Archive for October, 2009

Life, War, and Holland: 19 October

October 19, 2009

No posting last week, partly due to catching up after 3 days in Holland visiting an old friend.

A British Crash continues to generate positive comments: ‘I really liked the themes you developed, and the twists and turns leading up to the surprise ending. I found myself wondering if someone like your narrator could be so stupid as to let himself get into the compromising situation with the secretary – but realised I’ve known many fall just this way…’ On the other hand: ‘I thought the book was a good 1st attempt. My main issue is that your protagonist behaved much more like a vicar than a solicitor. Do men really think about their faith like that? He seemed a very reluctant Christian! But a great surprise at the end – nice twist. Writing style needs working on – don’t know what to suggest really.’

Before the book was published, I thought I would keep detached from comments about A British Crash, leaving it to speak for itself. But I now find that I very much want to know how others receive my work. (

The Archbishop of Canterbury must be kicking himself. He preached a typically nuanced sermon at the St Paul’s Cathedral service to mark the end of military operations in Iraq, commending the work of the military personnel and leaving open the question as to whether it had been right to send in the troops. He was bending over as far as he could towards saying: ‘Well done, chaps. It was all worth it.’ But the Press, especially The Sun, still vilified him for not being jingoistic enough. He might as well have spoken more forthrightly, been criticised for saying something less appeasing. The father of a British soldier killed in Iraq refused to shake Tony Blair’s hand. ‘You hand has blood on it.’

With Remembrance Sunday coming up, clergy all over the country will be considering what to say. At the end of the First World War the mood was ‘Never again!’ This was the war to end all wars. The urgent need was to find other ways of resolving disputes. At the end of the Iraq campaign the same cry needs to go out. ‘Never again!’ Never again will we be duped into a war of false pretences. Never again will we act on James Bond tactics – send in the plucky potent few to destroy the dictator and his habitat, with no thought for what comes next. With our troops still in Afghanistan the same cry needs to go out: ‘Never again will we attack terrorists as an enemy army, for this only makes them stronger and more determined. We will treat them as criminals, using all available, and some new, means to bring them to justice.’

Does this mean saying to the assembled members of the British Legion that war isn’t worth it, that their military service wasn’t worth it? This is the implication that many clergy shy away from. None of us like upsetting others. But I know enough veterans who feel cursed by their army days. Saying that no-one should be put through what they were put through, is a comfort to them, even if others might take offence.

A few years ago on Remembrance Sunday I preached on ‘the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.’ I said, following Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy aka Woodbine Willie, that it is our weakness, our failure, that leads us to fight. If we were truly strong and wise we would not be sucked into war. The verger, a veteran and British Legion member said I had ‘got it just right.’

If we don’t say ‘Never again!’ we will be doomed to more of the same again. Rabbi Michael Lerner wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle against an escalation of the war in Afghanistan, and for a pull-out:  ‘The escalation of war in Afghanistan may be only a stalking horse for an even larger war in Pakistan as the United States seeks to secure the nukes there that might fall into the hands of terrorists. These newly proposed wars are only the Obama phase of what is likely to be an endless 21st-century crusade called “the war on terrorism.”
Three days in Holland were another reminder that Europe will never again descend into war, not because of strong armies, but because people have turned away from relying on strong armies and towards economic cooperation. The young Dutch, especially the girls, riding their bikes upright and without helmets, are so TALL. It is as though the weight of generations has been lifted off them and they are growing into their full stature. Their children will be even taller! My Dutch friend, though, told me that the girls don’t at the moment like being so tall…

The Dutch have always been good at seeing and enjoying people in their quirks and vulnerability. The best paintings in the Rijksmuseum are not of military or commercial great men, but very ordinary folk, even if they had reason to be painted. A colonial governor and his wife holding hands like teenagers, Rembrandt’s Jewish Bride and Bridegroom a little overawed by their finery and tentative about their future, Vermeer’s incredibly poignant Girl Reading a Letter, a full inner world in only two colours.

Roger Harper


Life, Worship, and the New Reality: 5 October

October 5, 2009

Jack’s funeral last week was a wonderful old fashioned service. Jack was a big, strong, Bilston, man, who walked to the social club, or the bookies, in a collar and tie, with his Staffie Bull Terrier. He gave his grown up children what for if he thought they were having a sickie ‘There’s people out there as’d love yow’re job.’ Mourners from all over Bilston came into church before the hearse arrived; we walked into a full congregation. Abide With Me rang gently and powerfully round the church, connecting everyone and embracing the family. Jack’s daughter spoke of him with firm, warm, teary, pride. The Lord’s Prayer resounded. It was a privilege to have been there. I wonder if I will ever see such a funeral again.

On Friday and Saturday I was at the Global Leadership Summit in Stafford. Willow Creek Church near Chicago invite inspiring speakers from the Church and Business. The sessions go out on DVD to locations all over the world. The worship was light years away from Jack’s funeral. An accomplished, loud, band led rocky songs, encouraging people to sing enthusiastically. We could hear the band, not each other. Later they turned down the volume and stood back from time to time, so we could feel together as a congregation in worship. Talking about this with Will, a fellow vicar, I thought loud band worship is fine for individuals, like singing along in the car with the stereo on, but a better atmosphere: ‘Here I am to worship…’ When life is hard, though, we need to feel and hear the worshippers around us more, embracing us and lifting us.

Life is hard and will continue to be. This was the message of Bill Hybels, Senior Pastor at Willow Creek. The Recession is the New Reality. Bill told us how the Holy Spirit had told him this hard truth. Things will not go back to ‘normal’ soon, if ever. He encouraged us to Lead in a New Reality, leading Christians to love their neighbours, in church and beyond, in practical ways. A great message. Catch the Summit if you can, Oct 9, 10 in Bolton, SW London, St Alban’s and Swansea, Oct 16,17 in Coventry and Gerrard’s Cross, Nov 6,7 in Newcastle, Nov 9,10 in Kampala, Nov 11,12 in Dublin.

Bill Hybels began, however, by talking of the recession as a ‘rogue wave.’ This gave the impression that we would soon return to normal waters. Maybe Bill was remembering more what it felt like when the recession first started. Maybe he hasn’t fully worked out the implications of what the Holy Spirit said about the New Reality. I have written to him about all this.

Governments are banking, betting, heavily on the rogue wave theory. In this view our economies will soon start growing again as they did before, and we will then be able to pay the huge sums we have borrowed. If recession is indeed the New Reality we are bankrupt. My sense is that the Holy Spirit is indeed saying that the recession is not a freak of nature but a dustbowl caused by human greed. The Old Unreality was believing that we could live by greed, on credit. The New Reality is harsh but gives our grandchildren a better future.  (See my blog for 6 July)

Speakers at the Summit spoke of caring for the poor, speaking out for justice. We hear the talk a lot, but how many of us do it? Tikkun pointed me to the Neighbourhood Assistance Corporation of America who arrange rescheduling of mortgage payments. They are in great demand, because the banks listen to what they say. Banks come to more generous arrangements with the NACA than with anyone else. How come?

Bruce Marks, NACA’s CEO, says:

‘Obama pleads, begs and bribes the servicers, and that doesn’t work … We don’t trust them, so we force them to do it with nonviolent bank terrorism. We go to CEOs’ homes and hold them personally responsible for the devastation they’re causing. We dump furniture on their lawns; we knock on their front doors.’

NACA name and shame bank executives on their website. Robert Diamond, CEO for Barclays USA, earned $91million in the three years, 06, 07, 08. He’s labeled ‘PREDATOR.’

NACA sound like a widow who sat outside the house of an unjust judge until he helped her. (Luke 18) A good precedent. May this kind of neighbourly action also be part of the New Reality.

Roger Harper