‘If we are to
plan sustainable communities, then, we have to have a good nose for what
depletes human capital. And I want to suggest that one major threat to human
capital is the sense of living without landmarks in time or space…Human beings
from their earliest days work out their identity by learning to cope with a
specific set of triggers and stimuli, the geography of a room, the rhythms of
feeding and sleeping, a face that becomes familiar. As their awareness expands,
they still work out and define who they are in relation to patterns of activity
in time and to a differentiated space; their mental world is in pat a set of
routes between familiar points. We inhabit a map. It is most dramatically
expressed in the Australian aboriginal idea of the ‘song lines’ that give
structure to the world: the aborigine knows the landscape as a series of songs
to be sung as you move from this point to that. Geography is a set of
instructions for responding with this or that song to the visual triggers you
‘Now of course
any landscape, any physical environment, has such triggers. But it seems fairly
clear that a physical environment that is repetitive, undifferentiated, can
fail to give adequate material for a person to develop. A varied environment
with marked features, that perhaps have narratives and memories attached to
them, offers multiple stimuli to respond to. There is a local geography that is
more than just an abstract plan of the ground: it invests places with shared
significance. A landscape which proclaims its sameness with countless others,
in its layout, building materials, retail outlets and so on, is a seedbed for
problems. If it’s true that I can’t answer the question ‘Who am I?’ without at
some level being able to answer the question ‘Where am I?’, the character of
built space becomes hugely important. There will always be small scale domestic
answers to ‘Where am I?’ because we all imprint distinctiveness on our homes
and are ‘imprinted’ by them; but when this is restricted to the domestic, we
should not be surprised if there is little sense of investment in the local
environment outside the home.’
planning should, then, look seriously at how the reality of faith becomes part
of the landscape – how religious buildings figure among the landmarks of a
community. But this is not only a question of attending to the pragmatic needs
of religious groups. Like it or not, there are unsought experiences that
communities share, trauma and celebration which call out for the kind of space
that carries no political or sectional agenda, that is not for anything but the
expression of certain serious and complex emotions…And whether we are thinking
about personal trauma or collective…it is emphatically true that a very large number
of people, far larger than the statistics of regular worshippers, urgently need
a place for certain things to be voiced. What is offered by a space dedicated
to worship is essential – somewhere where events may occur that belong to a
whole locality, where solidarities of a mysterious but very important kind can
Williams, essay on ‘Sustainable communities’ in Faith in the Public Square.
weekend saw the second ‘Sanctuary’ event – a three-day festival showcasing
local bands, ale, and street food, organised by local business-men and -women
and held at Sunderland Minster - and I am struck afresh by the thoughts offered
by Rowan Williams above. I’m struck by the response, over and over again, of
people coming into this space for the first time, and finding somewhere to
which they are drawn back. I’m struck by the requests to host conversations
between different groups – the recognition that this is a safe space in which
difficult but greatly-needed communication can take place. I’m struck by the
gift that we have been given, by those who have gone before us and by God, for
the people of Sunderland; and by the great honour it is to be here.
has been a lot of blood shed this summer. It is hard to know how to respond to
the information – unconfirmed, confirmed, falsified, justified, ignored,
flaunted, demanding action or reaction – that has bombarded us.
nature of our information age is to over-saturate our attention with the now, promoting the idea that this moment is of all-consuming
live in England, one of three countries – at this point in history; in past
times there have been several more, smaller, kingdoms – on Great Britain, the
largest of the British Isles, a group of islands off the coast of mainland
Europe. This island has been invaded many times: by Britons, by the varied peoples
of the Roman Empire, by Angles, by Saxons, by Vikings, by Normans.
People-groups have swept across the land, bringing different ideas, different values,
different gods, different languages. At times, different communities have
co-existed in unstable peace; at times, one has put another to the sword,
destroying everything in their path; and at times, they have inter-mixed.
has been a lot of bloodshed on this island. The second-half of the
fifteenth-century saw the Wars of the Roses, dynastic wars for the throne of
England. The mid-seventeenth-century saw the Civil Wars. As Scotland considers
independence after some 300 years of union, we are reminded of bloody battles,
some won by Scottish armies and those of their allies, some by English armies
and those of their allies.
there are the wars this country has taken part in beyond our shores, whether
building an Empire or opposing empire-building on the part of others. Our
history is soaked in blood. Had we lived in any of those moments, our own
personal experience would have been much closer to that of men, women and
children in Iraq or Gaza or many other parts of the world this summer.
this history has made us who we are as a nation. This history has shaped us,
for good and for ill. There have been a great many atrocities, and a greater
still number of tragedies. And there has also been a great deal of good in the
unfolding of our history, our culture, our discoveries, our inventions…
would suggest that the great deal of good that has come out of our folly and
mis-directed passion is evidence of a God who loves human beings; who gives us
great freedom but also sets limits on our triumphs (so we do not utterly
destroy others) and on our tragedies (so we are not utterly destroyed by others);
and who is at work in all things to bring good out of even the most evil of
situations. Good that is testified-to in former enemies becoming friends.
does not mean that it does not matter that, all over the world, one tribe is
putting another to the sword – literally and metaphorically. It does not mean
that we should not speak out, or act.
does mean that we should be very careful in our choice of words, and actions.
There is no people on earth who occupies the moral high-ground; nor any
low-point that cannot be transformed by love. The longer we hold on to our
commitment to violence towards one another, the longer it will take to see
enemies become friends. And yet this,
and not our present troubles, is the ultimate reality, because in and through
Christ, God is reconciling all things.
honour of Elijah’s eighth birthday today, some photos of him from our recent
holiday, in the last days of being seven.
no owls were eaten…
tomorrow, I will be on holiday. I’m looking forward to getting away with my
various people who are on holiday at the moment, or just returned from holiday,
or going on holiday within the next month, has given opportunity to reflect on what holidays are for.
is a school of thought that suggests that, given the amount of extra work that
needs to take place before going on holiday, and the amount of extra work that
needs to be dealt with on returning, not to mention the decompression time it
takes to actually enter-into being off work, and the time spent preparing to
re-enter ‘everyday life,’ there is no benefit to taking holiday at all.
the demands of work many of us live with, and the effort of juggling time-off-work
across a team, many other people simply default into not taking all of the
annual leave they are entitled to.
purpose of holiday is not to recover from work. That necessary space needs to
be built-into our daily and weekly routines (and yes, I know that is easier
said than done).
is the purpose of holiday to build-up some reservoir of energy to take back
into the workplace. We are not batteries. Rest, and its benefits, cannot be
stored for a later time (another reason why we need to build-in rest as part of
our daily and weekly experience of life).
purpose of holiday is the recognition that there is more to life than work –
even if we are blessed to find work a fulfilling experience – and the ongoing
practicalities of life that are part of our regular routine.
has given us a world to be enjoyed,
as well as – and, indeed, even before – cared for. A big world to be discovered, as well as a small patch to
are for exploring: landscapes and
cityscapes and spaces of the imagination; beaches and mountains and bookshops
and art galleries…and building a treasure-house of shared memories.
are holy days, days to recognise that
all of life is gift, not reward; and to be reminded that the world will not end
if God rests, let alone if I do…
am about to go on holiday. It will be very good.