Why we shouldn’t ban the Orange Order from Glasgow’s streets

When I moved back to Glasgow about eight years ago, one of the first things that I remember hearing from my flat was a sound that was both familiar and horrible at the same time. It was the sound of the fifes and drums of the Orange Order as they paraded through the streets. I had forgotten that this was still a reality on the streets of this city and rather shocked to hear it from my window.

Now few people sing Glasgow’s praises more loudly than I do but the regular Orange Walks are one of the things that I like least about this place.

For those from out of town, the Orange Walks are perceived by many to be sectarian demonstrations – on the one hand they affirm a certain protestant identity – one that I wouldn’t want to affirm for myself. On the other hand they are perceived by very many as being anti-Roman Catholic events which stir up trouble. This last weekend was one of the bigger parades and a young girl was injured by someone throwing a glass bottle. It is often said that it isn’t those parading themselves who cause the trouble – they are fairly well-disciplined – more those who follow the marches as supporters.

Many members of my own congregation were in the centre of the city last Saturday doing a history walk and a number of them said afterwards that they had never experienced anything like it. They felt frightened and appalled by what they saw. (They meant the Orange Walk, not Roger’s history walk….)

As sometimes happens at this time of the year, there is now a petition going around suggesting that the council should ban the Orange Walks in future. It is a fairly easy argument – the majority of the city’s citizens are fed up to the back teeth of this and neither want the city to be known for it nor do they want to pay to police it, therefore it should be banned.

Notwithstanding my own dislike of the Walks themselves, I find myself unable to sign a petition calling for them to be banned.

I think the reality of the Orange Walks is grim and unwelcome in the streets in which I live. I happen also to think that taking away freedom of assembly to silence those with whom we disagree is worse.

In a couple of week’s time, I will be taking to the streets in glad array to join Pride Glasgow’s march through the centre of the city affirming all that is good about LGBT people. There are, undoubtedly, those who would rather that parade did not take place. No doubt there are fewer people who want to stop such marches than there used to be but there are significant numbers of people who would rather not see me in a dog-collar larking around under a rainbow umbrella making it plain to all who encounter me that I want the good news that God loves everyone to be blatantly paraded in people’s faces.

Should that march not be allowed because others don’t want it to happen?

I can’t say that I think it should be banned on that basis. If I want the right to march in the face of opposition, I’ve no choice but to stand up for the rights of other people to do the same.

The truth is, people have the right to express views that others find noxious. Putting them on the streets where they can be held up to ridicule by others who equally have the right to express their opinions may ultimately be part of the way to deal with them.

In my view it is all too easy to sign a petition against something these days without thinking about one’s own personal involvement in the problem.

The root problem that makes the Orange Walks feel so horrible is the reality that we all know in Glasgow – that some people are deeply prejudiced against others because of their religion. And there are personal responsibilities that ought to weigh heavily upon those of us in this city who are religious whenever we hear the beating of those drums.

When I came back to Glasgow and heard the marches, my first instinct was to go that evening to a local Roman Catholic mass. Something told me I needed to attend, show solidarity, simply be there as a witness to something different from what was happening in the streets.

I regret the fact that I’ve not invited others to do the same during the Walking season since. When we hear that noise it should prompt us to respond.

Even thinking about it today, I was reminded me of an outstanding ecumenical meeting with a Roman Catholic fellow priest in the city that I’ll follow up and make sure happens.

There are other things that we should be much more organised about doing in the churches too.

  • I prayed about the streets of the city on Sunday in our worship and I think a bit more public prayer and preaching against sectarianism wouldn’t go amiss.
  • Individuals need sometimes to take risks and say surprising things to challenge the presumptions of a deeply engrained sectarian reality in this part of the world.
  • There is a role for dioceses, presbyteries and other such bodies in providing appropriate anti-sectarian material for Christians to use during the marching season.
  • If the ecumenical movement stands a chance of survival then difficult topics have to be faced within it. This should be urgent business for local and national ecumenical bodies which are in grave danger right now of becoming utterly irrelevant. The banality of much of what passes for local ecumenism is thankfully dying out as those promoting it get older. If there is to be anything in its place afterwards then tough topics need to be tackled by people in the churches who are decision makers. We need to remember that an ecumenism that doesn’t deal with sectarianism contributes to it.

Outside the life of the churches there is also much to do.

  • Education authorities need to keep under constant review the question whether there is more that should be done in schools to directly tackle sectarianism.
  • Public figures need support in making anti-sectarian statements and rather than what amounts to a news blackout, there needs to be much more of an effort to get anti-sectarian voices heard in the media. We need to make it deeply uncool to march in or support those parades.
  • How these events are managed and policed needs constant review.

Those drums are supposed to prompt us to action.

We should make sure that they do.

Banning marches is far too easy and ultimately too dangerous.

People need to be free to hold and express views that I think are obnoxious.

When we hear those drums we should be prompted to do far more than sign a petition calling for them to be banned.



Where to get started with the Bible

Reading the Bible isn’t optional for Christians – it is part of what makes us who we are. However, there’s no doubt that some people find it daunting and don’t know where to start.

Personally, I wouldn’t recommend starting at the beginning and working through to the end. It starts OK with some interesting and apparently familiar stories about creation and a load of stories about Abraham but soon veers off into purity codes and punishments and what can seem like interminable records of who gave birth to whom.

Better to begin somewhere else.

Start with one of the Gospels

I’d suggest starting with one of the gospel books – that means one of the following books – Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.

(By the way, I recommend the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible. Get one of the ones with the Apocrypha and look for one with British rather than American spellings if that matters to you).

You’ve got the idea that the Bible is really a library of books written by different people at different times and in different places, right? Well the gospels are four different accounts of the life of Jesus told by different writers for different audiences. If you look carefully you’ll see that there are what appear to  be discrepancies between them but essentially they all clearly tell you about the life and death of a man who told stories, healed people and befriended an unlikely crew before being killed in Jerusalem. These books were all written after Jesus’s death and crucially after those who knew him best spread the story that death had not been the end of Jesus but that in some way they were still encountering him in a way which changed the world.

If you want a short one to start with I’d suggest Mark – just 16 rushing chapters where we find Jesus portrayed as a healing holy man. Note how the action flows from the desert to the city. Note also that there’s nothing much about Jesus’s birth in this one. It is all about his life and teaching. If you want to find the Christmas stories you need to look in Matthew’s gospel for the story of the Magi (aka the Wise Men) from the East or in Luke’s gospel for most of the stuff about Mary, Joseph and Bethlehem. Matthew was trying to relate Jesus’s life to a community who were working out the relationship between their Jewishness and the rest of the world which is perhaps why he presents the Magi coming from outside the holy land to worship at the crib. Luke, traditionally thought of as a doctor has more about Jesus’s relationships with women and the amazing song of Mary that teaches us that spirituality and justice are inherrently bound together.

John’s gospel, meanwhile was written after the others and the big theme is to try to explain what it all means rather than simply to tell a story. Symbols are hugely significant to John and whoever wrote it (no, we don’t really know) plays around with time in order to make his point.

All human life is found in the Psalms

After reading one of the gospels, I’d suggest that someone heads over into the Psalms and starts to dip in and out. All human life is there. These are spiritual songs which form a collection of spiritual writing which goes from anger to joy, from despair to compassion. Most people already know Psalm 23 because of the comfort that it has brought through many centuries to those being bereaved. But check out Psalm 121 for inspiration, Psalm 139 for a meditation on what it means to be human and the final psalms at the end of the book for fabulous images of praise and worship.

People still read the psalms as a bedrock for prayer and they form the core of Daily Prayer in just about any Christian tradition. We sing them every week on a Sunday at St Mary’s and recite them every other day at Morning Prayer.

Maybe now it is time for Genesis and a bit of Job

Remember the first book of the Bible that we glossed over at the beginning  – well maybe it is time to give it a go now. Start with the creation stories at the beginning and remind yourself that there’s two quite different accounts in the first two chapters. They are obviously not worth reading if you think that they are either a replacement for a scientific understanding of the world and nor if you think they are irrelevant now we have a scientific understanding of the world. They are a good deal more subtle than that – they are attempts to prompt reflection about the way humans experience the world. It is the big – “what are we doing here?” question turned into stories and pictures. These texts still provoke a response even now.

Whilst we are on the “What are we doing here?” question, you might like to take a leap into the book of Job – a story of someone who is trying to work out precisely that. He does what he thinks is right in the world and ends up leading a miserable life. A bunch of friends come along who say, “well, that sucks, God’s been horrible to you” and from somewhere inside himself, Job seems to conclude that this is just the way it is and that God is to be blessed and praised anyway. It is a good one for psychologists (amateur or otherwise) is Job.

Back in Genesis, you’ll find the sagas of Abraham and of Joseph taking up a good deal of the space. Worth a go, not least as they start to establish the theme that God blesses unlikely people. (Abraham sells off his wife to save his own skin not once but twice and you already know the story and the songs from the Joseph stuff from a certain musical).

A bit of prophecy now – Isaiah but start in the middle

Take a leap into the prophets now by reading a few chapters from the book of Isaiah. But don’t start at the beginning, start at chapter 40. Isaiah was written by at least two people at different times. Pick it up in the middle where there’s this soaring and wonderful prose which will again sound familiar but this time it is Handel who is giving you the tunes to hum over as you read rather than Andrew Lloyd Webber – we are in Messiah territory here.

Read some tricky stuff

Oh, don’t neglect the tricky stuff. You know fine well that this was written a long time ago and that our culture and society has moved on now, right? Well, it is still worth reading about Sodom and Gomorrah and that pesky verse in Leviticus 18 about men not lying with men and having a think about the sexual morality of godly people has changed and is still changing. Nowadays, we tend to think of the Sodom stuff as being about the crime of being inhospitable rather than an injunction against faithful, stable gay lives. Similarly, you want to read a few verses either side of the Leviticus verse and you’ll find that eating shellfish is condemned with as much ferocity as gay sex. The day an evangelical church launches a campaign against prawn cocktails is a day to take them more seriously in wanting to limit the human rights of gay people today.

Don’t miss the stuff about women and men either. We’ve already encountered some of it in the second chapter of Genesis but you want to take a look at St Paul’s stuff about women being quiet in church (1 Corinthians 14) and keeping their heads covered (1 Corinthians 11). Again, we have to see this in its historical context and murmur to ourselves that even in its historical context it was wrong, it kept women silenced and recognise that not everything in religion is good.

But don’t miss the best bits of Paul

Oh heavens, right in the middle of all that stuff about women you get one of the best bits of St Paul’s writings – 1 Corinthians 13. It is such a fabulous celebration of love that it still gets read frequently (and often very badly) at weddings.

Love is patient and love is kind, but if you want something a bit erotic you need to dip back into the Hebrew scriptures and read the sexy Song of Songs.

And end up with Revelation

The last book of the Bible is the Revelation of St John. It is a wacky read at first sight. You’ll find yourself asking “what was he on?” Is this drug induced writing or something that comes from a mystical state. Whatever it is, you find, amidst some rather gory stuff which is probably an allegory of how people thought the world was ending at the time it was written, some glorious images of what heaven is like – fabulous food, music and sex are the basic images of heaven that run through a lot of biblical thinking.

Then start reading it systematically

Once you’ve got a basic idea of what’s in it, reading a few short passages a day is a good idea.

Any member of the clergy in any church in any part of the world is delighted when someone asks for suggestions on how to read the Bible. Go on, if you are short of ideas yourself, make their day complete.

In praise of Easyjet staff on a very bad flight home

I know it isn’t often that you read something in praise of an airline after a particularly difficult journey. However, yesterday I thought that Easyjet did pretty well with a horribly fraught journey from Alicante to Glasgow.

I was travelling back from a retreat at a Jesuit retreat house in Spain which I try to go on every second year. It should have been a straightforward trip – an hour by car to the airport, hanging about for the usual check-in stuff and then a three hour flight to Glasgow.

What happened was this…

Firstly it became apparent that because of a dispute by the French Air Traffic Control people (who are deeply wicked and naughty) things were not going to go terribly smoothly. The flight was initially shown as being delayed for an hour but it was a full hour and a half after the normal boarding time that we were able to get on the plane. We were then told that we would be held on the tarmac until there was permission from France to fly. This was something of a surprise as we had believed we were on our way. Expected delay was 2 hours. However after 2 hours nothing had happened in a hot, sticky and very cramped way and the captain appeared in the cabin to announce that unless we got going smartish he wasn’t going to be able to fly us to Glasgow anyway as he didn’t have enough working flying hours in the day to take us there.

During this time, most of the passengers were grumpy but content that all was being done for them that could be done. All except one, who had an outburst at the flight crew saying that he was being messed about and blaming them for what was going on. Clearly, the staff wanted to get home as much as the rest of us.

Anyway, the prospect was opening up before us of having to get off the plane and spend a night in some hotel in Alicante (or Benidorm?) before coming back the next day early to fly. This was not an entertaining idea. Fortunately though another plan was devised. We would take off and whilst in the air, Easyjet would arrange for us to land somewhere or other (Luton? Gatwick?) where a new pilot and crew would join us and fly us on up to Glasgow.

This was met with a round of applause by the passengers who clearly didn’t want another night in Spain.

So, off we went and all was well (though significantly delayed) until we landed at Luton for a change of drivers. The crew distributed what food was on board. (I think the failure to take more food on board a flight that was clearly headed for long delays is the only real error I can see in the whole proceedings). I ended up eating a pot meal of cous-cous and lentils which tasted as bad as it sounds.

Anyway, we got to Luton and were told that the new crew were walking towards the aircraft ready to take us on to Glasgow. The retiring captain got a cheer for his efforts so far and disappeared.

Then Mr Angry Passenger decided to grab his hand luggage and make a run for it, fighting his way through the people stretching their legs and heading for the open door and steps which had been put next to the plane.

Now, getting off a plane without permission and wandering around an airport is a bad idea. So, one of the cabin crew tried to head him off, telling him he would be arrested if he stepped onto the tarmac before making a call for police and security to attend the plane.

The result of this was Mr Angry halfway down the steps shouting, Mrs Angry and one of their unfortunate children at the top of the steps and two further children at the top of the steps at the other end of the plane. Meanwhile, we had crew at the top of the steps trying to remonstrate with Mr A and get him back on board along with pilots and security people at the bottom of the steps trying to sort it out.

It was clear that the plane wasn’t going anywhere soon – although the rest of the passengers were in no danger, we had effectively been hijacked.

Now, this being a Glasgow flight, of course, we all believed we were all involved and that his business was our business. Several burly passengers were offering to go down the steps and get Mr A back onto the plane forcibly whilst several others were of the view that their muscle might be helpful in making sure that he never got on the plane again.

This phase of the journey was concluded when Mr Angry was joined by Mrs Angry and the poor Junior Angrys and led away. (Personally, I hope he was arrested and that Easyjet try to recover the costs of all this from him).

In all of all that was happening, the Easyjet staff behaved brilliantly, chatting with passengers and doing all possible to calm down what had become rather tricky and with the potential to get worse.

Sadly, the departure of the five recalcitrant passengers did not end our troubles. Security proceedures meant that their hold baggage had to be removed from the plane. Furthermore, we then discovered that it also meant all the luggage had to be removed from the plane and remanifested. So, ground crew had to be procured to remove all our luggage for checking. Not only that, but the cabin crew had to go through all the cabin lockers removing everything in them and asking passengers to identify what was theirs.

Eventually, we had accounted for everything and got under way with the new crew (who had believed they were going to Palma last night) expertly getting us to Glasgow where we landed at 2230. The flight should have arrived at 1610 – so it was 5 hours and 20 mins late. I’d spent 8 and a half hours in the cabin and I’ve never been more pleased to see the lights of Glasgow airport. Total journey time door to door was 13 hours.

And despite that, I couldn’t praise the crew more highly. They dealt with everything brilliantly, professionally and calmly. Full marks to Easyjet.

In other news, I had a fantastic retreat.

Fireworks for the Feast of St John

Today is the Feast of the Nativity of St John the Baptist. (We only celebrate three birthdays in the church calendar – John the B, his cousin Jesus and Mary, Mother of Our Lord and Aunty of John the B).
I’ve been on retreat for the last week – something I last did 2 years ago. It has been very good too, looking at wounded healers – Henri Nouwen, Brother Roger, Mychal Judge and John O’Donohoe.
The town that I’ve been staying in goes rather large on celebrating the Eve of  the Feast of St John, so we got a firework display just before midnight, a big fire by the sea and the local population all turning up to dip their feet into the water at midnight.
Anyway, here are a few firework photographs. It was a great retreat week and this was a rather spectacular conclusion.




Peter Tatchell coming to St Mary’s

I’m delighted to announce that Peter Tatchell is coming to St Mary’s next month to give a human rights lecture and also to be a forum speaker in conversation with me.

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell will be visiting St Mary’s in July. He will give a lecture on Human Rights and the Commonwealth the week before the Commonwealth Games begin in Glasgow. The lecture will be on Saturday 19 July 2014 at 6.30 pm – tickets £5 on the door. There will also be a forum conversation between Peter Tatchell and the Provost, the Very Rev Kelvin Holdsworth on Sunday 20 July 2014 after the 10.30 am Sung Eucharist.

Photo credit – Matt Buck (c) Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

10 Things to Remember about Corpus Christi

corpuschristi - new

  1. It is on Thursday 19 June 2014 this year.
  2. It is always on a Thursday.
  3. It is one of the most extravagent and lovely religious festivals that human beings have devised.
  4. Thomas Aquinas is said to have invented it to bring the focus back to Jesus Christ in churches which were rather keen on his mother.
  5. It is about gazing in wonder – and we don’t do that nearly enough.
  6. Our Lord himself comes and wanders amongst his people – just like in real life!
  7. Abraham (as Bishop Kevin was always wont to say) would have understood this feast
  8. We scatter flower petals hither and yon to make a suitable pathway for God to come amongst us
  9. It smells. Lovely.
  10. The service takes place at 7.30 pm in St Mary’s on Thursday evening – please bring flower petals to the sacristy by 7 pm if you can

The taxi of the beast

I saw this taxi outside my office over the weekend. It appears to be the taxi of the beast. Should I be worried?

taxi of the beast

Sermon preached on Trinity Sunday 2014

The truth is, I’ve not preached on Trinity Sunday. I think I have preached on Trinity Sunday in my time at St Mary’s but certainly not many times and certainly not for a number of years.

You see – I’ve been in charge of the preaching rota.

But lo. Here I am having spent a couple of weeks off sick, now back to work. I’m grateful to colleagues for picking up various bits of work whilst I was indisposed.

One of those bits of work that I had to ask someone else to pick up was devising the preaching rota….

…and here I find myself – first Sunday back at work, preaching on the Holy Trinity.

Am I fighting fit? Yes!

Am I cowed by having to preach on the Trinity? Certainly not. [Read more...]

How not to have a synodical discussion

This afternoon I’ve been engaged in a discussion at the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church about same-sex marriage. At least, that’s what it was supposed to be about. Often in the afternoon it felt like a discussion about how to have a discussion. (All of this was being facilitated by Hugh Donald of A Place for Hope initiative of the Church of Scotland NB correction from earlier text)

We began by someone challenging the process by speaking against the motion to suspend the standing orders and go into a different mode of meeting. That challenge didn’t fly, but a quarter of the synod members didn’t want to go into small groups. That’s quite a high proportion of dissatisfied customers to begin with.

We were then invited to listen to a conversation amongst some people who were part of a previous conversation at Pitlochry that had been limited to invited people only. Already we were into the territory of people feeling excluded from a process – at my table there were two of us who would have liked to have been at Pitlochry but who had found ourselves excluded from it.

The conversation that we were invited to watch went on for a bit and they all agreed that Pitlochry had been wonderful and transformative. (Guess what that feels like if you’ve been excluded!) However it was difficult to hear much about what they had talked about at Pitlochry.

But the worst thing from my point of view is that this conversation that we were invited to witness had no participant who was ordained and gay.

It was the antithesis of the principle that you don’t speak about people without including them in the conversation. There were plenty of ordained people  who happen to be gay in the room too – just not invited to be part of that conversation.

Then we went into table groups where we were expected to talk about gay people’s personal lives without having any warning of what the questions would be and without any reference to the fact that straight people have a sexuality too. (The questions very clearly made gay people the problem the church was trying to solve).

For some reason, the people who went to Pitlochry who had a great time there who have come back saying how much wonderful listening was going on are finding it terribly difficult to listen to those who were not there or who have any criticism of the process.

At the end of all this, bumping into some of my gay friends in the room, I saw one brushing back tears (and I knew they were fury tears not just ordinary upset tears), another was still fizzing about the questions and was heading off to have a go at one of the bishops about how manipulative it had been, another with his head in his hands saying “how long can this go on” and another patiently trying to explain to straight liberal so-called allies why being asked to wait another year (yet again) did not feel like a step forward.

Rounding off this session of the Cascade process, the Primus spoke of how well it was being conducted and how well it was going.

He does not walk in my shoes.

British Values and Education

I do wish that Mr Gove, the Education Secretary, (and everyone else for that matter) would stop trying to wrap progressive values in a national flag.

I feel uncomfortable about it, whatever the flag – and there’s a lot of it going on in Scotland at the moment too.

According to the Prime Minister, the kinds of values that he and Mr Gove mean by British values are:

  • freedom
  • tolerance
  • respect for the rule of law
  • belief in personal and social responsibility
  • respect for British institutions

Well, with the exception of the last on (which institutions? – there’s plenty of good British people who have little respect for parliament and parliamentarians at the moment) this has nothing whatsoever to do with being British and mostly to do with being a good citizen. (I say mostly because I’ve no interested in being merely tolerated by anyone).

I think that if we want such things taught in schools then we should defend the idea of having proper civics classes and agree a strategy that doesn’t come waving flags of any kind.

There’s also one or two things missing from that list like equality, being a global citizen, human dignity in work and human rights. If the Prime Minister was talking about some of that then I might be cheering him on. As it is, we are left with sound bites that sound like they have been left over from John Major’s Back to Basics campaign.

It seems to me that very many people are weary of religion being such an issue in schools and think that schools would be better without it. Those who promote faith schools seem particularly defensive at the moment and not without good reason.

The things is, it seems to me that it is obvious that faith schools are not part of the problem insofar as they are known to promote rather than detract from community cohesion. However, it is equally obvious that faith schools are part of the problem in that some religious groups have ready access to them and some don’t. Their existence automatically makes people think that everyone should have the right to a religious education no matter what kind of religion the state is being expected to endorse. Furthermore, we know that at least some of those faith schools have strong input (including clergy governors) who walk a long way away from equality and tolerance in the rest of their lives.

My view – the state should be investing less in faith schools not more and it should be promoting the teaching of civics rather than British (or any other pseudo-nationalistic) values.

And if we want progressive values taught in schools (and I do) then we should be prepared to come out and name those values and say so.