Tuesday, April 02, 2013

London landings

Having just made the transition from the record high temperature of Melbourne to the record low temperatures of the UK  I was pleased to have my overcoat here in London despite the hastle of carrying it.  Not that it is that cold in London it is just that it is particularly cold for this time of year. These temperature extremes are to be expected within the growing understanding of climate change science.

Despite the weather, returning to London is always  a tonic. The Man Ray exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery was absorbing.  I woke early Sunday morning and by chance caught Profile on BBC Radio 4; this episode was devoted to Rev'd Lucy Winkett, Rector of St James's Piccadilly and former Canon of St Pauls Cathedral.  The Profile brief says: 'Many inside the Church see her as favourite to become the first female bishop of the Church of England, if the rules change.'

On the basis of what I heard I headed off to breakfast at Inn the Park thinking that it might be interesting to experience the Easter service at St James's.  From my sun-drenched table adorned with early daffodils (very expensive at the moment because the cold has delayed flowering) and an excellent breakfast menu I had views of the FCO, Horseguards, assorted towers of Whitehall Court, and the MOD building and, to my left, the Mall. The spray of the fountain drifted to my right gently blown by an east wind (the bearer of cold weather).

By the time the 11am service began at St James's the church was full. It was a mixed congregation but not as ethnically and socially mixed as I had expected.  Perhaps my perception is a product of experiencing a Melbourne compared to a London crowd? My motivation for attending the service was to find out, if I could, what the service might tell me about a key UK institution (the Church of England) in transition.

There was a good vibe and good singing well organised.  Love - the acknowledgment of others as legitimate others - was present in various ways from greetings to devices to support congregation participation in the service. Concerns for social justice were obvious along with LGBT...but I was disappointed that there was no discourse about human relations with the non-human world, although Lucy Winkett's sermon could be interpreted in that way if one so chose. It was an impressive sermon, and for me the highlight of the experience.

Without being presumptious (I hope) let me draw on Lucy's sermon to elaborate my point above - of how the sermon could be used to draw attention to the breakdown of human love for the non-human world - and to make a link to an earlier posting. My starting point is the insightful claim that 'the news of resurrection is news of a disappearance - he is not here!'  If we reframe 'he' (though it could be she) as the biophysical world and/or other species, or 'nature' (though this has limitations) than this 'he' is missing too in most of what we humans do.

Lucy goes on to say: 'In fact the resurrection is not so much a conclusion or an answer as a profound question........ But actually, if the question after the crucifixion is“what do we do now?” then it’s actually the same question after the resurrection; after this disruptive, counter intuitive, jolting resurrection, it’s not a question of nodding wisely because it helps us understand the suffering; far from it; it is the beginning of something else even more colossal and disturbing."  Acceptance that we have entered the Anthropocene raises the very same question: 'what do we do now'?  Do we follow a path of self-crucifixation by continuing to support greenhouse gas-producing resource use and patterns of consumption that maintain our historical carbon fix? Or do we open ourselves to exploring a path of resurrection in which what we have done before is no longer here, or at least no longer conserved unknowingly?  In my earlier posting I called for an abandonment of key foundations on which our business- as-usual approach is built accompanied by the creation of new foundations - a basis for a form of resurrection.

In this regard Lucy's sermon offers a key framing and invitation: 'Resurrection is totally disruptive; it is what there is the other side of nothing. It is the life we had not thought of, and despite our best efforts can’t imagine.''  The new foundations I speak of are not there for the choosing - they will require efforts we can't yet imagine... but first we must roll away the rock that blinds us to our current prediciment. Resurrection I would claim is of the living for eternity is what we live each day and which we conserve through our manners of living.

What of the overall experience? What light did it shine for me on the possible transformation of one of the UK's key institutions?  In this regard I was not moved.  For me the issues of primary concern to the established church whilst important socially do not focus on the key issues of our times.  I suspect Lucy Winkett is aware of this when she says:  "Before it became a message or a doctrine or a church’s creed, Christianity was simply contact. A relationship".  But to which relationships should we devote our time and passion? My own responses to this question are not in sympathy with the claims made by the new Archbishop of Canterbury in his Easter sermon though I do agree with his claim that 'a “hero leader culture” in which all trust was placed in one person only [leads] to false hope.'

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