Friday 1 August 2008

Love bombed by a Lord Bishop

I spent some time this morning being buttonholed by enthusiastic people trying to push copies of Michael Nazir-Ali’s latest book at me. The first time round I tactfully declined, already having a large bag of promotional materials. The second time, I explained I really didn’t want one, given the way in which +Michael’s words have been twisted in and by the media to make him a less than helpful voice on the ground in many of my Muslim majority areas. I also explained how much I would have preferred his voice in person than in print. The third time round, I was in a hurry, did the Anglican thing, and caved in. I’ll look forward to reading and perhaps even reviewing his book here, sometime after this conference.

Someone at lunch said of it “Remaindered — already?” “No, no,” I said. “Very odd, then,” said my companion. “How extraordinary to sit twenty miles up the road, refusing to talk with the rest of us, but choosing instead to address us in print.” I understood, of course. I tried to explain that Love has many languages, and remote control bombing people with paperbacks from twenty miles away is just one of them.

Our conversation petered off the subject of +Michael, and into tales we all had of teenage children who had gone off in a sulk and could only be brought back into the family, sometimes after many years, by remaining open to them, whilst refusing to be carried away into angry responses by their childishness, lest any of us say things we would later regret.

On to the Sexuality hearings — the lowest attended of any so far, by a fair old way... and at the microphone as I speak, it’s 11 UK, North American bishops and 2 from the rest of the world. If it doesn’t rain I may go off for a run...


Anonymous said...

RE: "Our conversation petered off the subject of +Michael, and into tales we all had of teenage children who had gone off in a sulk and could only be brought back into the family, sometimes after many years, by remaining open to them, whilst refusing to be carried away into angry responses by their childishness, lest any of us say things we would later regret."

Heh. Careful there. ; > )

You've betrayed how angry you yourself are, or you wouldn't say the spiteful, snide things you've said above.

I'm betting you haven't said anything you'll "later regret", of course -- you haven't appeared to have a problem with "regret" over things you've said on this blog lately -- but you've certainly been carried away "into angry responses" which is clear to anyone reading.

Why so angry, Bishop Alan?

Why so angry that some folks have decided they don't want to come to a nice summer camp of crafts and sharing, while at the same time sharing Eucharist with the people who don't share the same gospel that they do?

I understand *you* don't believe that about some of the bishops at the Lambeth Conference. But these folks who haven't come to Lambeth *do* believe that.

And what I want to know is . . . why are you so bitter and angry over their simply following their conscience, to the extent that your anger bubbles over into comparing their behavior to that of children?

Sad behavior, sad rhetoric on your part.


Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Sarah, thank you for your comment. I and the many bishops I have spoken to here today who feel as I do are not being snide or spiteful, just openly expressing our feelings, which we have every right to do. Since you ask, I feel frustrated and angry, quite honestly, about three aspects of this:

(1) the family dynamics. When people lock themselves into places and refuse to engage, that is challenging behaviour in any family. I cannot imagine anything that has happened here that would offend anyone's conscience.

(2) As someone who has big work with my colleagues in some parts of my area to understand and control Muslim religious extremism, +Michael's use by the media has not blessed us at all. I don't think there's any intentionality about it; just a mainly heedless morphing of experiences from the subcontinent into UK realities in a way that is utterly pernicious and destructive.

(3) You weren't here, I recognise, but the conversation with six bishops from four continents went exactly as I said. At the very least it has to be said people are rather obscure as to the logic of the stance the Bishop has taken. I was also asked whether he was a very ambitious man, and I had to say I do not know him well enough to comment and have no knowledge that would enable me to say.

Broadly, I think your utter scepticism about the value of what we have been doing together here is disappointing. OK all we've done is study the scriptures intensively together for a few hours every day, and worship, and talk through our differences and shared calling together and try to discern God's will. What would you exect Bishops to do when they get together? Have a Tammany Hall meeting? As a particpant I leave here with an acute sense of the value of the Scriptures and of our Common Life. I am sad that there are brothers who didn't feel able to join us. Some say that for some of them this was because of intimidation, and that is particularly sad, along with some of the big political manipulation going on from the outfield. The voices of absent brothers would have been valued exactly the same as everybody else's. I very much hope the day will come when they are allowed to particpate. The global South bishop with whom I was talking at dinner tonight was juch more straightforward. I asked how any comminque could represent the voices of those not here, and he simply said, it is their choice to boycott the event. If you had a church council and three members didn't come, you couldn't hold off all decisions. That is a sad, sad situation.

Anonymous said...

Sarah seems mighty snide and snippy and spiteful herself.

But then, it's apparently OK for the "orthodox" to attack people, because they are being hateful for Jesus!

I think you are quite right to think that people who would not attend the conference don't need to be promoting their books there.

I would say the same about Orombi's nasty remarks about Rowan Williams: if he can't come to the conference and say his piece publicly, then he should keep his hateful mouth shut.

Anonymous said...

Bishop Alan,

I normally appreciate your comments, but I do think that comparing those who didn't attend to sulky teenagers is unnecessarily provocative. The implication of the analogy is that they are both irrational and immature, as well as unconstructive.

If you used a similar analogy of an adult family member who decides that they must cut themselves off/retreat from their relatives, you can start to imagine situations where that might seem a possible, though desperate, choice. If you frame it like that you might (though it's difficult) at least be able to see some ways forward. If you frame the boycotters as moody adolescents, however, you've already mentally decided that they should just be told to get over it and that their concerns cannot be taken seriously by an adult.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

This is a complex and uncomfortable matter, and I'm extrenely grateful for your comments, and Sarah's to help unpack it.

I think her question is absolutely fair — why so angry? I've tried to answer it honestly. I'm disturbed, however, that my table of friends at lunch and I are, of course subject to group dynamics here. The fact is we have evolved into a warm community of which we are proud to be a part. In the hour of death and the day of judgment, we will have to admit to feeling our community has been affronted by those who have stayed away. Having gotten to places where completely incompatible people (on the face of it) have come to understand and respect each other deeply, we feel similar things could have happened, to our mutual benefit,"cum fratribus absentibus." Because they stayed away, it couldn't be, and we all leave carrying the burden this imposes on us. I don't know the complete reliability of press stories about the pressure some some were under to stay away. I don't blame them, however. I think there is an unfixed responsibility floating in the air, which could lead to scapegoating, and if this is happening I'd want to admit it.

I'd like to reflect a bit with my spiritual director on why so angry. It's a fair question. Comparisons with family situations were made four times to me by different people during the course of today, including at lunch. Those who are not highly politicised just cannot imagine why others stayed away. All may be explained one day, and it would help if it were.

Whilst I feel I did tell it like it is, I'm disturbed, and would like to take time for further reflection and discernment, with apologies for any malign influence there could be in what I reported...

Erika Baker said...


I don't know why Bishop Alan is angry, but I know why I am.

I've been following this blog with bated breath and trepidation all through Lambeth. I had never heard of Bishop Alan before but I have discovered a man who is truly humble, engaged in a very complex and demanding listening process that calls on everyone to step outside their comfort zone, to listen carefully, to learn from each other and to learn to respect each other. These things are always easily called for but are, in practice, so hard to give! And through this blog I've discovered a Lambeth full of real people, complex personalities not political cardboard cut outs.

Discovering Bishop Alan's amazing capacity for self criticism, for true humility and for genuine conversation (he even engaged with us on this blog during Lambeth, and engaged genuinely and without soundbites!), I hope I have started to be a little more humble myself, although I am one of those for whom there is a lot at stake.

Through this blog I've been pulled from being a fairly single minded "activist" to someone who is beginning to understand the value of the Communion and its complexity, and who is beginning to see why compromise may be necessary for now. This has been a nail biting process, heart stopping at times, full of small shoots of increasing awareness and growth.

For others to stay away from Lambeth for reasons of conscience, as Sarah states, is acceptable but very sad.

But for others to then publish timely books and try to sell them to those attending is appalling. It’s devaluing the whole complex and demanding process of Lambeth, it’s devaluing all the hard work and the many signs of people growing beyond themselves, it’s saying that all that doesn’t matter one little bit, because the absent person alone is right, the absent person alone does not need to learn anything new. But instead of just remaining outside the proceedings, the absent person insists on being heard, without paying the price of having to listen. He’s refusing to talk WITH the others but claims to right to talk AT them.

That I find insulting, dismissive of everything that happened at Lambeth, and indeed more suited to teenagers, most certainly immature and unconstructive.
His concerns can and must be taken seriously by adults (indeed, many at Lambeth have shared those concerns and have dealt with them by engaging with the others), his way of raising those concerns cannot.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks, Erika for another perspective on this. It does ring a few bells in me. But I have to say I was angry, but now I'm feeling better. I tried to let go of my displeasure, and it basically worked. What a silly man, though, to miss this for a bit of politics!

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