A Dominican, Mrs. Gamp and Francis Urquhart

Is it OK for a retired Bishop of the Lutheran Church to say that she is losing faith in ‘the Church’? Maybe it isn’t OK, but I am going to say it anyway. I have begun to lose faith in ‘the Church’. Sometimes it reminds me of the wonderful story Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP tells:

One Sunday a mother shook her son awake, telling him it was time to go to church. No effect. Ten minutes later she was back: ‘Get out of bed immediately and go to church.’ ‘Mother, I don’t want to. It’s so boring. Why should I bother?’ ‘For two reasons: firstly, you know you must go to church on a Sunday, and secondly, you are the bishop of the diocese.’

Timothy Radcliffe OP, Why Go to Church? The Drama of the Eucharist. Bloomsbury, Kindle Edition page 1.
https://www.thetablet.co.uk/features/2/16856/timothy-radcliffe-choosing-life

Except, actually, I don’t find Sunday services boring, and the drama of the Eucharist or Holy Communion never fails to involve, to move, to enlighten and to reaffirm the sense of unity with other people who have celebrated communion with God and with one another over the centuries and across the world. The problem for me, at least, lies not in local churches and congregations. Those truly wonderful experiences of worshipping: these days, mostly with my small, local community of people wounded by life, by disability or age for whom the greeting of peace truly means a touch of God’s grace; in the great cathedrals of England, where the prayer-soaked walls resonated with the Alleluias and Amens of centuries past; with the wonderful diverse, inclusive parishes in both London and Riga; Saturday prayers in the Soup Kitchen, praying together with people of different faiths, with those who were unloved and excluded; preaching in Canterbury, just feet from the martyrdom of Thomas à Becket; baptising a baby in the Tanzanian countryside, in a church building lovingly created from stray bricks, corrugated iron, table tops and benches; sharing in a magnificent service in Lübeck Cathedral at the election of their new Bishop. None of that was remotely boring, and neither was the privilege of serving as Bishop to Lutherans in Great Britain, and being able to share in the Christian Way being walked by so many people, in such very differing but equally profound ways.

No, it is not there that the problem lies. It is not usually congregations, communities, Gemeinde, ‘kopienas un draudzes’ as it is in Latvian, and their day to day walks with Christ, however slow and limping that might be. It is the capacity of ‘the Church’ or churches, and indeed sometimes congregations and communities, come to that, to get things spectacularly wrong. Not that this is anything new, of course – Christians in the 3rd and 4th centuries were already pretty nasty to each other during the time of the Arian controversy But the ability of organized Christian groups to build up a dynamic of their own and to absolutely pervert the central message of Jesus Christ is so very difficult to read about or to observe.

This was brought home to me once again by reading a fascinating (in a watching a car crash sort of way) paper about the development of a ‘heresy of peace’ in Puritan New England in 17th Century USA. The English Puritans believed that they were a faithful remnant, and therefore that God was with them in everything they did, in every battle they fought to claim the land from the tribes who had inhabited them from time immemorial. This, in their eyes, was scriptural justification for the bloodiest and most violent actions that amounted, arguably, to genocide. Writing of the Pequot Massacre of 1637, Dominic Erdozain says:

The slaughter was no different, [Captain Underhill] said, from scenes in the Old Testament in which David ‘harrowes’ and ‘sawes’ whole peoples, under God’s instruction, putting them ‘to the most terriblest death that may bee’. Indeed, ‘sometimes the Scripture declareth women and children must perish with their parents; some-time the case alters: but we will not dispute it now. We had sufficient light from the word
of God for our proceedings.’ ….. Emboldened by Scripture, Underhill could marvel at the efficiency of the English weapons against the ineffectual arrows of the Indians. Mocking the indecision of the natives, ‘changing a few arrowes together after such a manner’, Underhill said ‘they might fight seven yeares and not kill seven men’.

The Church of America and the Heresy of Peace, Dominic Erdozain, Emory
University Studies in Church History 57 (2021), 364–385© The Author(s), 2021.
Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of Ecclesiastical History Society.

And more (probably this should come with a warning about potential nightmares):

It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire, and the streams of blood quenching the same, and horrible was the stink and scent thereof; but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave the
praise thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them, thus to enclose their enemies in their hands, and give them so speedy a victory over so proud and insulting an enemy

William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation: Sixteen Twenty to Sixteen Forty-Seven (New York, 1952), 296.
1462691_607007349361805_371602052_o.jpg
Today’s Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation

From the relative comfort of Europe in the 21st century, this casual invocation of God’s word to support the slaughter of men, women and children appals us, and rightly so. But ‘the Church’ (and I realise there are very many ways of defining this entity, and of translating the Greek term ekklesia from which it springs. For some time now a group of us has been working on a revision of the new translation of the Bible into Latvian, and ekklesia has been an endless source of discussion. Thankfully, no bloodshed. Yet.), ‘the Church’ in its various embodiments has done some terrible things much more recently, too. The ongoing, slowly unravelling horror story of sexual exploitation, mainly within the Roman Catholic Church, but also within the Church of England, has been truly horrific. Make no mistake – this is not just a question of individual priests committing crimes, but it is institutionalised sin. The churches have been complicit, have covered up terrible things AND ARE STILL DOING IT. Apart from anything else, this has wounded ‘the Church’ at its very foundations, because people both within and without ‘the Church’ can see the huge chasm between the requirements of confession and absolution that are preached, and the reality of avoidance, cover-up and victim shaming that abound in the real institution of ‘the Church’.

That is just one example, but there are many others – the complicity of various church bodies in massacres and ethnic cleansing (in recent history Rwanda, Serbia, and – long ago – the Albigensian Crusade with its ongoing echoes in the history of France all spring to mind. It’s interesting to note that Timothy Radcliffe’s own Order, the Dominicans or Order of Preachers, was born out of this time, as a response to the Cathar heresy).

Béziers, a Cathar centre

On a different level, but still very hurtful, is the understanding that church politics can be just as devious and manipulative as any party political gathering. The smaller, unkind sins of rumour, backstabbing, sarcasm and being economical with the truth tend to creep into all kinds of church bodies, from the parish council to interchurch dialogue, and, I dare say, the corridors of Lambeth Palace, Geneva and the Vatican. Some time ago, a church body I represented in dialogue with another church body made itself vulnerable by offering to open itself to a process of truth and reconciliation. The rebuff it received could easily have emanated from Francis Urquhart.

Francis Urquhart.jpg

The thing is – this hurts. It clouds the message of the Gospel, so that people are less able to hear the grace, the truth and beauty contained in it. All this makes me question how it is possible that a body which is, as Scripture says, the Body of Christ, can behave in ways that are so very unChristlike. Fr Timothy’s book is wonderful, and paints an inspirational picture of what all Christian churches should and might be. But he himself notes that:

Perhaps the hardest claim to swallow is that the church is holy. It is evident that members of the church have often been corrupt, cruel, mendacious and cowardly. This cannot be denied, ‘facts bein’ stubborn and not easily drove’, as Mrs. Gamp says in Martin Chuzzlewit….Confessing that the Church is holy, we claim that Christ’s victory over sin on Easter morning cannot be undone. However corrupt and sinful members of Christ’s Body may be, love has anticipated our failures and forgiven them.

Timothy Radcliffe OP, Why Go to Church? The Drama of the Eucharist. Bloomsbury, Kindle Edition, page 90.

I believe in God. I believe in Jesus Christ who lived with us and died for us. I believe in the Holy Spirit, without whose presence my whole ministry would have been a greater shambles. I believe, too, in the ministry of Christians to each other, and the transcendent beauty of both service and worship at its best. I know, too, that love has anticipated my failures and forgiven them, but I repent of them, and of my part in rendering ‘the Church’ less than it should be. But the question remains – for those who stand outside ‘the Church’ today, have they forgiven us? Have my failures, and those of the institutional church, made it harder for them to hear the clear voice of Christ calling them to the kingdom of heaven?

Which gives me an excuse to repost one of my very favourite poems. A happy and blessed New Year to all of us.

BC:AD – UA Fanthorpe
This was the moment when Before
turned into After, and the future’s
uninvented timekeepers presented arms.

This was the moment when nothing
happened. Only dull peace
sprawled boringly over the earth.

This was the moment when even energetic Romans
could find nothing better to do
than counting heads in remote provinces.

And this was the moment
when a few farm workers and three
members of an obscure Persian sect
walked haphazard by starlight straight
into the kingdom of heaven.

Atklāta vēstule Misūri sinodes Presidentam Herisonam

Atklāta vēstule Metjū Herisonam (Matthew Harrison)

Godātais Bīskapa kungs,

Pirms kāda laika kolēģis norādīja uz šo Jūsu Facebook ierakstu, kurš ir plaši ticis lasīts gan ASV, gan Latvijā.

Matt Harrison, Facebook ieraksts 2021.g. 26. septembrī

Kopš tam esmu ilgi domājusi, vai vajadzētu komentēt šo ierakstu, jo daudzejādā ziņā tas uz mani neattiecas. Esmu locekle baznīcā, kas neatrodas altāra un kanceles sadraudzībā ar Luterāņu baznīcu-Misūri sinodi, un daudz no MS mācībām un prakses ir pretrunā ar manu pārliecību. Vēl pie tam, tādēļ, ka esmu sieviete-ordinēta mācitāja, starp mums plešas nepārvarāma aiza. Tomēr, vairāk iedziļinājusies, sapratu, ka Jūsu komentāri, bīskapa kungs, sevī ietver ļoti tālejošas sekas ekumēniskajai videi Latvijā, un līdz ar to ir pieļaujami man komentēt.

Pirmkārt, lai gan no Jūsu komentāra to grūti saprast, Latvijas evaņģēliski luteriskā baznīca nav izstājusies no Pasaules luterāņu federācijas. Bez tam, tās nosaukums nav Latvijas luteriskā baznīca, kas it kā uzsver zināmu tautas baznīcas statusu, līdzīgu tam, kas piešķirta Danijas evaņģēliski luteriskajai baznīcai, kuru bieži dēvē par Dānijas Tautas baznīcu (Den danske Folkekirke) [šī ninase nav skaidra latviešu valodā – JJG]. Latvijā faktiski ir trīs evaņģēliski luteriskas baznīcas, no kurām, protams, LELB ir lielākā; bet luterāņi nesastāda kristiešu vairākumu Latvijā, nemaz nerunājot par visu iedzīvotāju vairākumu.

Otrkārt, ja LELB iestājas Starptaustiskajā luterāņu padomē (International Lutheran Council) un izstājas no Leienbergas apvienības (Eiropas protestantu baznīcu apvienības), tad šādai rīcībai arī ir sekas, kas varētu iespaidot Latvijas ekumēnisko pasauli – un tas, spriežot pēc Jūsu ieraksta, Jums darītu prieku. Izstāšanās no EPBA, šķiet, ir pirmā praktiskā seka no LELB Satversmes jaunās Preambulas, kuru Sinode pieņēma 2016. gadā.

“Latvija [sic] evaņģēliski luteriskās Baznīcas mācībai un dzīvei saistoša kopības izpausme, kurā parādās Latvijas evaņģēliski luteriskās Baznīcas vienprātība un norobežošanās no herēzēm un shizmām, ir no senbaznīcas mantotās Apustuļu, Nikejas-Konstantinopoles un Atanasija ticības apliecības, kā arī reformācijas ticības apliecības, kas apkopotas “Liber Concordiae”. Uz šī negrozāmā pamata stāvēdama un paļaudamās uz Dieva žēlastību, Latvijas evaņģēliski luteriskā Baznīca grib paklausīt Kristus pavēlei būt par Viņa liecinieci un sludināt evaņģēliju visai radībai….”

http://www.lelb.lv/lv/?ct=satversme

Citiem vārdiem sakot, tāpēc ka EPBA sastāv ne tikai luterāņu, bet arī citas baznīcas, kuru izcelsme meklējama Reformācijas laikos, bet kuru mācība nav precīzi vienāda ar Vienprātības grāmatu, Liber Concordiae, tad LELB no šīs apvienības ir izstājusies lai sevi norobežotu no herētiķiem un shizmatiķiem.

Zināmā mērā, tam nebūtu jābūt pārsteigumam, jo sastāvēšana Starptautsikajā luterāņu padomē to tieši arī no LELB pieprasītu:

SLP nolikumi

“Baznīcu sadraudzība un kalpošana.

a. Sadraudzība, vienošanās un sinkrētisms. Svētā kristīgā baznīca ir atrodama tur, kur “pareizi māca Evaņģēliju un pareizi pārvalda sakramentus” kā Kristus tos iestādījis. [Augsburgas Ticības apliecība, 7. Artikuls]. Lai gan visiem kristiešiem ir jāstrādā kopā kur vien iespējams, altāra un kanceles sadraudzība ir iespējama tikai tur, kur ir kopīga ticības apliecība, Dieva Vārdā pamatota. Kur ir nesaskaņas starp baznīcu iestādēm attiecībā uz Dieva Vārdu, mēs neizliksimies, ka šīs atšķirības ir nesvarīgas, nedz arī dosim nepareizu liecību, daloties altāra un kanceles kopībā.”

(ILC Byelaws, 2017).

Ņemot vērā, ka LELB nav “kopīgas ticības apliecības”, teiksim, ar EPBA loceklēm Skotijas baznīcu (Church of Scotland, Reformātu baznīca), metodistiem vai ar Vācijas Evaņģēlisko baznīcu (Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland, baznīcu apvienība, kas vieno luterāņu, reformātu un uniātu draudzes), tad altāra un kanceles kopība ir šīm baznīcām nevar tikt praktizēta. Pirms dažiem gadiem, kādā teoloģiskā diskusijā arhibīskaps Jānis Vanags atkārtoja Sv. Cipriāna slaveno teicienu: extra ecclesiam nulla salus, vai ārpus baznīcas pestīšanas nav. Vēlāk viņam vaicāju, kā viņš norobežotu šo baznīcu, ārpus kuras pestīšana nebūs atrodama: atbilde bija tāda, ka robežas nosprauž tā pati Vienprātības grāmata. [NB Daudzas luterāņu baznīcas skatās atšķirīgi uz šo jautājumu, jo Vienprātības grāmatā atrodami lāsti un nosodījumi ne tikai pret katoļiem, bet arī pret reformātiem, anabaptistiem utt. Pēdējo gadu laikā ir notikušas intensīvas sarunas starp baznīcām, ar nolūku vienreiz uz visiem laikiem atteikties no šīm Reformācijas laika anatēmām].

Protams, ka tas viss ir likumsakarīgi, lai Romas katoļu un Pareizticīgās baznīcas varētu būt pārsteigtas par šādu Cipriāna domas interpretāciju.  

Bet Misūri sinode, ar savu rīcību un materiālo atbalstu, šos pavērsienus ir veicinājusi. Vēl vairāk – Jūsu kaujnieciskais ieraksts, manuprāt, nevestī par žēlastību un kristīgu mīlestību, bet veicina ekumēniskās pasaules Latvijā sagraušanu. Jo šķistu likumsakarīgi, ka aizliegums baudīt altāra un kanceles kopību neattiecas tikai uz šķietami attālinātām vienībām kā EPBA, bet arī uz vietējiem ekumēniskajiem partneriem – Romas katoļu baznīcu, baptistiem, Pareizticīgo baznīcu utt.

File:Ekumēniskais dievkalpojums Rīgas Domā (23110509665).jpg

Ekumēniskais dievkalpojums Rīgas Domā

Ja kanceles kopība ar tiem, ar kuriem nav kopīgas ticības apliecības, ir aizliegta, kā tas iespaidos mūsu tautai svarīgos nacionālos un garīgos notikumus, kā, piemēram, 18. novembris, kad bieži Arhibīskaps Stankevičs tiek aicināts sprediķot luterāņu Domā? Kā izskatītos mūsu lielie svētki, ja baptisti, katoļi, pareizticīgie vai Vasarsvētku draudzēm piederīgie vairs netiktu aicināti piedalīties ekumēniskos dievkalpojumos? Es labi atceros, cik šokēta es jutos, uzzinot, ka pat 11. septembra piemiņas svētbrīžos Misūri sinodes mācītāji nedrīkstēja piedalīties, ja tie bija ekumēniski; jo pat tautas traģēdijas priekšā doktrināla tīrība bija svarīgāka par cilvēkiem nepieciešamo mierinājumu un pastorālo aprūpi.

Jau tagad redzam vienu šīs virzības maiņas seku. Vācijas Evaņģēliskā baznīca, ilggadīga, uzticīga LELB partnere, ir paziņojusi, ka tā vairs neatbalstīs vācu draudzes nedz ar finansēm, nedz ar mācītāju nosūtīšanu uz Latvija, jo lēmums izstāties no EPBA apvienības šādu iemeslu dēļ, tiek uztverts kā pretējs VEB mērķiem un misijai. Tas nozīmē, ka tiešām vērtīga draudzība, kas veicināja evaņģēlija sludināšanu visai radībai, kā teikts LELB Satversmes Preambulā, nu ir pārrauta.

Bīskapa kungs, es ļoti ceru un lūdzu Dievu, ka šīs attīstības tomēr kaut kādā veidā veicinās, nevis aizturēs evaņģēlija sludināšanu Latvijā, un drīzāk novedīs uz ciešāku kristiešu vienotību, nevis mūs šķirs vairāk, nekā tas jau ir noticis. Mazliet pārfrāzējot Hermani Zasi, nākotne pieder tiem, kas uzdrīkstas sludināt Jēzus Kristus labās ziņas; tas vēl jo vairāk attiecas uz mūsu salauzīto un polarizēto pasauli.

NB Tulkojums no iepriekšejā bloga angļu valodā.

An Open Letter to Bishop Matthew Harrison

Dear Bishop Harrison,

Some days ago a colleague pointed to this Facebook post of yours , widely shared and read in the USA and also here in Latvia.

I have hesitated since then in commenting on the post and its content, as in most senses it has nothing to do with me. As a member of a church not in communion with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and personally not attuned to most of LCMS doctrine or praxis, and indeed as a woman in ordained ministry, a vast and fairly unbridgeable gulf seems to gape between us. However, on further reflection I began to realise that your comments, Bishop Harrison, contain within them some profound potential implications for the ecumenical atmosphere as a whole in Latvia, and that therefore comment is legitimate.

Firstly, although your comment does not make it clear, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia has not left the Lutheran World Federation. Also, it is not called ‘The Lutheran Church of Latvia’, a name that emphasises a kind of folk church status akin to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark, often known as The Danish People’s Church (Den danske Folkekirke). There are three Lutheran Churches in Latvia, of which the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia, obviously, is the largest; but Lutherans no longer make up the majority of worshipping Christians in Latvia, let alone the majority of the people.

Secondly, there are implications to ELCL from membership of The International Lutheran Council and withdrawal from the Leuenberg Fellowship (The Communion of Protestant Churches in Europe, or CPCE), which will impact the ecumenical scene in Latvia, and this, it would appear from your post, is a source of pleasure to you. Leaving CPCE is ostensibly the first practical outworking of the Preamble to the Constitution of ELCL adopted in 2016:

The binding expression of unity for the doctrine and life of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia, in which the consensus of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia and its distancing of itself from heresies and schisms are demonstrated, are the Creeds inherited from the ancient Church – the Apostles’, Nicene-Constantinopolitan and Athanasian Creeds, as well as the Reformation era confessions which are compiled in the “Liber Concordiae” [Book of Concord – ed.] Standing on this unchangeable basis and trusting in God’s grace, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia wishes to obey Christ’s command to be a witness to Him and to proclaim the Gospel to all creation…..

ELCL Constitution (in Latvian) : http://www.lelb.lv/lv/?ct=satversme

In other words, because CPCE contains within its membership not only Lutheran but also other churches whose origins lie within the Reformation, and whose doctrines do not precisely align with the Book of Concord, then – in an effort to distance itself from those who are heretical and schismatic – ELCL has withdrawn from this fellowship of Protestant churches.

In a sense, this should not have come as a surprise, since membership of the International Lutheran Council, for which ELCL are also to apply, would demand this of the church. ILC byelaws are clear on this:

Church Fellowship and Ministry

a. Fellowship, Unionism, and Syncretism. The Holy Christian Church is found where the Word of God is preached purely and the Sacraments are administered according to Christ’s institution. While all Christians are to work together wherever possible, altar and pulpit fellowship between church bodies is only possible where there is a common confession of faith based on the Word of God. Where there are disagreements between church bodies regarding the Word of God, we shall not pretend that these divisions are unimportant or give a false witness of unity by practicing altar or pulpit fellowship (ILC Byelaws, 2017).

Since ELCL does not have a “common confession of faith” with, say, the Church of Scotland (a Reformed Church), Methodist Churches or the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland (a church body that unites Lutheran, Reformed and United congregations), then altar or pulpit fellowship with them cannot be practiced. Some years ago, at a public theological discussion, Archbishop Jānis Vanags restated Cyprian’s old dictum: extra ecclesiam nulla salus — there is no salvation outside the church. Afterwards I asked him how he would delineate the boundaries of the church outside which no salvation is to be found: the answer he gave was that it was defined by the Book of Concord.

This is all of a piece, of course, even though Roman Catholics and Orthodox Churches might well be surprised by the appropriation of Cyprian’s thought, which has traditionally been applied to their own communions.

The point, however, is this: by the actions of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod in encouraging these developments; and indeed rejoicing in a manner that is triumphalist and, in my humble opinion, not imbued with grace and Christian love, you have potentially encouraged the disintegration of the ecumenical environment in Latvia. Because, of course, the interdict on pulpit and altar fellowship, if followed through to its logical conclusion, would imply a break not just with seemingly distant groups such as CPCE, but also with ecumenical partners locally.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/saeima/23110509665/

If there may not be pulpit fellowship with those who do not share a common confession, what does that imply for occasions of national spiritual significance, such as Latvian Independence Day, when the Roman Catholic Archbishop is invited to preach at the Lutheran Cathedral? How would our great festivals look, if the Baptists, Roman Catholics, Orthodox and Pentecostals were no longer invited to share in ecumenical services? I remember being shocked personally when I found out on a visit to Valparaiso University that LCMS pastors were censured for taking part in ecumenical prayer services commemorating September 11, because even on an occasion of national mourning the need to maintain doctrinal distancing was more important than offering pastoral care and comfort to those who were shocked, wounded and hurting.

One consequence is already visible and real. The Evangelical Church of Germany, a long-term, faithful generous partner of ELCL has now declared that it will no longer support the German congregations in Latvia because of the decision to leave CPCE, which is seen as being antithetical to the mission of EKD. This is the termination of a useful partnership, which absolutely did facilitate “being a witness to Him and proclaiming the Gospel to all creation”.

So, Bishop Harrison, I hope and pray that there is some way in which these developments will enable rather than hinder the Gospel in Latvia, and will further Christian unity rather than dividing us more than we already are. To paraphrase Sasse, the future belongs to those who dare to confess the good news of Jesus Christ, and this is more than ever true in our fractured and polarised world.

Your sister in Christ,

Jāna Jēruma Grīnberga, Bishop Emerita

Serendipity. Or not.

Beyond Shahrazad: Feminist Portrayals of Women in The Arabian Nights |  LaptrinhX
“Scheherazade and the Sultan” by the Iranian painter Sani ol Molk (1849–1856)

The journey from Rīga to our home is not-quite-two-hours by car. Inevitably this is a fairly regular trip, which I often while away listening to something – a brilliant adaptation of Arabian Nights, or the BBC adaptations of George Eliot, Andrew Marr’s History of the World, or indeed detective series (I particularly loved the recent re-broadcast by the BBC of an Inspector West story – so redolent of its time).

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So on one particular day I happened to choose an adaptation of a novel unknown to me, broadcast on BBC Sounds – Light Perpetual, by an unfamiliar author, Francis Spufford.

It was one of those books that you wish would expand outside the normal capacity of any covers – like Dr Who’s telephone box, or Unseen University’s infinite library.

I simply wished to go on hearing about the world it depicted, to live the lives of those described in a vicarious way.

The premise is similar (only not) to Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Bridge of San Luis Rey. If you’ve not read that, go out IMMEDIATELY and buy, borrow or steal (not really) a copy.

San Luis Rey tells the stories of 5 people who happen to die together in the collapse of the eponymous bridge, an Inca rope construction in Peru (this is not really a spoiler, as the book sets out this premise at the very beginning). Wilder writes about them, and the journeys they each make to arrive at that particular locus of time and space together.

As you read, knowing that each of them is moving inexorably towards this fate, you are drawn in to their stories, and the ludicrous tragedy that human life often is. There is a desire to shout at them – no! Don’t step on that bridge! Actually, it reminds me of something Goran Ivanišević said, in an interview shortly before his unexpected victory at Wimbledon in 2001. He said he watched replays of his previous final against Pete Sampras in 1998, when he lost an epic match despite having opportunities to be two sets up. Each time he hoped the ending would be different – and it never was.

Light Perpetual is the inverse of San Luis Rey, in a way. This book starts with a bomb falling on a Woolworth’s shop in a London suburb in 1944, annihilating all those who happen, again, to be in this locus of time and space where unbending death awaits them in a desperately ordinary shop, on a day that, too, is as ordinary as it can be when a war is howling across the world. Spufford then goes on to tell the stories of 5 children who were killed – in other words, of lives unlived, of a parallel world that was never given the chance to exist.

It was a brilliant listen, and I even slowed down in the car towards the end, so that I could listen to the last few minutes. And – my word! I am so glad I did. Because the book ends not with a wish that things were otherwise, but with light, and hope and praise. It took a while to recover from that, for it was a glimpse of glory, of the joy that lies behind and beyond all tragedies, and of the Divine – and all of that, sitting in the driver’s seat of a small blue car.

This discovery, serendipitous or guided by God, led me to read other books by Francis Spufford, and to discover that he does some of his writing in Ely, where his wife is a Residentiary Canon at the Cathedral – one of the most beautiful in England, or possibly the Universe. That already prejudices me in his favour.

Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC BY-SA 3.0

And this brings me to Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense. Reading more of Spufford’s writings led me to this. It is, in my humble opinion, one of the very few truly original books about the Christian faith of the last few years. In theological language apologetics has nothing to do with being sorry. The Encyclopaedia Britannica defines it thus:

Apologetics, in Christianity, the intellectual defence of the truth of the Christian religion, usually considered a branch of theology. In Protestant usage, apologetics can be distinguished from polemics, in which the beliefs of a particular Christian church are defended. Roman Catholics, however, use the term to mean defence of Catholic teaching as a whole and identify apologetics with fundamental theology.

Spufford is unapologeticbecause he is not mounting an intellectual defence of anything. Instead he talks about how it is to be in God’s presence, or what it feels like to believe.

Here’s a quote, though, which does seem a bit like a logical or intellectual proposition…..

Follow me closely now: whether God exists or not is unprovable, so for an individual person, whether He exists or not is always going to be a matter of belief. But at the same time, quite independently, He either exists or He doesn’t, irrespective of whether He’s believed in. He’s a fact, or a non-fact, about the nature of the universe. So if you believe, you’re making a bet that God exists whether you believe or not. If you believe, you’re not perceiving God as a creature of your belief, called into being by it, ebbing and flowing as it ebbs and flows. You’re perceiving a state of the universe.

[page 74 in the Kindle Edition]

Towards the beginning of the book, Spufford describes an encounter with the very breath of life that breathes through all that exists, the light that is the source of all light. And this light sees him, and knows him, and continues to shine; a light that never turns away, but from which the author can (and does) turn away, because to be so seen and known, and forgiven, is more than a mere human being can bear for very long. This experience is one that I as a preacher have tried to communicate again and again over the years, and have failed, because I have never really had the tools of language or expression to manage it – not in any language. So reading this was a stunning moment. This – this is what it is like to believe, and to know oneself known, loved and forgiven. This is the experience of being intimately linked with all of creation, while knowing that

This instant at which I sit is as narrow a slice of the reality of the whole as a hairline crack would be in a pavement that reaches to the stars.

[page 61]

This book won’t speak to everyone, clearly – no book ever does – especially, perhaps, because of the scattering of f-words, which in the phrase ‘The Human Propensity to f things up’ (HPtFtU) is aimed, maybe, at shocking us to understand the real gravity of our human dilemma, neatly summed up here:

So of all things, Christianity isn’t supposed to be about gathering up the good people (shiny! happy! squeaky clean!) and excluding the bad people (frightening! alien! repulsive!) for the very simple reason that there aren’t any good people.

[page 47]

I am immensely grateful to Francis Spufford, to BBC Sounds, to my little blue car and its sound system, for revealing this book to me, which has led me to laugh, cry, pray and think. And to God, too, for I do suspect that this was not mere serendipity, but God’s infinite wisdom leading me to just the right reading material for this edgy, dreary pandemic time.

Spufford, Francis. Unapologetic: Why, despite everything, Christianity can still make surprising emotional sense Faber & Faber. Kindle Edition.

Vienoti dažādībā

Vienoti dažādībā

Kas liek cilvēkam par kaut ko aizdomāties — vienalga, par kuru tēmu – ir viena no dzīves lielajiem noslēpumiem. Kāpēc Ņūtons sāka domāt par zemes pievilkšanas spēku, kad pēkšņi ābols no ābeles krita (ja tas nav vispār mitoloģisks stāsts)? Kā tas gadījās, ka Arhimēds, kuŗš taču diezgan regulāri mazgājās, tieši tajā reizē izlēca kails no vannas, ar vārdu “eurēka” ( εὕρηκα – es esmu atradis) (un kāpēc mēs nesakām ‘heurēka’, starp citu?), ar vārdu sakot, saucot “heurēka! esmu atklājis Arhimēda principu!”? Kāds iedvesmas brīdis, kāda atskārsme aplidoja Bēthovenu, iekaļot galvā DA DA DA DAM, DA DA DA DAM? Angļu zinātniskās fantastikas autors Terijs Prečets (pats laikam nereti iedvesmas upuris) domāja, ka Visums ir pilns ar iedvesmas fotoniem, kuri lido cauri matērijai, bet pilnīgā randomā. Tā, piemēram, varētu būt brīdis, ka govs, mierīgi gremodama savā kutī, pēkšņi saprot, kā būtu jāatrisina Hadamarda matrices problēma; bet diemžēl, tai pietrūkst valodas spējas to izskaidrot lopkopim, un tā problēma paliek neatrisināta. Vai arī dievišķīga meldija, tāda, kas liktu visiem apraudāties un dziedinātu ikvienu sirdi, iebirst stārķa galvā: un varbūt tieši tāpēc Staiceles stārķis pagājušajā vasarā centās ielauzties bibliotēkā, sitot ar knābi pa durvīm, jo viņam steidzīgi vajadzēja, ka bibliotekāre Anita to pieraksta.

Lai ar kā, ir arī tādi brīži, kad iedvesmas fotoni tomēr trāpa pareizā vietā. Vai tā varam izskaidrot to, ka Nacionālā apvienība, valdības koalīcijas līdz šim klusie partneri, izlēma, ka tieši šajā brīdī, kad valsts cīnās ar lielāko krīzi kopš neatkarības pirms turpat 30 gadiem, slimnīcas grimst zem darba slodzes, un tautsaimniecība ir zem milzīgas jautājuma zīmes (veikali slēgti, kafejnīcas nedarbojas, tūrisma industrija nolīdzināta), nemaz par izglītības sistēmu nerunājot, tieši TAGAD jāpaceļ jautājums, kuŗš noteikti šķels tautu un aizņems laiku Saeimā, valdībā, politiskajās partijās un ticīgo kopienās.

Free Vector | Group of people holding question mark icons

Kādu brīdi padauzījusi galvu pret sienu, sāku ieklausīties dažādās balsīs šeit Latvijā – par un pret šo maiņu, kas izteiktu Satversmes 110. pantu šādā redakcijā:

“Valsts aizsargā un atbalsta laulību – savienību starp vīrieti un sievieti, ģimeni, kas balstīta laulībā, asinsradniecībā vai adopcijā, vecāku un bērna tiesības, ieskaitot tiesības augt ģimenē, kuras pamatu veido māte (sieviete) un tēvs (vīrietis). Valsts īpaši palīdz bērniem invalīdiem, bērniem, kas palikuši bez vecāku gādības vai cietuši no varmācības.”

Daudziem cilvēkiem, kuri ir spējuši argumentus daudz skaidrāk, nekā es, varu tikai piekrist par to, ka šādas pārmaiņas nav vēlamas – juristam Laurim Liepam, Elizejas mācītājiem Paičam un Simanovičam, kā arī dažu garīdznieku un citu ļaužu atklātai vēstulei Saeimai – tiešām aicinu ikvienu lasītāju ieskatīties vai ieklausīties šajos viedokļos – varat uzklikšķēt uz visām saitēm. Bet tāpat respektēju darbu, ko mācītājs Aleksandrs Bite ieguldījis savā vēstulē, pat ja nevaru vēstulē izteiktajam viedoklim nekādīgi piekrist.

Un tur ir tā sāls. Mēs esam dažādi. Mūsu viedokļi atšķiŗas. Bet es neuzskatu, ka Aleksandrs ir ļauns, dumjš, nekristīgs, sātanisks, tikai tāpēc, ka viņam nepiekrītu. (Un šie visi ir vārdi, kas pēdējās nedēļas laikā ir nākuši manā virzienā, arī apšaubot to, ka es jebkad būtu Bībeli lasījusi).

Facepalm Icons - Download Free Vector Icons | Noun Project

Pirms vairākiem gadiem piedalījos Porvo kopienas Baznīcu konsultācijā par ģimenes un laulības jautājumiem. Pēc konferences man uzticēja konferences materiālu rediģēšanu, un līdz ar to iepazinos ar ārkārtīgi plašiem materiāliem no luterāņu un anglikāņu tradīcijām par šo visu – par lauku, kas izraisa ne tikai teoloģiskas pārdomas, bet arī asas emocijas, kuŗas bieži vien paši nesaprotam līdz galam (arī uz mani tas attiecas). Skaidrs bija tas, ka viedokļi bija ārkārtīgi atšķirīgi – un nevis anglikāņu-luterāņu starpā, bet katras konfesijas iekšienē virmo nesaskaņas. Toties varējām sēdēt pie viena galda. Varējām runāt atklāti viens ar otru, neapsaukājoties un nebaidoties no sekām, ja izsakām viedokli, kas kādam vai kādai nepatiktu. Kristieši var tikties un runāt par pretrunīgiem jautājumiem, var respektēt tos, kam atšķirīgs viedoklis. Tā kāpēc tas ir, ka tik ļoti bieži to nedarām?

Bet šonedēļ pienāca Anglikāņu-luterāņu biedrības žurnāla “The Window” janvāŗa numurs, kuŗā, paldies mīļajam Dievam, atradu rakstu, kas atsvaidzināja prātu un dvēseli. Šī biedrība pastāv tikai tāpēc, lai abu konfesiju pārstāvji – un citi – varētu vienkārši tikties un runāt, iepazīties, lūgt un veidot pētījumus kopā. Atļaušos citēt no šī raksta, kas pārņemts no Pasaules luterāņu federācijas ziņām:

The Rev Caroline Christopher also shared her experience of working as the manager of a large hostel for students in Chennai, providing a safe place to stay for many orphans, single mothers and destitute women from different religious backgrounds. In discussions that followed her presentation, participants reflected on the importance of such “prophetic diakonia” as a hallmark of Lutheran witness within secular or multi-faith societies. Participants noted how faithful acts of love in daily life may be the only sign of the Church that people ever experience. The webinar’s host, the Rev Dr Chad Rimmer, Programme Executive for Identity, Communion and Formation in the LWF’s Department for Theology, Mission and Justice said, ‘The priesthood of the baptised reframes the way people understand power, and feel able to participate in transformation. It says that no matter what your occupation or passion in life, the Spirit equips you to share Christ’s love in every sector of society … This webinar took place 500 years from the day Luther published his treatise on the Freedom of a Christian. It describes God’s love as a gift that liberates us from bonds of injustice, and compels us to serve our neighbour in eco-nomic, social, religious, political and, I’ll add, ecological spheres.

Tātad, šī mācītāja no vienas no Indijas luterāņu baznīcām stāstīja par to, kā baznīca gādā par bāreņiem, nabadzīgām mātēm un bērniem. Bet pats svarīgākais – šāda ‘pravietiska kalpošana vai diakonija’ ir tas, kas apzīmē luterāņu kalpošanu sekulārā kontekstā, vai tur, kur daudzas ticības satiekas. Semināra dalībnieki atzīmēja, ka

uzticīgas mīlestības darbi varētu būt vienīgās Baznīcas zīmes, ar kuŗiem cilvēki vispār sastopas.

Kur Latvijā ir mūsu pravietiskā kalpošana? Iekš tā, ka mēs, kristieši, viens otru zākājam raidījumos un feisbukā? Taču nē. Un mēs nedrīkstam pieļaut to, ka strīds par Satversmes 110. pantu mūs novirza no svarīgākā un aktuālākā – kā šajā pandēmijas laikā kalpot Dievam un Dieva bērniem? Kā varam paust Kristus evaņģēliju cilvēkiem, kuŗiem ir bail, kuŗi sēro vai ir depresijā – mediķiem, kas ir zem spiediena, vai kādai sievietei, kuŗas sirmais tētis nupat ir aizgājis mūžībā?

Tur gan derētu kāds Svētā Gara iedvesmas fotons.

11 November 2020

11 November 2020
a beautiful poppy

11 November for people in Britain and throughout the Commonwealth is marked as Remembrance Day. On 11 November 1918, at 11am – on the eleventh day of the eleventh month at the eleventh hour – the Armistice was signed, which began to bring the First World War to an end. The senseless deaths and slaughter of those four years of hell finally slowed and stopped. The conflict gave rise to such evocative and striking literature – the sort of writing that leaves indelible marks on the memory, and touches the soul in its direct bitterness and ghastly beauty. So Wilfrid Owen‘s Anthem for Doomed Youth:

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, –
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing down of blinds.

Owen was himself doomed to die just seven days before the Armistice.

Here in Latvia the day is also a memorial, but it is a different, albeit related, commemoration. A year after the WWI Armistice, so on 11 November 1919, the capital, Rīga, was freed by the forces of the fledgling Latvian Republic with considerable help from British and French forces from the occupying West Russian Volunteer Army Forces led by General Pavel Bermondt-Avalov. By the end of the year, all of Latvia was free of occupying soldiers. For English speakers – the wonderful series of short films about Latvian history, atslegas.lv, tells the tale with English subtitles.

We mark the day each year with candles. Usually, the wall of Rīga Castle, where the President lives, is covered with thousands and thousands of lights.

FOTO un VIDEO: Lāčplēša diena - svecītes pie Rīgas pils, parāde un tautas  gājiens / Raksts / LSM.lv

This, usually, is the most solemn and moving of nights, as families with small children, old men with medals, uncharacteristically quiet teenagers and women in business suits all walk quietly through the streets with a sense of sacred purpose. But not this year.

This year it is different. Everything is different. Even here in Staicele, where this is one of the most moving evenings of the year, it is still and quiet, and dark. During the day we lit candles in the cemetery, and stopped to remember our own family members. And in the evening, instead of the traditional torchlight procession and candles floating in the river, it was just candles on the central green, silent “holy glimmers of goodbyes”, in Owen’s words. Just as in churches and town and village centres in Britain, where there were no Remembrance Sunday services, no Scout Parades and wreath laying ceremonies, the day passed in private thoughts and memories.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 11-11-20-1.jpg

We will come back to it next year, and, it is to be hoped, for many years to come. For the words of the confession that is sometimes used on Remembrance Sunday are relevant in 2020 as they were in 1918, and 1939, and during all the terrible, dark conflicts our world has lived through.

When we fail to learn from the past : Lord, have mercy.

When we let national and personal interests blind us to the suffering of the world: Christ, have mercy.

When we forget the cost of the freedom we enjoy:  Lord, have mercy.

We must never forget the cost of war, never forget the lessons the past has to teach us, never turn away from the suffering conflict of all kinds causes.

Merciful God, we offer to you the fears in us that have not yet been cast out by love: may we accept the hope you have placed in the hearts of all people,and live lives of justice, courage and mercy;  through Jesus Christ our risen redeemer.  Amen.

Church in a time of pandemic

Church in a time of pandemic

So – this Pastor in Rīga has (temporarily) become Chaplain in Oslo. In the spring it was even more complicated, as I did 2 months as a Locum for St. Edmund’s Anglican Chaplaincy in Oslo while I was physically in Latvia – a ministry carried out entirely via Zoom, email, telephony and Skype. It was certainly the first time I had led a service in alb, stole, pectoral cross and crocs – one of the clichés of pandemic worship, of course.

And then arriving here in person was truly a unique experience. The building was much as I had imagined it, but people were both familiar and unfamiliar, as the image you see on a screen is not really representative of a three dimensional person. Some people were taller than I expected, others shorter – but all were recognisable, and all very welcoming.

St Edmund’s in Oslo

But it has been a “steep learning curve” (is that my cliché quota used up for this post?) in terms of being a functioning cleric in person, rather than in a home environment. A bit of background: for the last months many of us in Latvia who have family abroad have been living with two realities. In Latvia the COVID-19 pandemic has barely touched us compared with most of the rest of Europe. As I write, there has been an uptick in cases, due to an overly optimistic experiment in restarting the hockey season (this involves teams travelling to and from Latvia, Russia, Belarus and Finland. Correct me if I’m wrong, but there seems to be something of a flaw in this plan). And sure enough, players have been testing positive, matches have been cancelled and the future of the season is in doubt. At the same time, one of the worldwide phenomena has just manifested itself – an outbreak at a meat processing plant. But still and all, Latvia has the lowest infection rate in Europe at the time of writing, and life continues pretty normally (except for frustrated hockey fans, of whom there are many. Really very many.)

At the same time, our family in the UK have been enduring lockdowns, living in isolation, hearing mixed messages from an increasingly heavily criticised government, with daily infection rates now rising into the thousands. We have talked and video called, written messages and sent little gifts to each other, anxious not to lose touch, faced suddenly with the prospect of not knowing when we will be able to meet again.

But Norway is in a sort of in-between space. Infection rates here are rising, but there is no lockdown, and no very great measures to contain the outbreak, except for closures in kindergartens and schools directly affected, and advice to wear masks on public transport. 1 metre distancing is recommended, and mostly observed, and there is ‘anti bac’ everywhere.

However, St Edmund’s have really risen to the challenge, with very careful precautions and much thought having been given to following the advice given both by the Norwegian health authorities and the Diocese in Europe of the Church of England. No greeting of peace, of course, no contact, no possibility of handing a book to children to read, no coffee hour, only 40 people in church and so on. It is at once comforting to know how much care has gone into to making the church a safe space, and confining to know that much of the action that makes church what it is, is now inevitably forbidden. The small instinctive gestures, the sharing of communion in bread and wine, the hug for a friend who is hurting – all this is gone, and we are a church gripped in safety and in confinement. The sculpture below, one of a stunning series in a local park, spoke to me vividly of this duality of caring and restraint.

One of the remarkable and emotionally charged statues in the Vigelandsparken

Today a discussion (that I could only follow in part) at the Norwegian Christian Council echoed concerns raised in St. Edmund’s and more widely in the Church throughout the world, and led to these thoughts – how are we to be church in 2020? How are we to show God’s love in a time of pandemic? What to do about the people who are isolated, not just by government restrictions, but by their own (understandable) reluctance, even fear, to venture out into a city or a village made strange and seemingly unsafe? How do we reach out to people who have withdrawn? How do we comfort the sick and the bereaved when even funerals are restricted, and when we can’t touch a weeping child, or stroke a dying person’s head? For Anglicans in Europe more than most, what to do about the rituals that sustain the church, but which demand a Bishop’s presence – like confirmation or ordination – when the Bishop is stuck hundreds of kilometres away, and can’t travel because of quarantine or self-isolation regulations?

A beautiful window in St. Edmund’s Church

Loving our neighbour in these times requires us to keep our neighbour safe, and therefore Christians surely must do the best to observe whatever regulations medical experts and governments guided by them recommend, or, indeed, legislate into being. Of course, online worship, Bible studies, lectures, seminars and so on have been extraordinarily valuable during this time – for those who are able to access them, which is by no means everyone. Indeed, many churches have found that people who do not normally attend church do find their way into online activities. The Lutheran church I belong to in Latvia has found that several thousand people have watched our services on YouTube, and an interesting series of meditations by a pastor online regularly attracts 250 people on a weekday evening – some of them in Latvia, but others in Iceland, Chile, Canada, the UK and so on. This has been a completely unforeseen blessing.

But the reality is that we, followers of Christ and carriers of our crosses at Jesus’ invitation, face some real and difficult challenges in the years to come. It is no good thinking that when COVID-19 passes, we will return to where we were in February 2020. That applies to so much in our world, whether we are talking about the tourism industry, methods of working, education – whatever. COVID-19 has struck the poor and the hungry harder than others, and will continue to do so, according to the World Bank. It has also disproportionately affected people of Black and Minority Ethnic origin. It has devastated populations of elderly folk in nursing homes. All of this poses difficult questions to society, and to churches and their members.

Meanwhile, congregations have lost some people and gained others, certainly lost income, some to a catastrophic level; and preaching the Gospel to a world riven by a polarisation that is political and religious (and a mixture of the two – think of the close relationship between the religious right and Trump-supporting Republicans) is demanding a reorientation. I would say that we must, as Christians, make another attempt to heal divisions, and not to see us and others as followers of diverse traditions, but simply to gather around the Cross, and to see where God wants us to go next. The old, humanly constructed certainties and barriers must go;

The rebuilding of Norwegian government building following the attack in 2011 has involved the demolition of much that was damaged

and a renewed Church, challenging the status quo and living alongside the poor and dispossessed, must emerge. Our world has been hit by the equivalent of a bomb, and the debris has to be cleared away in order for us to see how to rebuild. Rules and Canon Laws must change, or be broken; risks must be taken, and arms – physical and metaphorical – must be opened wide. Otherwise, I fear that we are lost. John Bell, as so often, captures my thoughts and feelings on this autumnal evening in Oslo.

Jesus Christ is waiting,
Waiting in the streets;
No one is his neighbour,
All alone he eats.
Listen, Lord Jesus,
I am lonely too.
Make me, friend or stranger,
Fit to wait on you.

Jesus Christ is raging,
Raging in the streets,
Where injustice spirals
And real hope retreats.
Listen, Lord Jesus,
I am angry too.
In the Kingdom’s causes
Let me rage with you.

Jesus Christ is healing,
Healing in the streets;
Curing those who suffer,
Touching those he greets.
Listen, Lord Jesus,
I have pity too.
Let my care be active,
Healing just like you.

Jesus Christ is dancing,
Dancing in the streets,
Where each sign of hatred
He, with love, defeats.
Listen, Lord Jesus,
I should triumph too.
On suspicion’s graveyard
Let me dance with you.

Jesus Christ is calling,
Calling in the streets,
”Who will join my journey?
I will guide their feet.”
Listen, Lord Jesus,
Let my fears be few.
Walk one step before me;
I will follow you.

©1988  WGRG, Iona Community, Govan, Glasgow G51 3UU, Scotland

12 Baušļi, “kultūrmarksisms” un Kalna sprediķis.

Džordans Pītersons. Jordan Peterson. Vārds, kuŗš ir daudziem uz lūpām – un, gandrīz vēl interesantāk – kuŗa raksti un YouTube ierakstu saturs ir acīmredzot palīdzējuši veidot daudzu Latvijas konservatīvāko ‘influenceru’ domas. Viņa leksiku un domāšanu varējām skaidri saskatīt arhibīskapa Jāņa Vanaga intervijā laikrakstā ‘Mājas Viesis’ šā gada 21.jūnijā (par to vēlāk); tā arī Vijas Beinertes rakstā la.lv 24. jūlijā, kur lasām šādus vārdus:

“To, ka tālāk par noārdīšanu, asiņu jūru un līķu kalniem marksisti netika, ASV skolās nemāca. Un arī to, ka 60. gadu beigās Žaka Deridā pasludinātā postmodernisma ēra patiesībā bija tas pats vecais marksisms, tikai jaunā iepakojumā un ar nedaudz piekoriģētiem uzsvariem “sociālā taisnīguma” principos. Neomarksisma ideju sfēra nu jau aptvēra antropoloģiju, lingvistiku un reliģiju, kā arī feminismu un geju un lesbiešu studijas.”

Šo rinkopu tikpat labi būtu varējis  rakstīt Džordans Pītersons.

Pirms ķeramies pie satura, daži vārdi par pašu Pītersonu. No viņa mājas lapas:

Dr. Jordan B. Peterson is a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, a clinical psychologist and the author of the multi-million copy bestseller 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, #1 for nonfiction in 2018 in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, the Netherlands, Brazil and Norway, and slated for translation into 50 languages.”

Tulkojums latviešu valodā: “Dr. Džordans B. Pītersons ir psiholoģijas profesors Toronto Universitatē, ārsts-psihologs un daudz miljonu eksemplāros pārdotā bestsellera “12 Likumi dzīvei” autors, Nr. 1 pārdoto grāmatu sarakstos ASV, Kanādā, Jaunzelandē, Austrālija, Zviedrijā, Nīderlandē, Brazīlīja un Norvēģijā, un nozīmēta uz tulkošanu 50 valodās”.

Mājas lapā arī teikts, ka

  • Instagramā Pītersonam ir vairāk nekā 1,300,000 sekotāju
  • Facebook vairāk nekā 860,000
  • Twitter vairāk nekā 1,4 miljoni
  • Reddit vairāk nekā 207,000
  • Quora vairāk nekā 34,000 sekotāju un 9 miljonu atbilžu skatījumu

Mans senais draugs, Andris Mellakauls, teiktu – cits jau būtu lielījies; bet man gribētos arī zināt, kā cilvēkam, kurš ir tik aktīvs sociālajos mēdijos, pietiek vēl laika mācīt studentus, rakstīt grāmatas, konsultēt pacientus, ierakstīt YouTube video? Bet tas tā. Kas ir tas, kas padara Pītersonu daudziem cilvēkiem pievilcīgu? To ir mazliet grūti definēt, jo viņa domas ir diezgan izplūdušas un daudzveidīgas, bet žurnāls “New Yorker”, ne pārāk kritiskā raksta par viņu, to dēvē par “vīrišķības evaņģēliju”; Pītersons ir arī liberālisma kaismīgs kritiķis, uzskatot to par vēlēšanos nojaukt pastāvošās un pārbaudītās vērtības, nerēķinoties ar sekām. Bez tam viņš ir viens no pazīstamākiem ‘kultūrālā marksisma’ teorijas aizstāvjiem; viegli saprotams izskaidrojums šai teorijai atrodams The Guardian. Bet par to nedaudz vēlāk.

Ko vēl zinām par Pītersonu? 2020.g. sākumā, tā stāsta viņa meita Mikhaila, viņš nonāca reanimācijā kādā Maskavas klīnikā pēc intensīvas atkarību ārstēšanas un plaušu karsoņa. Viņš esot ilgāku laiku bijis atkarīgs no klonazepāma, benzodiazepina grupas psihotropās vielas. 2018.g. parādījās ziņa, ka – sekojot Mikhailas piemēram – Pītersons pārgājis uz diētu, kas sastāv no liellopa gaļas un ūdens.

A knife chops a line or raw beef.
Par Pītersonu gaļēdāju dietu lasiet šeit.

Un pilnīgi nekā cita – neviens dārzenis, neviena sakne, neviens piena produkts. Vai tam bija kāds sakars ar to, ka nonāca reanimācijā, nemācēšu teikt; bet nevaru iedomāties nevienu ārstu, diētologu, homeopatu, vārdotāju, medmāsu vai pat miesnieku, kurš ieteiktu šādu diētu kā veselīgu vai pat savienojamu ar izdzīvošanu. Protams ir tā, ka katram cilvēkam ir atļauts kļūdīties, un esam visi gan grēcinieki, gan svētie; un man arī nav tiesību nedz Pītersonu kritizēt par viņa dzīves stilu, nedz arī nosodīt kādu, kas nonācis atkarību žņaugā. Bet neesmu pārliecināta, ka tieši pie šāda guru vērstos, lai uzzinātu, kas ir svarīgākie ‘12 Likumi dzīvei’.

Pievēršoties minētajiem 12 baušļiem, centos arī izlasīt šo grāmatu, bet jāatzīstas, ka tālāk par pusi netiku. Jo pat pirmajās divās lappusēs sastapos ar elementārām problēmām. Pirmkārt, visi pētījumi, par kuriem Pītersons raksta, min omāru (lobsters) uzvedību. Bet pasekojot atsaucēm, izrādījās, ka daudzi no citētiem pētījumi min nevis omārus, bet upes vēžus (crayfish).

Crayfish vs. Lobster: Differences In Taste, Appearance, & Habitat
No kreisās: omārs un upes vēzis.

Varbūt, ka tā ir tikai neuzmanība no autora puses; bet varbūt arī, ka omāri izklausās nedaudz seksīgāki, nekā pazemīgais upes vēzis.  Piemēram, skat. grāmatas atsauci 8: The effect of social experience on serotonergic modulation of the escape circuit of the crayfish; arī 14. atsauce utt.

Otrkārt, Pītersons, rakstot par sieviešu kārtas “omārēm” (resp. upes “vēzēm”), 9. lpp apraksta to uzvedību kā teritoriālu, un turpina ar secinājumu, ka alfa vīriešu omāri ir pievilcīgāki “omārēm”. Bet citētais petījums par šo parādību faktiski secina, ka sieviešu kārtas upes “vēzes” ir teritoriālas aiz nepieciešamības pasargāt jaundzimušos no citām, plēsīgām, sieviešu kārtas “omārēm” (tā pati 14.atsauce).

Treškārt, 20. lappusē e-grāmatas versijā Pītersons raksta par tiem, kas cieš no agorafobijas. Citēju (savā tulkojumā): “Cietēja tipiski ir pusmūža sieviete, kura bijusi pārāk atkarīga no citiem cilvēkiem. Varbūt, ka sākumā pārāk paļāvusies uz tēvu, kam sekoja attiecības ar vecāku, salīdzinoši dominējošu draugu vai vīru, bez iespējas attīstīt neatkarīgu dzīvi.”

Diemžēl, tā ir tīra fantāzija. Agorafobija attīstās  gandrīz vienmēr pirms 35 gadu vecuma, vidēji ap 20 gadiem.  Tiesa, no slimības sievietes cieš biežāk nekā vīrieši, bet ne tikai. Bet tas neatbilstu tālākajam Pītersona domu gājienam: “Iespējams, ka tas ir kaut kas fizioloģisks, piemēram sirds aritmijas, kas vienalga ir ļoti izplatītas, bet kuras pastiprinās klimaksa laikā, kad sievietes psiholoģiskās pieredzi regulējošie hormonālie procesi svārstās neparedzamā veidā.”

Visās informācijas lapās, kuras esmu varējusi atrast, apmēram vienādi kā cēloņus min:

  • depresiju
  • citas fobijas, ieskaitot klaustrofobiju
  • citus traucējumus saistītus ar baiļu sajūtu (ieskaitot obsesīvi kompulsīvos traucējumus)
  • fizisku vai seksuālu vardarbību
  • atkarību no psihotropām vielām
  • agorafobija ģimenē.

Ja nu psihologam Pītersonam ir pierādījumi par citiem cēloņiem,  būtu labi, ja tas būtu minēts atsaucēs.

Citādi tas viss izklausās kā mērķtiecīgs sieviešu pazemojums.

Tāpat  10.lappusē atrodam šādu vispārinājumu: “Šāda veida uzvedību pastāvīgi attēlo seksuāli atklātās literārās fantāzijās, kuras ir tikpat populāras starp sievietēm, kā kailu sieviešu izaicinošas bildes starp vīriešiem”. Varbūt, ka tā ir tiesa: bet  apgalvot tik neviennozīmīgu “faktoīdu” (kā patīk šis jaunvārds?) bez jebkāda pamatojuma ir ļoti apšaubāmi.

33.lpp e-grāmatā parādās nedaudz uzjautrinoša drukas kļūda – Jawhist, nevis Jahwist; un sekojošā lappusē ir šāds teksts: “Zinātniskās patiesības nonāca atklātībā tikai pirms knapi 500 gadiem, ar Frensisa Beikona, Renē Dekārta un Aizeka Ņutona darbiem. Lai ar kā mūsu priekšteči būtu pasauli redzējuši, tas nebija caur zinātnes lēcu”.

Kur tad Galēns, 2./3. gadsimtu izcilais mediķis un filozofs? Vai arī, piemēram, matemātika, kura jau Babilonijas laikā bija diezgan tālu attīstījusies, tāpat kā astronomija? Vai arī Ēģiptes atklājumi ģeometrijā un medicīnā? Jāpieņem, ka Dr. Pītersons nav pat ieskatījies Vikipēdijas sadaļā par zinātnes vēsturi, nemaz par nopietnāku pētīšanu nerunājot.

Kā pēdējo piemēru gribētos minēt apgalvojumu, kas atrodams jau e-grāmatas 8.lpp.

“Bahs, savukārt, komponēja tik ļoti daudz, ka pārrakstīt viņa rokrakstus prasītu daudzu desmitgadu darba; bet tikai maza daļa no visiem viņa skaņdarbiem piedzīvo regulārus atskaņojumus”.

(Bach, for his part, composed so prolifically that it would take decades of work merely to hand-copy his scores, yet only a small fraction of this prodigious output is commonly performed.)

Jā, Johans Sebastians Bahs tiešām ir komponējis ārkārtīgi daudz; viņa skaņdarbu katalogs (BWV) tiek vēl arvien ar jaunatradumiem papildināts, lai gan pats Bahs jau kopš 270 gadiem ir nolicis spalvu un vada debesu koŗus. Bet pārbaudot šo katalogu ar vairāk nekā 1000 skaņdarbiem, šķiet, ka apgalvojums, ka tikai maza daļiņa (“small fraction”) tiek regulāri atskaņota, liekas pilnīgi maldinošs. Viņa 224 Kantātes tiek pat regulāri visas ierakstītas. 48 Prelūdijas un fūgas ir daļa no katra pianista repertuāra; lielās Pasijas atskan katrās Lieldienās, tāpat citi liturģiskie skaņdarbi, kamermūzikas šedevri (Brandenburgas koncerti, svītas čellam utt. utt.)

Tie ir tikai daži piemēri no šīs grāmatas, bet viss tas norāda uz cilvēku, kuŗš vai nu nepārbauda faktus un apgalvojumus, vai arī uztur ļoti attālas attiecības ar faktoloģisku patiesību.

Kāpēc tad mēs atrodam, ka arhibīskaps Jānis viņa vārdu un domas ir citējis pat 2018.g. 18.novembŗa Latvijas Simtgades svinīgajā dievkalpojumā, veltot Pītersona vārdiem četras no savas svētrunas rindkopām? Tāpat arī 2020.g. jūnija intervijā ar Viju Beinerti izdevumam ‘Mājas Viesis’, arhibīskaps tieši vai netieši caurvij savu teikto ar Pītersona izteicieniem. Piemēram: Pītersons kādā intervijā 2018.g.  saka: “To me, ideology is corrupt; it’s a parasite on religious structures.” Bet arhibīskaps saka “Ideoloģija būtībā ir reliģijas parazīts.”  [Man šķiet, ka abos gadījumos tā ir kategoriju kļūda, jo reliģija ir viena ideoloģiju izpausme]. Tāpat arī arhibīskaps saka – “ kur dabas māte nemitīgi mēģina mūs nogalināt”, kas atkal ir tiešs citāts no Pītersona, no tiem pašiem 12 Baušļiem, 14.lpp, lai gan tas netiek atzīmēts kā tāds; arī nesaprotu, ko tas pēc būtības nozīmē. Vai tad dabas māte tiešām ir tāda persona, vēl pie tam tik ļauna, ka viņa gribētu cilvēci iznīcināt?

Acīmredzami Pītersona domām un nostādnēm ir pievilcība, lai gan, manuprāt, nopietnākā problēma ir ar Pītersona politiski filozofisko domu izpausmi par „postmoderno neomarksismu” vai „kultūrmarksismu”, kuru atbalsta ievērojams skaits konservatīvu polītiķu un baznīcas cilvēku. Doma tāda – pēc tam, ka pasaule atklāja patiesību par Staļinu un PSRS un citu komunistisko režīmu teroriem, slepkavībām un genocīdiem, intelektuāļiem ar kreisu politisko noslieci vairs nebija iespējams atklāti marksismu atbalstīt. Tad politisko marksismu atvietoja cita ideoloģija, ar mērķi ieviest lielāku cilvēku vienlīdzību, bet lietojot valsts varas orgānus un pat varmācību, lai to panāktu. Tas tad tiek dēvēts par postmoderno vai “kultūrmarksismu”. Problēma ir tāda, ka šai ideoloģijai nav neviena redzama pārstāvja, lai gan vēsturiskas saknes tai saredz, piemēram, t.s. Frankfurtes skolā; to nepasniedz nevienā politoloģijas fakultātē un nav arī ne grāmatu, ne rakstu, kas definētu šādu ideoloģiju – vienīgi no tiem, kas pretojas pašu konstruētajam postmodernam vai “kultūrmarksismam”, un tad arī paši to raksturo, kā vēlas.

Bet tad visam tam, kas konservatīviem cilvēkiem liekas pretīgs, var mierīgi piekarināt šo birku un sasaistīt kaut kādā neskaidri definētā ideoloģijā. Tā, piemēram, feminisms, t.s. politiskais korektums, vēlēšanās panākt taisnīgāku līdzekļu sadali,  vāji definētās „Rietumu vērtības”, atbalsts bēgļiem – viss, kas Pītersonam un viņa sekotājiem liekas nepatīkams vai nepareizs, tiek nosaukts par “kultūrmarksismu”, un līdz ar to kļūst apkarojams (jeb, no jau citētā Vijas Beinertes raksta, „Neomarksisma ideju sfēra nu jau aptvēra antropoloģiju, lingvistiku un reliģiju, kā arī feminismu un geju un lesbiešu studijas”.

(Starp citu, Beinertes pārmetums feministēm, ka tās par sieviešu tiesībām islāmā neinteresējas, arī ir nevietā. Sarunas par feminismu islāma kontekstā faktiski ir ļoti interesantas un dziļas, ar savu cenšanos savienot Korānu, tradīciju un pašnoteikšanos). Bet feminisma noliegšana ir nepieciešama vienai no Pītersona pamattēmām: visas šīs kultūrmarksisma izpausmes cīnās pretī dabiskajai pasaules iekārtai, kura ir hierarhiska un kurā lielākais un stiprākais (resp. vīrietis) vienmēr būs dabiskais vadītājs. Droši vien tāpēc arī Pītersona piekritēji lielākoties ir vīrieši (no YouTube sekotājiem it kā 80%). Jāsaka arī, ka 12 Likumi dzīvei nav pati sliktākā pašpalīdzības grāmata jauniem vīriešiem, ja ir runa par praktiskiem padomiem un pašapziņas celšanu.

Iespējams, ka termins ‘postmodernais neo- vai kultūrmarksisms’ izsauc īpašu rezonansi Latvijā, kur daudziem (pamatoti) vārds ‘marksisms’ nozīmē apspiestību, nebrīvi, netaisnību un bezdievību. Tai pašā garā ir  viegli  piedēvēt visādus mērķus un uzskatus postmodernistiem – kā, piemēram, minētajā arhibīskapa Vanaga intervijā teikts:  „No postmodernisma nāk noraidošā attieksme pret lielajiem vēstījumiem, īpaši pret kristietību. Dziesmu svētkus, “Dvēseļu puteni”, mīlestību starp vīrieti un sievieti, ģimeni un arī šo interviju tas dekonstruēs līdz tīrām varas attiecībām.”

Mājas lapā RenewaNation, kur tiek aprakstīts kulturālais marksisms no konservatīvo kristiešu viedokļa, atrodams šāds vispārinājums:  „One hundred years later, Gramsci’s and Marx’s goal of undermining the Christian worldview in the west is coming to fruition. Our Judeo-Christian foundations seem to be crumbling, and the anti-God, anti-family, and anti-capitalist views seem to be gaining ground.”

“Simts gadi ir pagājuši, un Gramši [itāļu 20.g.s. marksists] un Marksa mērķis – izjaukt kristiešu pasaules skatījumu Rietumos – sāk sasniegt piepildījumu. Mūsu judeokristīgie pamati šķietami sāk brukt, un uzskati, kas pretojas Dievam, ģimenei un kapitālismam aizvien gūst priekšroku.” 

Tātad Dievs un ģimene – labi, neviens negribēsim pretoties: bet tur piekabināt kapitālismu? Kopš kuŗa laika Dievs, ģimene un kapitālisms ir neatņemamas sastāvdaļas no kristiešu pasaules skatījuma?

Cilvēku tiesības (un to līdzsvarojums, cilvēku pienākumi) ir pamatotas ticības uzstādījumos – pareizāk sakot, tās ir pamatotas Bībeles senajās un mūžīgajās vērtībās. Ir tikai mazliet jāpalasa ANO Vispārējo cilvēktiesību deklarāciju, lai to saprastu.  Bet man gribētos teikt, ka šīs vērtības nav tik daudz tikumīgums, morāles lasīšana vai likumi, kuri regulē cilvēces uzvedību, bet drīzāk taisnīgums, taisnība, taisnošana (צדק, מִשְׁפָּט, δικαιοσύνη – tzedek (taisnīgums), mišpat (taisnība) un dikaiosinē – tas pats grieķu valodā), kā arī mīlestība un žēlsirdība. Šie vārdi Bībelē – gan Jaunajā, gan Vecajā Derībā, atskan atkal un atkal. Mēs esam aicināti būt taisnīgi, bet ne paštaisni; mēs esam aicināti ņemt savu krustu, uzupurēt paši sevis, bet cīnīties par mūsu līdzcilvēku taisnību un taisnīgumu.

Feminisms, atbalstot sieviešu tiesības tāpēc, ka starp dzimumiem ir jāpastāv vienlīdzībai, ir daļa no šīs cīņas par taisnīgumu, par cilvēku tiesībām; jo arī mēs esam radītas pēc Dieva tēla un līdzības, un sieviešu nonicināšana vai diskriminācija ir tiešā pretrunā ar Bībeles kodolu – evaņģēlija vēsti.

Un tieši šīs vērtības – taisnīgums, mīlestība, žēlastība, kuras izklāstītas, piemēram, Jēzus Kalna sprediķī  (Mateja evaņģēlija  5., 6. un 7. nodaļas), ir mūsu dzīves un ticības pamati.

Father Prime: January 2017

Tur mēs atradīsim to, ka svētīgi vai laimīgi  ir lēnprātīgie, nevis stiprie ‘alfa vīrieši’, kā pauž Pītersons. Laimīgi garā nabagie, jo viņiem pieder Debesu valstība.   Un vēl vairāk: Lūkas evaņģēlija  6. nodaļā Jēzus saka:  „Bet vai! jums bagātajiem, kas savu iepriecinājumu jau esat saņēmuši! Vai! jums, kas tagad paēduši, jo jūs salksiet! Vai! jums, kas tagad smejaties, jo jūs sērosiet un raudāsiet! Vai! jums, kad visi cilvēki par jums teic labu; tāpat viņu tēvi darīja viltus praviešiem!”  Šīs ir kristīgās vērtības, un, manuprāt,  tās nav savienojamas ar Pītersona pasaules skatījumu; ir gŗūti saprast, kāpēc kristieši ar viņa domām aizraujas.

Šo visu rakstu kā Jezus Kristus sekotāja, kuŗa cenšas saprast Kristus vēsts būtību, un savienot to ar pasaules redzējumu, kas ir liberāls un iekļaujošs. Kristietība nav vienveidīga; un Bībeles teksti mums ir doti, lai mēs tajos iedziļinātos un censtos saklausīt Dieva balsi sev un savai pasaulei. Lai nu Dieva gars stāv mums ikvienam klāt un palīdz!

Jēzus pie Marijas un Martas (Tintoretto, 16.g.s.)

Ezekiel 36.26 – about hearts of stone and flesh.

View image on Twitter

Australia is burning. Our news sites and TVs are full of images described as apocalytic, extreme, horrifying and every other desperate descriptor. These images are from The Guardian on New Year’s Eve.  They were taken at two small, ordinary towns, Batemans Bay and Mallacoota, with people fleeing in terror from approaching flames.

View image on Twitter

These scenes, and the knowledge that friends and relatives are inhaling hazardous air, worried about their homes and their lives, has rather put the little anxieties of post-Christmas (when shall we take the tree down? how will I lose the extra kilo or 6? how did I manage to forget my greatniece’s present twice?) into perspective. At the same time, I have been involved in a typical Facebook wrangle about climate change, all elliptical argument and missed points.  So this seemed like a good time to undertake a bit more reflection on this gravely important theme.

This report, The Truth Behind the Climate Pledges ,is rather a long read, but worth every minute. Authored by 5 eminent scientists – climatologists, oceanologists who are government and UN advisors – it analyses the pledges made under the Paris Agreement and their potential impact on the world. Amongst other things, it says this:

“As long as global emissions are not rapidly reduced, global warming will continue to accelerate.This means that we could be living in 1.5 degrees C world as early as the 2030s. As a result, weather events and patterns will continue to change, and will adversely affect human health, livelihoods, food, water, biodiversity and economic growth.

Weather events are the result of natural factors. A warming climate has altered the intensity and frequency of heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and severe storms (or heavy precipitation) and hurricanes –both of which lead to flooding. Once-a-century severe weather events are now becoming the new norm.

These weather events influenced by human-induced climate change are becoming more frequent and intense. They are also becoming more costly. Economic losses and damages from 690 weather events were $330 billion dollars globally in 2017. These figures have almost doubled in number and in losses compared to 2005, when 347 weather events caused $274 billion dollars in economic losses worldwide –almost half of the economic losses were caused by Hurricane Katrina in the United States.

Because global warming is accelerating, the number and economic losses from weather events are projected to at least double again by 2030. That comes to $660 billion dollars a year or almost $2 billion a day within the next decade.

The world cannot afford these costs on lives, livelihoods and economic growth. This massive price tag is part of the cost of inaction.”

That is the economic argument. But for us Christians, and indeed for all people of faith, there is a more important imperative. Clearly and evocatively articulated in ‘Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’ encyclical from 2015, the need is to understand that our despoiling of creation is not just an act of selfish economic vandalism, but also a sin. This is just a short extract from rather an excellent document.

“8. [Ecumenical] Patriarch Bartholomew has spoken in particular of the need for each of us to repent of the ways we have harmed the planet, for “inasmuch as we all generate small ecological damage”, we are called to acknowledge “our contribution, smaller or greater, to the disfigurement and destruction of creation”. He has repeatedly stated this firmly and persuasively, challenging us to acknowledge our sins against creation:

“For human beings… to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life – these are sins”.For “to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God”.”

As people of faith, it is absolutely incumbent on us to be good stewards of creation. As people of reason, able to think critically, it is equally incumbent on us to listen to voices of reason and expertise, and not to value our own opinion above research and knowledge. As people of goodwill, we have to try to see that this is an existential crisis which demands cooperation across boundaries – barriers of race, nationality and religion; and that it is the rich countries of the world that bear most responsibility. It is our responsibility, indeed our fault to a large extent,  retrospectively, in that we have created much of the problem by our compulsive over-consumption and greed; and it is our responsibility now, in that we have the resources of finance and research capacity to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!

Perhaps the appalling nature of what we see today in the beauty of Australia, alongside our own, lesser, changes (no winter yet in Latvia….) will finally, in this year of 2020, give us 20/20 vision and total clarity about the absolute imperative to really tackle this. Now, obviously, as most of us are not MPs, presidents, CEOs, or even Greta Thunberg, we are not going to be able to change the socioeconomic environment we live in. Clearly. But on the other hand, each of us can still be involved – campaigns, letter-writing, political pressure, Extinction Rebellion or whatever each of us chooses.

Concerned: Mothers have gathered outside the Conservative Party headquarters to protest

Those of us less able to be active, can perhaps donate to those who can be involved. And each of us can do small things, which in and of themselves will not save the planet, but which at least will lessen the harm. Zero Waste, buying fewer clothes, travelling less by air – consuming less, in general, for the affluent parts of the world would do much good for creation, and, indeed, for our own souls. And for those of us with a faith – prayer, proclamation, study – a gentler, simpler lifestyle. If nothing else, that will help to relieve our own climate anxiety, for while righteous anger is good and empowering, gnawing anxiety is bad and depletes our energy.

So here’s a profoundly beautiful prayer by Rabbi Daniel Nevins to conclude.

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Eternal God, You created the heavens and earth in love.

You fashioned plants and animals,

breathing Your spirit into humanity.

We have sinned against You by throwing off all restraint,

and we have sinned against You by rashly judging others.

We have sinned against You by plotting against others,

and we have sinned against You through selfishness.

We have sinned against You through superficiality,

and we have sinned against You through stubbornness.

We have sinned against You by rushing to do evil,

and we have sinned against You through gossip.

We have sinned against You through empty promises,

and we have sinned against You through baseless hatred.

We have sinned against You by betraying trust,

and we have sinned against You by succumbing to confusion.

For all these sins, forgiving God, forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement.

We were created amidst a clean and pure world,

but it is now degraded in our grasp.

Not on our own merits do we beseech You, Adonai our God,

for we have sinned, we have wasted,

we have caused vast damage:

For the sin of filling the sea and land with filth and garbage;

for the sin of destroying species that You saved from the flood;

and for the sin of laying bare the forests and habitats that sustain life.

Please, God, open our eyes that we might see the splendor of Your creation.

Then we shall praise You, as it is written: “How great are Your works, Adonai! You have made them all with wisdom; the earth is filled with Your creations” (Psalm 104:24).

Remove the heart of stone from our flesh, and give us a feeling heart. Grant us wisdom and determination to safeguard the earth beneath the heavens.

Amen.

Two Cummingses, Gilead and Johnson

Two Cummingses, Gilead and Johnson

A couple of weeks back I made a mistake one Friday evening. It had been a long week, long hours and various stressful events, mostly to do with the church ceiling repair. It seemed like an evening to just chill, so I ended up binge watching series 2 of The Handmaid’s Tale, which is available on Shortcut, Latvia’s version of iPlayer and Netflix combined.

And it was a mistake, alright. For those not familiar with this series, based on Margaret Atwood’s vision of a dystopian future (or present?) in the USA, tells the horrific story of the founding of a republic named Gilead in the northeastern states of the US. The flashbacks give us glimpses of how this starts, with increasingly conservative politicians working together with fundamentally oriented Christians to establish a theocratic system. Due to some unspecified catastrophe involving nuclear waste, the population has become infertile, and women of childbearing age become the eponymous Handmaids, subdued by violence and manipulation to become vessels for childbirth. If you haven’t yet read the original novel, do.

Why was this binge on a cool Friday night a mistake? Mostly because the second series begins

…..Begins with a long sequence filmed at the Boston Globe, deserted, abandoned; and then the discovery of a wall where the journalists have been shot. Of course this evokes a reaction because it resonates with the current US President’s frequent denunciations of the Press as ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE. Because what happens to the ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE? They are exterminated, and not in a basically cosy, Dr Who Daleky kind of way. That is extrapolation, of course it is. But Handmaid’s Tale shows us that sometimes the descent into totalitarianism, just like the pathway to Hell, is paved with the very best of intentions, and it happens slowly, imperceptibly, when at each step we think that none of this is really so bad, when we become habituated to small acts of hatred, to increments of intolerance and oppression.

That’s why Donald Trump’s nastiness towards Elijah Cummings matters. It does.

Quite apart from the sheer indignity of the President(!) of the USA (!) using such intemperate language on Twitter (!) towards someone who is, basically, just a political opponent, this is dog whistle racism. And that is NOT OK. Can you imagine FDR, Ronald Reagan or either of the Bushes doing this? Let alone statesmen or women from other countries, like Adenauer, Churchill, Gandhi, Merkel, or the rising new star of world politics, Jacinta Arden? (Names picked rather randomly, by the way).

And now in the UK there is Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson (sic). Prime Minister, serial adulterer and proven liar, with his own ‘Cummings’, the rather less savoury Dominic.

Here’s a quote from The Independent:

Fletcher, the former Times editor, has compiled a list of Johnson’s greatest hits from Brussels: Johnson wrote that the EU wanted to standardise coffins, the smell of manure and the size of condoms – and had rejected an Italian request to make undersized rubbers. He warned Brits that their prawn-cocktail-flavoured chips could be banned, that their sausages were under threat and that their fishermen would be required to wear hairnets.

And all of those were lies. But does any of this matter? Yes, it does, too. Bishop Berkeley wrote in 1750

It is impossible that a man who is false to his friends and neighbours should be true to the public.

That is still true today, even if some commentators are trying to divorce public from private morality. And thereby hangs the problem. Morality has become something of a dirty word in our postpostmodern world. We have a diversity of moral frameworks, based on a potpourri of religions, and, indeed, for many people morality has become something entirely private, a sliding, slippery, ephemeral concept, where moral relativism, albeit unnamed, is the order of the day. Reality TV shows us adultery and luuurve in all its shapes and sizes, making popular drama out of real pain and betrayal. Love Island apparently thought this was a cute quote

After getting a drama-filled text the night before telling all the Islanders to nominate a fellow couple to be dumped, Amber told the Beach Hut: “In here you can be at your highest high, and you think that nothing could possibly ruin this, and then a text comes in.”

Our bankers and politicians lie without compunction, and without consequences. Greed has become praiseworthy, and stealing or corruption the norm for many. In addition, social media have become a breeding ground for contempt and unkindness.

The old standards of morality, often observed in the breach though they were, were a rule by which to measure ourselves, first and most importantly, and others only in a secondary way. So I can even see the temptation to believe that a benevolent theocracy, guided, say, by the Sermon on the Mount, might drag us out of the cesspit. But that way lies Gilead, Law not Gospel, and more intolerance, even if accompanied by a greeting of

Blessed day!

But what we should do, as people of faith and people of goodwill, is to uphold those standards in any case. If we were, seriously, to take the 10 Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount as reasonable guidelines for living well, we would save ourselves and those around us from much misery. As the Church of England website says,

The Ten Commandments set out fundamental principles of how we are to treat God and how we are to treat our fellow human beings. 

For lack of a better or more functional vademecum, most Western legal systems, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and many other fundamental documents find their basic principles precisely here. I suspect also that a necessary concern for the environment and overcoming the existential challenge of global climate change would be aided by a deeper understanding of these two profoundly wise writings.

And we have do the right – no, the obligation! – to hold Presidents, Prime Ministers, politicians and leaders to a standard of morality, without which we find ourselves in an environment where lies are  as good as truth, dishonesty as honesty, where kindness is seen as weakness, and a world where racism, sexism and all the other isms are set free to skitter around, wounding and killing as they go.

QED, I guess.