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Interesting review in the Grauniad of two books on the New Atheism - by Terry Eagleton and Bentley Hart.

I liked the reviewer, Mark Vernon's way of summing up Eagleton:

Christians in history have undoubtedly perpetrated many crimes. But their most fearsome judge is the very individual they claim to follow, the man who blessed peacemakers, tended lepers and loved enemies. Religion can be monstrous, like love – though like love, it also longs for the best.

Love which is monstrous is love perverted; love which has become its own enemy.

Eagleton also cites Herbert McCabe OP, who summarised the gospel as: If you don't love, you die. If you do love, they'll kill you. Which is true as far as it goes - but it's not exactly good news. The good news is rather that for all our efforts to kill love, it won't stay dead. I don't know if it can really be put better than it is in "Lord of the Dance"

they cut me down, but I leapt up high -
I am the life that will never, ever die.
I'll live in you if you'll live in me,
I am the Lord of the Dance said he.


"Tragic humanism" can be noble, dignified, moral; in some ways it seems more admirable than the irritating way in which Christianity insists in turning defeat into triumph. But whatever my aesthetic sense, and despite the grim realities which confront us at every turn, God seems to prefer the comic mode to the tragedy. Which is good news for the protagonists, though some of them - the dignified, the powerful - may have to recognise that they're actually not as dignified and serious as they thought, and learn to laugh at themselves. Which, in fact, is a pretty good safeguard against the potential corruption of love into selfishness and self-obsession.
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One of the things I've been asked to think about recently as part of the 'discernment process' is leadership, what it's for and how it works, particularly in a church context.

While I still need to do a bit more thinking about specific examples from my own experience, I've been reading a surprisingly useful book by Stephen Cottrell (Bp of Reading), Hit the Ground Kneeling: Seeing leadership differently. I have to admit that I probably wouldn't have read this if I hadn't been told to, because it has a hideous purple and orange cover, and is endorsed by Jeremy Vine and some management consultant and writer I've never heard of (though I'm told that the Sisters of the local contemplative convent think highly of it. I found this more encouraging, though I suspect Jeremy Vine would shift more units).

This just goes to show that reading lists have their uses, because the nuns are right; it's probably the most helpful thing I've read on the subject.* Cottrell came up with the title in a moment of frustration when another member of a committee shortlisting applicants for a parish said - as is predictable at such meetings - "What we want is someone who can hit the ground running."

Rather than merely cross off another square on his Bullshit Bingo board, Cottrell found himself thinking, no actually, maybe we don't. Because someone who charges into a situation, convinced that only he can save things, but without actually having a deep knowledge of the people and issues involved is unlikely to do much good: the best you can hope for is short-term success which becomes unsustainable - and people who get impatient with you once you stop being shiny and new.

The book is structured around a series of reversed management cliches/ proverbs. I was most struck by "Re-inventing the Wheel", in which Cottrell argues that one should resist the temptation to buy in a solution - however good it is, it will never belong to people as much as one they've worked out for themselves. Which is not to say that you can't use outside ideas as inspiration, indeed you should, but that leadership is more about encouraging people to find their own way forward than in telling them what to do (or asking them to vote on which of a series of pre-packaged solutions they'd like). This may, of course, also involve encouraging people to look again at the vision that originally brought them together - I think this is probably particularly relevant to voluntary and religious groups.

The other point which I need to remember is that, as a general principle, you should only do the things that only you can do. Doing other people's jobs for them isn't service or unselfishness, it's denying them the chance to do their job, offer their service, and it's making them less than they could be.

"Leadership" is, I must admit, not a topic I've ever thought much about, as is probably obvious. Thoughts?


* Though I must confess that I haven't read many books on leadership, and while much of the stuff by B-P was useful, if dated in tone, I shouldn't have been surprised that "Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun" was not.
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Have been reading Rowan Williams' The Dwelling of the Light: Praying with Icons of Christ, which is very good - quietly thought-provoking. Thus far, I've only read the chapter on the icon of the Transfiguration, because although it's a short book, it's the kind one wishes to read slowly and meditate on.

Williams is talking about the icon of the Transfiguration (such as this Russian example)

As we look at Jesus transfigured, God revealed in a human life: "We must be prepared to be mentally and spiritually flung backwards, baffled in finding words for this, even fearful at the prospect of discipleship it puts before us. But it is the one vision that allows us to see everything in our experience as open to God - so that we need not fear that God is bound to disappear if we encounter this or that situation, that it is impossible to stay with God in times of failure, pain or self-doubt. That is not a glib reassurance but a sober statement of what's implied in recognizing the glory of God in Jesus.

"So as we look at this icon and let it shape our prayers and reflections, we can think first of that infinite hinterland that is the background, the inner dimension of Jesus' inner life. It doesn't stop being human in any sense: but it is a humanity which in every moment performs God's own life. When we see that, we see that every act or suffering of Jesus is part of the act of God, embraced freely in God's journey towards us out of his depths. We can also think of how the shape of our own lives is finally going to be in God's hands, not ours: like Moses and Elijah, we don't know yet (in St John's words) what we shall be. Out time, our stories about ourselves, are but the best we can do from where we stand and look; but God's perspective can do strange things with history, and we are not the best judges of our own lives, what really matters to God, what shows God to the world. But we are given a glimpse of what God can do in this rare moment of direct vision, when the 'door of perception' is opened by and in Jesus, and the end of the world is there fleetingly before us. And finally, we can let ourselves contemplate the fact that the divine freedom shown us in this vision tells us both that there is no escape from the world in which we have been placed as creatures and that there is nowhere from which God can finally be exiled."

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