanes with the season. When I go out on my porch at night, the moon never looks the same way twice. Some nights it is as round and bright as a headlight; other nights it is thinner than the sickle hanging in my garage. Some nights it is high in the sky, and other nights low over the mountains. Some nights it is altogether gone, leaving a vast web of stars that are brighter in its absence.' 'What would my life with God look like,' she wonders, 'if I trusted this rhythm instead of opposing it.' (pp.8-9)

I like the Taylor contrasts here, and I recognise it: not just as a contrast between 'others' and 'me', but as a contrast within others, and within myself too. I've been struck, over the last few days, by the uneasy way we seem often to have one foot in each of these worlds. For my own benefit as much as anyone else's I want to try and tease out just a few of those places where 'solar' and 'lunar' have been apparently entangled, and articulate some 'wonderings' from within those entanglements.

Two came close together, at Lambeth Palace, of all places. The home and 'office' of the Archbishop of Canterbury, where a group of vicars (including me) were gathered together on Thursday. We were meant to have been welcomed in the morning by Archbishop Justin himself, but he had been called away, to the Houses of Parliament just the other side of the Thames, to listen to David Cameron's statement on potential military action in Syria. Archbishop Justin joined us briefly after lunch, and offered us a few first reflections, building on what he had just said in the House of Lords. It wasn't the moment to engage him in debate - he would be leaving our gathering to meet with advisors, to draft an official response. As an insightful friend observed, he looked 'a mixture of resolute and exhausted'. And this in itself is immensely significant, I think. I'm not going to focus here on his analysis of whether or not this constitutes a 'just war'. I'm just observing that here was someone 'on the way' to having to articulate a response, with a heavy heart, with no 'solar' confidence in the goodness and rightness of any of it, no clear vision 'bright' before him. He was 'learning to walk in the dark', on this issue, as on many others.

He was followed, in that great hall in Lambeth Palace, by Lord Peter Hennessy, hugely-respected constitutional historian, whose task it was to reflect on the state of British politics. He certainly knows his history - much of the last few decades, from an intimate involvement with many of the most senior figures in the British political establishment. He cracked some witty jokes. But what impressed me most about his presentation was his honesty, about his utter cluelessness about where British politics is going. He had some hunches, of course, as any good pundit would. On the probability of an EU-exit vote, and the knock-on inevitability of Scottish independence. He had some opinions about Jeremy Corbyn, and George Osborne (among others), which he wasn't reticent in sharing. But when it came to predicting the future, even over the next two or three years, he admitted with endearing frankness that he was a bit stumped. You got a sense of a man who was just beginning to realise he was going to have to 'learn to walk in the dark' - perhaps for the first time in many years.

The last example is much smaller and closer to home. Our local church is at a point where there are some big issues to be wrestled with: we have an increasing financial deficit, and depleting reserves; at least one of the denominations which make up our partnership is looking very small, aged and fragile (and overall we can't exactly report dramatic growth in Sunday attendance, the most prominent statistic by which the CofE judges local congregations); we have begun new ventures over the last few years which some see as quite 'radical', but they are mostly very small, fragile, and developing often with a snail-paced slowness. The chances are, over the next few years, that the costs of having paid clergy in Hodge Hill will continue to rise, the congregation will slowly - or quicker than that - begin to shrink, the deficit in the budget will continue increasing, and our impact within our wider neighbourhoods will remain small, fragile, and often painfully slow. If you add into the picture the prospect of ongoing, and deepening 'austerity' (in the rapidly-dissolving welfare 'safety net', and the cuts to public services and amenities locally and across our city), and a level of indifference - if not tension or hostility - between different communities who inhabit the same neighbourhoods here, not helped in any constructive way by the pronouncements of politicians or the mass media... well, there's a risk, at least, of a bit of 'descending gloom', on the one hand, and increasingly-frantic quests to "do something, anything" on the other. It is at once comforting, and doubly disconcerting, that most of these challenges are being wrestled with by the Church of England as a whole, at a national level, with a similar mix of responses.

And, like any good leader should, I find myself returning to our vision statement: "growing loving community - in the love of God, with all our neighbours, across Hodge Hill". It's a statement I treasure, and am deeply proud of: not just because it sounds good, but because it emerged out of good, attentive, shared conversations as a church - and because we're doing our very best, I think, to try and put it into practice. When things are feeling gloomy, when we're tempted into the reactive "do something" responses, the vision is what we should keep in our sights, hold it before us as our direction, and the light to our path. And if we have a vision, then we can work on a strategy to help us achieve it more fully, 'step-by-step' processes that will take us in the right direction, and ways of discerning what not to do, or what to stop doing, that isn't in line with the guiding vision.

And yet... I sense shades of Barbara Brown Taylor's 'solar spirituality' about the return to 'the vision'. There are costs to such a clarity too - not least the temptation to believe that it is possible to 'get it right', and that if we could only get it right, then everything will be OK. On the brink of Advent, I find myself needing to relearn the art of 'walking in the dark': keeping my eyes wide open, of course, but coming to terms with not being able to see clearly, even to be aware with clarity what is immediately around me, where the next step will take me, let alone to comprehend the terrain beyond the next tree. On the brink of Advent, I find myself remembering to distrust 'bright visions' for their seeming ease of achievement, for the clarity of what they purport to include and exclude, not least the questions and doubts which arise both when we are on the move and when we are standing still. I find myself remembering that walking slowly - with painful, snail-like slowness - is often the thing we are called to most urgently. That experimenting, without any guarantee of success, without even being able to predict many of the consequences, is sometimes all we have, and that bearing the risks and the unexpected costs is an unavoidable part of the journey. And that, in the tentativeness and loss of confidence, there is, of necessity, a gently-growing sense of trust: in one another, in strangers we encounter along the way, and just as crucially, in God. And that, surely, is what faith is about.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Come and join Hodge Hill’s Common Ground Community: sharing life, learning together, seeking shalom

Who we’re looking for
  • an ‘anchor’ person (or couple, or family) – prepared to consider a long-term commitment to the community here, able to give at least 20 hours a week of their time to ‘making connections’ with neighbours, and helping to shape new and developing local community activities, in and around our 2 Community Houses;
  •  shorter-term community members (minimum 1 year) – wanting to explore  the fun, challenges and possibilities of sharing a common life together (perhaps alongside studies or paid work), getting involved in local community activities, and drawing learning from shared reflection on a (possibly) once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Who we are
The Common Ground Community is an intentional, missional community, part of the ‘extended family’ of the local church (an Anglican-URC ecumenical partnership), with ‘resident members’ living in our 2 Community Houses and ‘local members’ dispersed across the wider neighbourhood.
Together we are seeking to learn and live out rhythms of life shaped by ‘shalom’ (peace, justice, wholeness), and expressed in hospitality and friendship with neighbours, activity and prayer. We’re involved in women’s groups, stay-and-plays and forest spaces; we’re learning to garden and we love cooking and eating together; we offer spaces for retreat and reflection, and hospitality for refugees and asylum-seekers. We learn from each other (e.g. ‘Doubting Aloud’), from our neighbours, and from a network of reflective-practitioner friends across the UK and beyond!
Where we are
We’re in the diverse, multi-cultural and rapidly-changing area of Hodge Hill, in East Birmingham, near M6 Junction 5. ‘The Croft’ is right in the middle of the Firs & Bromford estate (B36 8SN), ‘The Old Rectory’ is in a quiet spot on the edge of Hodge Hill Common (B36 8AG).
We currently have 4 vacant bedrooms (2 in each house, some big enough for couples and/or children). Residents make a financial contribution, according to their means, to the running costs of the Community Houses (covers rent and bills, but not food; guideline £200 per person, per month).
If you’d like to find out more, then come and visit us!

To start the conversation, contact Al Barrett: / 07738119210
See our website, for more details
Join our Facebook group ‘Common Ground Community in Hodge Hill’


Wednesday, 9 September 2015

When worlds collide

Two stories, remarkably and poignantly, came together last Sunday morning (6th Sept).

One was the story of little Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy whose body was found, washed up on a Turkish beach, his family having tried to make the perilous journey from Turkey to Greece, fleeing the violence, oppression and destruction within Syria, seeking some kind of greater safety and security in Europe. The image, published by most national newspapers, seems to have been something of a ‘turning point’ in British responses to the refugee crisis. Responding at least in part to the wave of shock felt by ordinary people across the UK, our Prime Minister seems to have changed his mind and heart, at least in part, about the number of Syrian refugees the UK is willing to take. Aylan’s story, then, has become one not just about Syrian people desperate for help, but about people with power whose instinctive ‘No’ (accompanied by dehumanising words about refugees – calling them, among other things, a ‘swarm’, suggesting they are of no more value than insects) is slowly turning into a ‘Yes’, however limited and cautious and qualified that ‘Yes’ might at present be.

The other story came in last Sunday’s gospel reading, set for the day in the Revised Common Lectionary, which would have been read that day in churches across the world, across denominations. It’s a story found in Mark’s gospel, chapter 7, verses 24-30: the story of an encounter in the land of Tyre (that is, Syria), between Jesus and a Syrophoenician (Syrian) woman, desperate for help for her daughter who is dying. And Jesus responds with a ‘No’, insisting that ‘the children’ (his own people, the Israelites) should be looked after first, calling the woman and her daughter (and other Syrians, by implication) ‘dogs’ – less than human. But the woman persists, insists, that ‘even the dogs under the table’ eat the crumbs that fall from it. And Jesus changes his mind, and heart, and tells her that, because of what she has said, her daughter has been healed. This is a real ‘turn-around’ for Jesus, and in case we don’t get that, he literally turns around, changes direction, heads back to Galilee, and seems to have had his horizons broadened, bringing healing and food to Gentiles (non-Jews) that before he has not paid attention to.

I think there is something amazing about this gospel story, just in and of itself. The Son of God, challenged and changed, taught even, by a Gentile woman?! But alongside Aylan’s story, it seems to speak directly to our situation here and now.

David Cameron’s first response to the shock-waves following the publication of Aylan’s picture was to tell us that he too ‘was deeply moved’. But he seemed to realise quite quickly that that in itself was far from an adequate response. People didn’t want to see emotion, they wanted to see action. And perhaps as significant in the UK government reaching a ‘tipping point’ was the response of ordinary people, which seemed to spread like wildfire, offering practical help in all kinds of ways.

This ‘refugee crisis’ is one of those huge, overwhelming situations that we have prayed about in church for weeks, if not months, having little sense of what we, here, could do. Some things do depend on governments. Much more simply needs governments to remove the obstacles in the way. And even more we can simply get on and do. So here is what we are able to do, right here in Hodge Hill:

1)      Urgently – send supplies to the refugee camps in Calais. The camps are already holding thousands of people, in desperate circumstances and without even basic supplies. On 18th September, the Amirah Foundation in Aston is taking several lorry-loads of supplies, and stuff from Hodge Hill will be on those lorries. (A full list can be found in this magazine.) I’m sure there will be more trips after the 18th.

2)      Longer-term – last year Hodge Hill Church established a link with BIRCH (Birmingham Community Hosting), who connect up local households with individual asylum-seekers and families seeking asylum. You can choose to host a young asylum-seeker for Sunday lunch every month, offering ongoing friendship and support. Or, if you have a spare bedroom, you can provide accommodation for someone, over a timescale that you feel comfortable with. BIRCH do very careful match-making, and ongoing support for hosts, and are also able to offer a financial contribution to cover food costs and the like. Our Old Rectory Community House has already started the process towards offering accommodation for at least one person, and I hope more of us will be able to follow, in one form or another.

3)      Longer-term, starting now – we already have two established ‘Places of Welcome’, at the Old Rectory on a Monday afternoon, and at Open Door (at The Hub) on Tuesday and Saturday mornings. We also have the monthly Coffee Mornings at church, which already pretty much operate on ‘Place of Welcome’ principles. It will only take us small adjustments to make sure those ‘Places of Welcome’ are genuinely welcoming to refugees and asylum-seekers – places where those in such circumstances know they will get a warm welcome, a cuppa and a bite to eat, the beginning of friendships which will grow and develop, and opportunities to make their own contribution, with their gifts and skills, to the life of our community here in Hodge Hill.

So what can we do? Quite a lot, actually. And things that can make a real difference to people affected by this desperate crisis in our intimately-interconnected world. And when we are able to show governments what we can do, what we’re prepared to do, what comes naturally to us because of our faith and our faith-stories, then the world begins to change...

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

What do we do NOW? (Part 3 - If this is class war, how do we love our enemies?)

In my previous post (Part 2), I described the possibilities that began to emerge for me in the experience of running a local hustings event. The possibilities of honest, critical conversation at local level that begins to take back politics as the domain of us ordinary people at the grassroots, and puts the politicians in their place. But there was more to be said...
When we looked at the geography of the 2015 General Election result, we saw the stark reality of a divided country. In England at least, the urban areas were red, and the rest was blue. Parliamentary constituencies are such that, even though there are substantial 'pockets' of poverty and deprivation spread across the country, 'pockets' where large numbers might well be at the sharp end of this government's policies, the majority of people in those blue constituencies were people for whom the Tories seemed the best, or at least the least worst, option. And what we have seen, time and time again (and most recently in today's budget), is a government which invests in Tory-voting areas and disinvests from non-Tory-voting areas. Just look at the recent decisions around rail investment (northern routes postponed, Great Western main line goes ahead), or funding to local authorities (the 'spending power' of Labour-controlled urban authorities with the highest levels of poverty and deprivation are now dramatically less than those Tory-controlled authorities in more affluent areas).
So if a change of government isn't the answer (and as Labour tear themselves to pieces yet again, in a fight over nothing more substantial than to be more electable, perhaps, than the Tories, the so-called 'opposition' isn't looking like a great alternative), then what can be done? Well, I'm not a political theorist, merely a grassroots community-builder with a bit of faith and a bit of theology, but here's an idea or two...
Firstly, let's acknowledge there's a class war going on here. But let's be clear about the sides. This isn't a 50-50 thing, blue against red, white-collar against blue-collar. No. The wealthy, powerful elite - among them, a whole load of politicians, 'business-leaders' and most of those pulling the strings of the media - don't give a monkeys about those at the other end of the wealth-and-power spectrum. In fact, they see them as a drain on the economy, 'defective consumers', at best people who can be put to work (for the lowest possible wage an employer can get away with), at worst an unwanted cost to the system. And so the cutting, and the scapegoating, and the sanctioning, and the incarcerating, and so on. Divide and rule, blame the poorest and most vulnerable, and get those higher up the income ladder to do likewise, and to live in fear - more than anything else - of sliding into a similar situation themselves.
And in that fear lies a glimmer of possibility. If the Occupy movement left any kind of lasting legacy, it must surely be in that slogan: "we are the 99%". As hard as it might be, those of us who are naturally left-leaning need to acknowledge that the 'we' we need to work on includes a whole bunch of people who voted Tory. Not simply out of selfishness or greed, but out of fear, insecurity, precarity. Many of those who voted Tory might have big incomes, big cars and big houses, but they also have big mortgages. They might not be living hand-to-mouth, not knowing where they'll find the money for the electric meter, like an increasing number of my near neighbours. But they are often in their own, substantial, kinds of debt, and if they lose that well-paid job, well, there might be a bit of a cushion, but the lurking fears are of losing it all. The middle-class might be more 'comfortable', but they're precarious in a way that those in the 1% will never be. They're precarious in a way that the 1% need them to be - to keep working, to keep spending, to keep borrowing, to keep voting. In the class war, the vast majority of Tory voters are helpless conscripts, who can see no alternative.
So secondly (and this is where I get Christian on you), if this is class war, how do we love our enemies? Because that's what my faith calls me to. What does reconciliation look like, in this context?
I have a hunch, and it's no more than that. The hunch is that it looks like an extension of those local conversations I talked about in Part 2. Extending them from the local to the trans-local. Finding ways to put in a room together both people on the sharp end of poverty, deprivation and the brutal austerity regime, and people in middle-class 'comfort', with all their anxious precarity. And getting them to listen to each other, really listen to each other, so that they can be honest enough to share their flawedness ("yes, some things are a result of my own choices, and I wish I'd chosen otherwise"), their privilege ("and if it wasn't for the rental income from our second house, we'd be drowning in debt right now"), their captivity to their desires ("I just can't give up smoking", "I just can't give up the 4-wheel drive"), and their fears (illness, isolation, disability, death - they come to us all, in different ways).
Russell Brand's suggestion (I didn't manage to finish his Revolution, but in what I read I found more grounded insight than hypocritical narcissism, even though there was a bit of both) that AA offer us a model for 'coming to our senses' as a society, as consumers as well as the more traditionally marginalised kinds of addicts - I reckon it's got something going for it. But we need to find ways of bridging the divides of our society in such 'political therapy' groups - or else the scapegoating will continue. We need to recognise our enemies, find them, sit down with them, and learn to love them. It will be immensely vulnerable and costly on all sides. But it is perhaps the only way that real change is going to happen.
There's even the beginnings of a model, in the amazing work of Poverty Truth Commissions in Scotland and in Leeds. Courageous people in these places have come together, from the sharp end of poverty and the sharp end of power, and the former have mentored the latter, and the two have become friends - or if not friends, they have at least grown to understand each other better, and all have changed in the process. And in little ways, slowly, the structures, the processes, the policies, the systems, have begun to change too.
It's not coincidental that in both Scotland and Leeds, the churches have been instrumental in making the PTCs happen. As institutions, or networks, the churches are perhaps better placed than almost anyone else to bring together two sets of people who spend much of their time at war. Because the churches include both in their own bodies, and engage both, externally, from day to day (even acknowledging the ways the churches have often failed and excluded the poorest).
But it remains to be seen if our churches can break out of their own addictions and insecurities, their own fetishism of 'growth' (read, 'institutional survival'), their own tendencies towards top-down, managerial modes of operation and organisational change - to discover their calling as genuinely, radically political bodies, catalysts of grass-roots politics, of trans-local conversation and reconciliation and transformation. I'm hopeful, but I'm under no illusions how much of a challenge it's going to be.
Also worth reading:

What do we do NOW? (Part 2 - After 'that' Election)

I wanted to write a blog post after 'that Election'. You know, the 'shock' election where the Tories won and no one could believe it. Well, no one on Twitter, anyway. Everyone on Twitter (at least, everyone on my timeline) was numb with shock, in denial, and then angry, really angry: with the Tories, with those who voted for them ('stupid', 'selfish', all kinds of labels were thrown around), with the Labour party (poor old Ed), with the voting system, with ourselves...

And that was kind of the problem. As one graphic Venn diagram so poignantly put it, those of us getting angry on Twitter after the election were those of us who were getting each other angry on Twitter before the election, and had convinced ourselves that everyone was angry, that everyone thought like us, that everyone would vote like us. And we were wrong. We'd been talking to ourselves. There were 'others' out there who thought differently. And they voted differently.

On the bank holiday Monday night before the election, I was involved in organizing a hustings event in Hodge Hill. We managed - one way or another - to get all 6 candidates there, and about 50 in the audience. There was a bit of a buzz. It was the only hustings in the constituency, apparently, and - so I was told - quite possibly the first hustings in the constituency for about 20 years. It's a safe Labour seat, you see. Liam Byrne had a comfortable majority (and he's increased it). There was no need for a hustings, I guess. What was the point? But people came, and people were quite excited about it.

I have to be honest, it got mixed reviews. I received one letter of complaint (from someone on the fringes of my church congregation), and one or two rather angry comments via social media. One group of men walked out in the middle of it. But most of those who stayed came out buzzing even more excitedly than when they'd come in: "We must do more of these!" "Let's not wait 5 years for the next one!" "This is really important!"

The mixed reviews were something to do with the fact that we'd done things a bit differently. Quite deliberately. Let me explain...

Firstly, we'd asked the candidates to frame their opening speeches around their 'vision for a Good Society' (thanks to Church Action on Poverty for getting us going on this). It was interesting the amount of consensus, from our rather 'fresh' Green to the elderly-and-distinctly-loony UKIP (with all the usual suspects in between), that emerged - and some of the differences.

Secondly, after a period of questions from the audience (not long enough, frustratingly, for some people), the 'second half' was largely devoted to small group work, exploring 4 questions, with a critical order to them:
  1. What is our vision of 'a good society'?
  2. What can we achieve with 'people power'?
  3. What do we need the politicians to help us with?
  4. What do we need the politicians to do for us?
Some readers of this blog might recognise these questions, or at least a version of them. They are at the core of an 'ABCD' approach to community-building. They are deeply political questions (even though some of those who deploy, or critique, 'asset-based' language may choose to ignore this). But in the context of the hustings event, they simultaneously enlivened many people, and frustrated others: "This isn't what we came for!" "You're wasting time we could be using to grill the politicians!"

It's easier, isn't it, to leave politics to the politicians. It's easier for us, because we don't have to think about it - we just have to put our cross in the box every 5 years and leave it at that. It's easier for them too, because they can just get on with it, without having to worry about the people whose lives they affect profoundly by their daily decisions. They can sew it up between them, the charade of difference and disagreement cloaking the vested interests in the system that continues to profit so many of them, on both sides of the House of Commons.

But when we realise politics begins with us, with the 'grassroots', with the local, with the everyday and the mundane, then we discover there's a whole load that we can do, and change, without needing to refer - or defer - to the politicians. And we also get distinctly more specific about what we do need from them. The balance of power is shifted, the tables begin to turn.

And we also have to acknowledge our own flawedness, the reality that our grand visions for 'a good society' are hampered by our very human tendency to stuff up goodness and vision and society. And that while very occasionally, possibly, there are things that governments can do to contain our 'stuffing up', most of the time we can only deal with its effects in community with each other, face to face, shoulder to shoulder. In fact, we discover, there's an awful lot that governments - and their blessed 'markets' - have done to exacerbate our 'stuffing up', to encourage it, demand it, incentivise it: our atomised lives, our self-interest, our consuming desires, our tendency to blame and victimise the 'other', the list goes on...

So the lesson of the hustings for me is that we need to create more of these local spaces for conversation, for imagination, and for the risky, costly work of proper politics.

There's more... but that needs to wait for Part 3...

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

What do we do NOW? (Part 1 - Rediscovering Ordinary Time)

I'm grateful to my friend Richard Passmore for getting me blogging again. Not that he did so intentionally, but his own recent post has proved to be the final straw to break the camel's back - or perhaps the last drop of water to make the flood to break the dam, to use an image from my last post, back before Christmas last year.

So much has 'happened'. So much that has made me angry, and tongue-tied, and in need of the verbal equivalent of immodium, and paralysed, and frantic with activity, and immersed in books, and immersed with family, friends and neighbours, and so much more, and so much less. I have been particularly aware that a blog like this is as much a place to say the wrong thing, as to occasionally manage to say the right thing. And so, here, for quite a while, I have said nothing.

But I can't hold it in any longer. I need to 'write it out', which is partly to say I need to 'think it out' in my writing, and in the company of those who occasionally, kindly, read what I write and respond thoughtfully, generously and passionately. I want anything but to short-circuit the hard work of 'working through' the complex and difficult stuff (as sometimes the temptation to angry rants can do) - but to plunge into the 'working through' with friends, travelling-companions and co-conspirators.

One of the problems with my blog is that it's ended up being a curious mix of faith (theological and practical), community, politics - and probably more. I'm never quite sure who I'm writing for - apart from me. So when I'm starting again, where do I start?

There is no easy beginning. We have to start in the middle, with its anxieties and more-or-less-concealed 'back stories', assumptions and presumptions. We have to be willing to start from 'here', and to go on the journey, see where it leads. So if you're up for coming with me, here goes (again)...

Let's start with a bit of faith, and with Richard's blog post:

"what if there is something about the way we think about God ... [s]ome flaw in our thinking, our narrative, our approach that means G-d can only ever be glimpsed in passing… an approach so rooted it not only limits us to fleeting moments but by its outworking it means that very few others are able to catch these moments and so start to embrace the presence that is always all around us.
I wonder if we have too narrow a view of the sacraments. Is there space for a kind of sacramental missiology, where we can take an apophatic view of the sacraments? Where by not talking about or practicing the sacrament of communion but by sharing a meal within the context of an ongoing relationship where community is fostered, people are real, that g-d is fleshed and blooded amongst us, but by naming it and calling it out as community or special, it would slip through our fingers like sand"

I think Richard's put his finger on something important here. We could call it the idolatry of 'growth', or of the 'new' - or even just the need for something to be 'happening'.

The scales are beginning to fall from our eyes - perhaps - as we see the damage such idolatry has done, and continues to do, to our planet (as 'endless growth' means faster and faster degradation of the earth's resources), to our economy (and those who supposedly benefit from the imaginary 'trickle down' but in fact suffer most from the endless quest for 'economic growth'), and to ourselves (as we are imprisoned in a state of permanent dissatisfaction with what we have and interminable desire to consume more, ever beyond our reach). Pope Francis, in his radical, challenging encyclical Laudato Si, has expressed this as clearly and powerfully as anyone.

But it seems that in the Christian church, we find it hard to let go of our addiction to 'the new', to the idolatry of 'growth', the illusory miracle of constant 'happenings'. Strategies for growing, and growing younger, abound. 'Transformation' is what we are ever on the lookout for. And we find ourselves impatient with 'ordinary time' (liturgically, that long, green stretch of the year between Pentecost in May and All Saints in November where nothing special happens) - keen, desperate perhaps, to move on, to 'making a difference' again, welcoming in the newest of new births, anticipating fresh resurrections.

And if the 'we' sounds too broad, a little accusatory, let me be honest. I do. I am. I am impatient with 'ordinary time', a little scared of the idea of 'nothing happening'.

But I desperately need it. We desperately need it. And by 'we' I mean the good old Church of England, and much wider, the good-and-broken world. We need to wean ourselves off our addiction, which is not ultimately divine, but entangled in the dysfunctional, destructive desires of neoliberal capitalism. The system needs us to desire growth, newness, eternal youth, constant 'happenings'. And we resist it only by slowly, patiently, boringly learning to inhabit an alternative space where the rules of the system, the needs of the system, don't apply. A space where with boring regularity we attempt to be honest (with ourselves, with others) about our limitations, our flawedness and failures, our frustrated and frustrating desires. A space where we patiently build friendships that can withstand and enable such honesty with grace and humour. A space where we can grow older - not younger - and, ultimately, die. A space where we can begin to learn 'nothing happening' is really OK.

And that space, I suggest, turns out to be where we learn to dwell with the divine, in the everyday. It's where we slowly 'come to our senses' and wake up from the drugged stupour of the system that has permeated even the Christian church (we shouldn't be surprised, it's a history that goes right back to Constantine, if not further). And in that insight alone, I reckon Russell Brand is on to something very important. But that's for another post...