Friday, February 09, 2007

Always 'on message' and never surprising...

One thing about people who are in the midst of a scrap is that they are all so bloody boring. We can blame the organism itself, I suppose, invariably draining the peripheral members of blood in order to keep the heart, brains and lungs alive. What works with the human body in cold water tends to be the ordre du jour as well for individuals and groups embroiled in conflict. They set priorities and decide to concentrate on only three or four things to the detriment of all else.

Known many divorcing people? Ever wished you had a large cork that you could jam into their mouths accompanied by a cartoonesque 'Ploink' when they start rattling on about the outgoing spouse ? Have you noticed the searching look in their eyes as they try and ferret out from you the only datum they require: Are you on my side or on the other side? Anything else you say - well sir, that's lost on them - an anecdote, story or reflection - an expression of joy or loss, anything winsome - it's all binned and the conversation is judged worthless unless they've acquired at least one useful increment in the case which they are building. Such individuals - the file-keepers, the wrongs-recorders, the letter-daters - they cut themselves off from any semblance of community in the long run - other than mutually-reinforcing groups of people who may have suffered the same fate.

As characters they become rather flat - always on message and never surprising.

Of particular concern is the way in which the world reduces itself, for such embattled folk, into only two shades. Like a mall security guard who is looking only for shoplifters, like an ocelot lying on a tree branch scanning the forest floor for something walking by which is edible - these folk aren't interested in the 'details'. There is simply dark and light. The job of the embattled warrior is not to 'describe' anything in its complexity it is to 'declare' in which corner it might be most usefully placed. The varied world we live in is rendered mere opportunity.

Nicholas Berdyaev describes such a narrowing of vision in a journal article he wrote in 1937

For the fanatic there does not exist a manifold world. This is a man, obsessed by one thing. He has a merciless and malevolent attitude towards all and everything except for this one thing.

If the opponents are best described as animals, dead stones or pagans then so be it. We have a job to do, which is to reduce the complex molecule into something simple and digestible. Unless the truth of a situation can be reduced to 'our truth' which is a 'useful truth' then we're not interested. Gone is the colour of life and the possibility for change - gone the possibility of the hidden being made real and or the subtle discovered in its previously unseen beauty. Gone now even the necessary repentence for anything other than a lack of vigour in pursuing the well trodden path towards a corporately determined enemy.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

A Canadian attempts to keep his A-1 Credit Rating

From the Globe and Mail. Let there be no mistake about it - we're responsible folks in Canada and we'll always go that extra mile. There should be more of us in high places.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Of course there are plenty of choices to be made

All bets may be off as to what the results of next weeks Primates' meeting in Tanzania will be but it''s quite clear to Tom Wright that the manual on the table in front of them is the Windsor Report. It's just a matter of putting it into action. The documents are good documents. A lot of work has gone into them. It would be a shame if we'd wasted our time anywhere along the way. The Windsor report 'part deux' will consist of a series of action points. The Bishop of Durham, according to Ruth Gledhill , believes that:

The Primates have little choice but to follow Windsor at the meeting next week.

I've always been wary of anybody telling anybody else that they 'have no choice' but to follow this or that course of action. Such words, when uttered at a Synod or during labour negotiations are never descriptive. Nobody ever stops arguing because the geezer at the microphone has just accurately described the situation. There'd be no discussion if his point were self-evident.

So the Bishop of Durham's words are not designed to say how a body of people (split along several axes with a few of them being relative unknowns and subject to heaven-knows-what sort of pressure from lobbyists arriving with satchels, satellite phones and 'briefing packets for our African friends' or from pressure groups within their own constituencies) is going to act once they're together at a meeting. I'd have put my money on either chaos, nothing much at all, or perhaps something novel - a bit of fun and games with African Primates hiding chairs during the first hour of the meeting - but I would hope for something unexpected. I think that pushing the red button on the Windsor Report and watching things unfold as they 'must' would have been the last thing we'd see. I'd have given it slender odds, frankly.

When number three bishop in the C of E and a damned fine New Testament Scholar opines that the Primates and his own friend Rowan 'have no choice' but to take a certain course of action I cannot believe that he's being descriptive. He knows better than that and so does everybody else. These are 'prescriptive' statements. There are no less than five references in a relatively short article about how much hard work has gone into the Windsor Report - how complete it is and how beautiful are the staples and covers thereof. Tom Wright doesn't know what's going to happen in Tanzania either.

The course ahead is one of discovering possible common ground and preventing the worst possible outcomes. It's a time for making sure that, while substantial agreement is not possible right now, the field is not muddied too badly by the sheep and that avenues for future work are not closed absolutely. Unlikely allies will be encouraged to make agreements - some people will need to save face - compromises will have to be made - some will have to leave the meeting dissatisfied. All things, no doubt, that drive principled people (who have made a career of showing how one thing leads clearly to another if looked at correctly) to distraction. Any number of Rowan's spiritual forebears have had to square circles - clearly it will have to be done again. I don't think a reminder to the Primates or their handlers that they have no choice in the matter is either politic or particularly godly at this juncture - in fact it rather runs against the grain of what needs to happen at such a meeting viz. precisely that exercise of 'choice' which hauls people back from their respective precipices.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Not Standing Quite So Firmly

The battle has not been won, apparently. Somebody named Greg Griffiths at a website called Stand Firm (more temperate than Virtue Online, less temperate than Anglican Mainstream) is predicting that the so called 'global-south' and the American dissenters are going to lose badly at Tanzania. He doesn't use those terms - in fact he tells his opponents (and he names all sorts of his detractors by their Christian names in a rather amusing segment which I'll let you read for yourself at the URL above) that they've all tripped over their dinks (those that got 'em, anyway) - that they've gone too far, that their day is done, their dog is lame and their 'wagon is done fixed'. In the midst of threats and vitriol, however, these are his salient predictions:

1. There will be no crowning of a new American Primate at the meeting in Tanzania. This is certainly not what we heard earlier about how there was going be a chair somewhere and Robert Duncan was going to be sat upon it with a dwarf sitting at his feet, a bucket of mandarin oranges beside him and a girl fanning him with an ostrich feather. This was the only part of the meeting that I was looking forward to hearing about. The whole prospect of having people dash to the available chairs and someone thrust onto a throne was like a little bit of British history come back to life.

2. Rowan Williams will only 'ultimately' side with the global south. I'm assuming this means that he will not side with the global south in Tanzania. He will choose his words carefully at the upcoming meeting and then go home and have a cup of tea and think about who he's getting advice from.

3. Rowan Williams will never preside over the ejection of a Province from the Anglican Communion. There is no mechanism for this and this would not be his preferred course of action.

4. Defections from the defectors will occur after Tanzania fails to produce Elvis. Defectors are warned that Anglicanism will be renewed - again 'ultimately' (try telling Inland Revenue that you will 'ultimately' pay them) and that if these 'twice turned' ever want to come back they will be returning as from 'a rear echelon' - the relationship 'will not be the same'. These I take it are threats - an angry response to something which may or may not be happening among people known to Mr Griffiths. There are obviously some passionately held feelings here. We won't dwell on it.

5. Peter Akinola from Nigeria may not come to Lambeth 2008. I'm not sure how this squares with the ABC 'ultimately' siding with the global south. This may need to occur over a distance.

6. The American Presiding Bishop will have support. These supporters are grudgingly called 'the usual suspects' but the spectre of +KJS being left alone standing under the unanimous glare of the Primates is perhaps going to be too good to be true.

The article doesn't come across as one great concession to a rocky road ahead but the points it contains seem to indicate nothing else.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

When politics goes sour.

Simon Jenkins is probably kidding. Maybe he's not.

"At times I can understand countries whose officer class, sitting in their barracks over brandy and cigars, finally lose their cool and send tanks into the streets to "defend the nation" against corrupt ministers and weak assemblies".