25 things about me

I got tagged on Facebook by Jon for this. I’m not going to tag anyone else though.

1. I was born completely deaf in my left ear. Same as Rowan Williams.
2. I’m 6’1″ tall and 17.5 stone overweight.
3. I have a long ponytail – for the second time in my life – as a result of a Nazirite vow I made with myself. I’m not going to cut it until I’ve finished my book. As I’ve been wanting to finish a version of this book for nearly twenty years that may be some time.
4. I’m currently in therapy trying to work out why I haven’t done the book.
5. I’ve lived on or near the River Blackwater for most of my life, including six very happy years on houseboats. I’ve also lived in Oxford, Cambridge, Alnwick and lots of places in London, especially Stepney.
6. I have an IQ of 174 (the 99.8th percentile according to Mensa) and a First Class degree in Philosophy and Theology from Oxford University, but the academic achievement I’m most proud of is getting a scholarship grade in my English Literature STEP, which I took at the same time as A Levels.
7. I was rejected by Oxford the first time I applied – I had applied to read PPE; they told me I should have applied to read English. I took a year out and applied after taking my A Levels – definitely one of my best decisions.
8. The worst mark I ever received in an academic exam was for the Wittgenstein paper in my Masters; I feel aggrieved about the injustice of this even now. (Despite protests from my tutor there was a resolute (and not incomprehensible) refusal to re-mark. I now understand how and why it happened, and it’s a long story.)
9. I spent four years working for what was then the Department of the Environment as a Fast Streamer. This provided some royal jelly in terms of management training, which has held me in good stead, but I left because I was bored and didn’t want to drive a desk any more.
10. I spent the academic year 1996/97 working as a caretaker in a primary school. During that time I appeared on Blue Peter.
11. I dropped out of a PhD at Cambridge after two terms for a complex mixture of reasons, academic and spiritual. I’m sure it was the right decision, but there’s a lot of unfinished business there. (Unfinished business is a bit of a theme in my life.)
12. I failed my ordination training through not completing the academic syllabus. I was ordained anyway because I ‘met Bishop’s requirements’ – principally through having done a theology degree already. I only completed the MA after getting ordained (which is one example of finished business.)
13. I presided and preached at my father’s funeral. I think it was the most constructive outlet for my anger, and it crystallised a core part of my vocation.
14. I took a year out from parish ministry in 2002/03 to recover from several things, principally exhaustion. I came very close to starting a PhD at Durham but after a lot of prayer and reflection decided to come back into parish ministry. The right decision.
15. I like to wear colourful shirts.
16. I proposed to my wife seven days after we started going out. That was about 11 years ago now. That was a very good decision, possibly my best ever.
17. I enjoy singing but can’t stand the sound of my own voice. That applies to my speaking voice as well.
18. I am prone to visions, premonitions and religious experiences. I’m trying not to bury these things so much these days, which is difficult because I tend to see references to religious experience as theologically dubious.
19. I’ve recently started using a motorbike. I only passed my (car) driving test in 2003, on the same day as I was appointed to the Mersea job.
20. I think I have some gifting for spiritual direction, although I’ve never been formally trained for it. This seems to have been recognised by others, and people are (informally) being referred to me. I am suspicious of the formal recognition process as I see direction as being a core part of the priestly vocation, it is precisely the ‘cure of souls’.
21. I’m going on sabbatical this autumn. As well as trying to finish the book (see above) I want to do a lot more sailing. Sailing is one of the most profoundly refreshing things I know.
22. I don’t believe that the Church of England knows what it is doing. I think it is propped up by establishment and maintained by inertia. There are days when all I want to do is kick away all the supports and set fire to it. Then there are the other days, when I think it is massively under-rated and under-appreciated. I try to remember the latter on the days when I am prone to the former. It might be a grace that the Church doesn’t know what it is doing as it allows God some room in the process (!) but that being true doesn’t mean the church couldn’t do better.
23. There are three things in ministry which I value above all else: presiding at the Eucharist; teaching the faith; and intimate spiritual conversation.
24. I don’t believe there is such a thing as mental illness. I believe there are two things which are presently described as mental illness: physical illness which has mental effects, and spiritual problems.
25. Throughout my teenage years and early twenties I expected to go into a career in politics. I still occasionally feel the pang of temptation, but I am very glad that God prohibited that path for me.

The financial crisis is irrelevant

Just a thought: however bad it gets, the financial crisis is solvable. Whether it takes five, ten, twenty years to sort through all the deleveraging there is nothing in this financial crisis that is going to seriously threaten industrial civilisation. After all, we’ve been through similar things before. There is no reason why, in 20 years time, the system can’t be doing exactly what it was before – chastened, no doubt, but not fundamentally reformed. There will be all sorts of suffering in the meantime – and we need to do all we can to address that, and support those who go to the wall – but it is not, in itself, civilisation-threatening.

In that respect it is very different to the crisis we face with respect to resource limits. These do seriously threaten industrial civilisation. In twenty years time, we will either have shifted to sustainable patterns of life, or we will have embarked upon die-off. Or, perhaps more likely, some will have chosen one way, some will have chosen the other.

The pointer that will tell you if someone ‘gets it’ is whether they continue to mouth the platitudes about restoring economic growth. Growth – in the sense of anything physical – will not be restored any time soon, certainly not this side of 2050, possibly not ever. Ritual invocations of growth are simply a manifestation of contemporary idolatry. It is a god that has toppled from its plinth.

I can’t help but be reminded of Brueggemann’s analysis in ‘The Prophetic Imagination’ when he describes the conflict between Moses and Pharaoh as one between two systems of Gods – the living God versus the gods of the status quo. Each of the plagues topples one of the Egyptian gods – and eventually they are all shown to be worthless.

“The Gods of Egypt could not! The Scientists of the regime could not! The imperial religion was dead! The politics of oppression had failed! That is the ultimate criticism that the assured and alleged power of the dominant culture is now shown to be fraudulent.” The powers have been named, and in being named, they have been dethroned. Now that the dominant system has been unmasked as temporary, that its claims to divine eternity have been exposed, its foundations begin to crumble. “By the middle of the plague cycle Israel has disengaged from the empire, cries no more to it, expects nothing of it, acknowledges it in no way, knows it cannot keep its promises, and knows that nothing is either owed to it or expected of it. That is the ultimate criticism that leads to dismantling.” (see my longer post on this topic here)

So: Obama as Pharaoh? That’s certainly what the appointment of people like Geithner would suggest.

After women bishops are approved…

Just a thinking out loud post: once women bishops get approved for the CofE, why don’t FiF and similar simply set up as independent churches with a more-or-less formal link with the CofE itself – rather like the Methodists? Or even a stronger link with Rome? Take the physical churches that they currently occupy, but leave the parish system (other churches can adjust boundaries to cope) and leave behind any church schools and so on. Take pro rata pensions and so on as well. In other words, isn’t there a way to do this reasonably and charitably, and avoiding legal arguments over who owns the particular church buildings and so on?