Sunday, September 28, 2008

Reaching out to a community, dealing to introspection (and PS re Iran)

The last few days have been an interesting kaleidoscope of events and speech acts in the life of our Diocese.

On Saturday 27th September 1858 Queen Victoria signed the Letters Patent which authorised Edmund Hobhouse to be the first Bishop of Nelson, with his Cathedral in Nelson town, and thus Nelson simultaneously was declared to be a City (even though its population was just 5000 people)! So our annual Synod held a few days ago anticipated yesterday's 150th anniversary celebrations; and yesterday's celebrations highlighted some of our deliberations at the Synod.

The celebrations themselves included a street party at the footsteps to our cathedral, replete with band, drama, giant birthday cake and 150 candles held by 150 children; all followed by a superb service in a packed cathedral. After that some representatives of the Diocese, City Council, and local iwi (Maori tribes) socialised together.

The celebrations highlighted the engagement of the church in the life of the community and reminded the church of the value community leaders place on that engagement. It was a day for appreciating the power of the church when it faces outwards and reaches out from its internal life to touch the lives of people who may or may not share faith in Christ. But that same appreciation highlighted for me the need for the church to offer points of access to its life.

Locked doors to a church prevent people from physically entering. But even when the doors are open people can be prevented from engagement with the church: when our worshipping life is introspective (meaning focused on me, me and God, and what God does for me) it’s hard for the irregular, inactive believer, let alone the searching agnostic to make comfortable connections. Harder still, of course, if the ‘introspectiveness’ of our worshipping life is represented in behaviour which is odd in the world’s eyes (clue: take a look around at church during a ‘worship time’, observe the way others act, and ask the question, ‘what would an outsider make of this?’). But our introspectiveness as this time is not confined to how we worship.

Our Synod a few days beforehand, which was wonderful in atmosphere, lit up by a brilliant Charge from our bishop, produced a series of motions which were wholly concerned with our life as a diocese (including some “financial problems”) or the life (i.e. “crisis”) of the Anglican Communion. These days we do not have motions about “public issues” – motions which would still get a pretty good hearing in our local papers. In short: we are introspective in what consumes our time together. There are internal problems and difficulties we need to debate. But is there an “and” here where we also make the effort to debate external situations in the world? (I am, by the way, speaking just as much to myself as to any other member of our Synod; as to the members of other Synods, since we all seem to be afflicted by ‘introspection’, or so I am reliably informed)

There is much more to be said about introspection in the life of the church in general, as well as in the life of our Diocese in particular, but in the midst of the gratitude and sheer joy of the last few days, I have a new resolve to wage war on introspection in the church!

PS Just a quiet reminder about the importance of keeping our eyes and ears open to the reality of the external world outside the church courtesy The Australian:

"But the report provides overwhelming evidence for pessimism.

For a start, it states quite plainly that no approach can work on Iran that is not much, much tougher on the economic sanctions front, so that the cost to Iran of continuing to pursue nuclear weapons becomes too great, while the incentives of normalisation would become correspondingly more attractive to Tehran. But the report makes it clear that tougher sanctions cannot possibly work without the full co-operation and enthusiastic implementation by not only the US but the European Union, Russia, China and the other Persian Gulf states.

In what is a spectacular understatement, the report drily notes that recent events in Georgia may make Russian co-operation more difficult to achieve.

In our discussion, Rubin told me he thought the Russians might feel themselves to be in a win-win situation.

If they continue to sell the Iranians nuclear technology, they make a lot of money and frustrate the Americans. If the US or Israel ultimately strikes at Iran's nuclear facilities, it will do two things that will please Russia. It will cause great international discomfort for the US, thus lessening any US pressure on Russia over human rights, its treatment of Georgia or other such issues. And it will drive up energy prices when Russia is a huge exporter of energy, thus making Russia evenricher.

Long-term, enlightened self-interest would see the Russians recognise the dangers they too would ultimately face from a nuclear-armed Iran, but so far that long-term, enlightened self-interest has been notably lacking in the Russian governing class."

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