Christian Remembering

by David Clough.

Remembering is the practice of recalling the past in the present with implications for shaping the future. It’s what I do when deciding on the route I want to take to cycle to work: recalling being passed by cars uncomfortably closely on the most direct route, I tend to opt for a quieter route even at the cost of taking a few extra minutes. I recall an experience from the past in the present and behave differently as a result. You will have performed the same everyday act of remembering in different contexts very many times already today.

As well as being a humdrum and everyday practice, remembering is a practice of profound religious importance. Remembering is a fundamental obligation for the people of Israel, commanded hundreds of times in the Old Testament. Moses institutes the festival of the Passover so that the Israelites will remember that they were slaves in Egypt and liberated by the mighty hand of the Lord their God. In the New Testament, remembering is also a central expression of faith. On the night before he is crucified, Jesus shares bread and wine with his disciples and commands them: ‘Do this in remembrance of me.’ Through this central practice the church today continues to remember the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

The remembering to which we have been called in the run up to the centenary of the end of the First World War is of a very different order. It is a remembering we are called to by national and perhaps familial ties, rather than by our faith. What is remembered on this centenary is not God’s work but human works and human losses. And the reason for this remembering is also different. The remembrance Christianity calls us to is to shape our lives as a response to all that God has done for us and for all creation. The remembrance to which our nation calls us on this Remembrance Sunday is to recall our debt and gratitude to humans who gave their lives or had them taken in a war that advanced British national interests and contributed to the conditions of the lives as citizens we now enjoy.

There is an inescapably political dimension to the project of national remembering. Perhaps it is easier to see this at a distance. The recent mid-term US elections were an obvious case of political opponents telling different narratives about how the past should be recalled in the present in order to win support for their preferred plans for the future. National remembering was literally weaponized in the campaign of pipe bombs against Trump’s opponents, and in the shooting at the Pittsburgh synagogue. It was much more widely metaphorically weaponized in racist and xenophobic political rhetoric preying on fears of lost white privilege. Some of the debate about immigration echoed rhetoric and imagery widely used in the run-up to the Brexit referendum.

Our task as Christians must be to decide how the religious remembering commanded in the Old and New Testaments relates to national projects of remembering. God’s people can never be wholly impatient, but there is a holy impatience in our daily prayer that God’s kingdom come, God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. The Lord’s Prayer is not just a prayer for pacifists: for every eager member of the armed forces who hopes for a taste of combat there are veterans who desire nothing more devoutly than that no one else should have to suffer and cause suffering as they did. Thy kingdom come.

Christian pacifists and those who believe war can be justified differ on how far the life of God’s kingdom can be lived here and now, but they must make common cause in recognizing that that because Jesus — the Prince of Peace — announced a blessing on those who make peace, the fundamental Christian vocation in relation to human conflict must be to work for a just order within and between nations that reduces the frequency and intensity of disputes; to be committed, skilled, intelligent, and creative in seeking non-violent resolutions to conflicts that arise; and that any recourse to violence to resolve conflicts must be with the utmost reluctance, restraint, regret, and with full awareness of the devastating impacts of warfare on its combatant and non-combatant victims.

The church of Jesus Christ and nation states must do their remembering in different ways and the church in particular must remember the difference. The church remembers that God is the one who brings liberation to the enslaved, commands us to remember our saviour in the sharing of the good things of the earth, and who is bringing a kingdom where redundant weapons become tools of food production. Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done.

Memory

by Jill Baker.

Over this coming weekend we are called upon, nationally and in churches, to remember – specifically to remember those who sacrificed their lives in war. The idea is that by remembering ‘the fallen’ – by name or as unknown human beings – we somehow give lasting value to their sacrifice – their death is not in vain.  Such an understanding, lodged as it is in the national subconscious, gives huge significance to the act of remembering, to our powers of memory.

Memory is a powerful force – memory can bring us to tears, make us laugh, fill us with anger, or love, or passion.  Memory can significantly affect the way we deal with the here and now – indeed, that is part of its purpose.  Any child who remembers how it felt to touch the cooker will make sure they don’t go so close again.

In the excellent book “Play It Again”, Alan Rusbridger,[i] former editor of the Guardian and a competent amateur pianist, describes the year in which he made it his goal to commit to memory Chopin’s (demanding) Ballade No. 1 and perform it.  The book contains a fascinating chapter on memory which suggests that, whilst it had been thought for many years that musicians were people who naturally had good memories, further research now indicates that it is the other way round; that musicians develop good memories by using that part of their brain more vigorously than many of us. Memory as a muscle to be exercised is a captivating thought.

Memory plays a significant part in faith too.  In church life, memory can work both for and against us – it can be positive, it can be negative.  It is to the institutional Church’s lasting shame that there are many who have experienced discrimination, trauma and even abuse within the life of the Church, and whose memories are consequently tarnished and damaged.  As well as doing all we can to provide a safe future in our churches, there is also work to be done in the realms of the healing of memory.

Others may have very happy memories of earlier days growing in faith as we grew to maturity in the church, but if memory leans too far toward nostalgia, it can also hold us back.  We remember days when pews were packed, Sunday Schools were overflowing and, as Colin Morris put it once in an Advent sermon, “mighty preachers stormed our pulpits.”  Looking back, especially if the looking back is through rose-tinted glasses, can prevent us from finding the path to the future. “Remember Lot’s wife,” as Jesus declares in Luke 17:32.

That particular bible story, from Genesis… is the subject of one chapter of “The Shattering of Loneliness; On Christian Remembrance” by Erik Varden.[ii]  Varden is a native of Norway, now Abbot of Mount Saint Bernard Abbey in Leicestershire and a member of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (OCSO).  As well as the instruction of Jesus to remember Lot’s wife, the other chapters are explorations of five other Biblical charges to remember; ‘Remember you are dust’ (Genesis 3:19); ‘Remember you were a slave in Egypt’ (Deuteronomy 5:15); ‘Do this in memory of me’ (Matthew 18:22), ‘The counsellor will call everything to mind’ (John 14:26) and ‘Beware lest you forget the Lord’ (Deuteronomy 6:12).  I recommend the book warmly.  As the title perhaps suggests, the basic premise of the book is to describe how, as we regain connection with our individual and faith-community memory – memory of who we are, of where we have come from, of how we have been loved – we will be able to counteract the aching loneliness which, in many guises, pervades the stories he tells and the experiences he shares.

Our developing understanding of dementia, where memory of how to behave and navigate the basic demands of life begins to fail, adds another layer to our gratitude for memory.  Thankfully more churches are recognising the need to improve accessibility for those with memory loss.[iii]

Memory is a gift; a bewitching, sometimes troublesome, always fragile, often ephemeral gift.  Memory can imprison us, but memory can also set us free.  I finish with words from Erik Varden; ‘To remember, really remember, is to slip our moorings and set sail on the open sea, with all that entails of peril and exhilaration.’[iv]

 

 

[i] Play It Again: An Amateur Against the Impossible Alan Rusbridger, published by Jonathan Cape 2013

[ii] The Shattering of Loneliness: On Christian Remembrance Erik Varden, published by Bloomsbury Continuum 2018.

[iii] https://mwib.org.uk/index.php/2016/02/04/dementia-friendly-churches-2/

[iv] The Shattering of Loneliness: On Christian Remembrance Erik Varden, published by Bloomsbury Continuum 2018. p11

 

The Inconvenience of the Truth

by Peter Hancock.

A high-level professional rugby match was in full swing. Passion, commitment, determination to win, no quarter asked, no quarter given. Nothing more important than emerging victorious. The number 8 of the away side, also an England international, powered through to the line and carried the ball over for a try but then immediately turned to the referee and told him that he had done so illegally and that the try should not be awarded. The referee thanked the player and signalled for the game to continue.

In the context of professional sport, this was such an unusual occurrence that it attracted the admiring attention of the national press – “No. 8 steals the show with act of honesty”; “Selflessness by England No. 8 boosts the modern game” (Owen Slot, The Times, Monday 8 October). It has long been accepted that cricketers won’t walk when caught out, footballers will dive for an unmerited penalty and rugby players will pretend an illegal try is legal even though the referee, as he was about to do in this case, consults a video replay (because video technology is not always conclusive and the player may still get away with it). Truth can be inconvenient when you are driven towards a certain goal and this is not only the case in professional sport.

A government may wish to kill dissidents, on its own soil or that of another nation. It hopes that this can be done in the shadows but when the truth begins inconveniently to emerge it may respond with an absurd series of lies and counter-recriminations. Allies of this nation will need to acknowledge an amount of truth sufficient to satisfy right-thinking people but not so much as to disrupt ties of trade, armaments, intelligence etc. The leader of a nation may make statements which purport to be true because he wants them to be true and because the version of events they perpetuate gets him a step or two closer to a goal he is pursuing. Later, however, it may be that, in light of new developments, a new and possibly contradictory version of the truth will need to be pressed, forced, manipulated, crow-barred in to service as this is what achieving the goal now requires.

The Psalmist writes “Surely you desire truth in the inward parts” (Ps. 51v6). It seems, however, that as long as truth can be resisted in the outward parts the game can go on and edifices can be built upon a falsehood accepted as necessary by all concerned.

“What is truth” said Pontius Pilate to Jesus as two kingdoms approached a conclusive showdown. The biblical concept of truth is closely linked to that of reality and two versions of reality were at play.  The Jesus walking among human beings was none other than the living embodiment of reality, the only true version of events and of that which lies behind them, the one through whom all things were made and in whom all things hold together. Ultimately, this truth cannot be resisted even by the exercise of the greatest power that any alternative may bring to bear upon it.

With Jesus in her womb, Mary speaks of the reality which has been a done deal from the creation of the world. A reality in which the proud are scattered in their inmost thoughts, rulers are brought down from their thrones, the humble are lifted up, the hungry are filled with good things and the rich are sent away empty. This does not look much like the world as we know it but it is the ultimate reality which confronts the temporary realities of the world and puts on notice edifices which are built upon anything different.

This may all seem a long way from the instinctive decision of a professional rugby player to go with an honest version of events but in decisions large and small there is the choice to go with the truth which has its roots in the foundation of the world or not. The player himself is quoted as saying that the claiming of an unfair advantage is not just a rugby thing but a life thing and that in doing so you’re only lying to yourself. There is an attractiveness to such expressions of truth. The journalist reporting the incident had predicted at the beginning of the season: “Someone, somewhere being honest in the act of failing to score a try cleanly. Nice idea, won’t happen”. Yet when it does happen a little shoot of fresh hope emerges. Good to see that the player concerned is Billy Vunipola, the son of one of our Methodist ministers.

Stewards of Grace

by Andrew Stobart.

Reading again through the cards and letters we received this summer when we left my previous appointment, there was one particular note that prompted a lump in my throat. ‘Thank you,’ it read, ‘for the example you have left me of grace in the face of spite and hostility.’ Leaving aside for the moment all the other questions (and memories) that this raises, it struck me that this is the most precious affirmation I have received about those eight years. The tears it prompted are not just a product of the ‘spite and hostility’ that put ‘grace’ in such sharp relief; they arise from the profoundly humbling thought that my fumbling attempts to deal with a situation that brought pain and damage to my family and I were, at least for this one person, a window onto grace. Suddenly the familiar words of Paul to the Corinthians make new sense: ‘everything is for your sakes, so that grace may increase.’[1]

Paul – and, for that matter, the rest of the apostles and other early Christian leaders – had an expectation of ministry that wouldn’t fit well into a glossy magazine about vocational options. They knew nothing about ‘work-life balance’ on the one hand, or ‘dignity at work’ on the other. For them, striding after the risen Jesus into the treacherous terrain of our own humanity was nothing less than a vocation of death (and, only just so, resurrection). Of course, figuring out what discipleship means in any given context is never straightforward, and we wisely acknowledge our own propensity to mistake the direction of Jesus’ footsteps. However, it seems even Jesus was more pessimistic about the public acceptability of our ministries than we tend to be: ‘If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.’[2]

Grace, surely, is the key.

Or, perhaps better, our abundant God, whose life overflows in the grace of Christ, and whose calling to all people is rooted in the further gracious outpouring of the Spirit, is the key.

Understanding grace as abundance – or generosity, or overflow – should be, on the one hand, a fairly straightforward Christian reading of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. On the other hand, gracious abundance ought also to be a basic benchmark for the community that is created by the liveliness of Jesus. That neither of these is self-evident in the Christian Church today is one (good) rationale for the continued existence of the Wesleyan church.

First, a Wesleyan theology – literally, a word about God – proclaims without caveat that the character of revelation and of the career of Jesus and of the workings of the Spirit is all grace.[3] As a Methodist theologian has recently put it, God creates all things ‘in sheer and measureless freedom and grace’ and sustains all things ‘in absolute grace’.[4] Grace, in short, is what there is.

Secondly, a Wesleyan community puts generous overflow at its heart. In today’s culture, such a grace-filled community would be truly counter-cultural. Indeed, it is perhaps even a novelty within the Methodist Church, where we are often tricked by the scarcity of resources into the polar opposite of grace: fear and anxiety, clinging to what we have, distrustful of anything that looks like a prodigal waste. The use of music and song in the Methodist Church might be a particular worked example: to what extent do our hymns and musical traditions now contain grace ‘in monotone satiety’, rather than truly participating in the Wesleyan heritage of song that liberates grace ‘in superabundant and jubilant thankfulness’.[5]

The family of Jesus’ followers needs a Wesleyan voice, alongside all the other voices, to sing, persistently and eloquently, that God is grace, that grace is gracious, and that graciousness is participation in God.

This vision for Christian vocation – lay and ordained alike – was summed up by the apostle Peter, who exhorted his readers to be ‘good stewards of grace’.[6] The tears with which I began were caused by a situation in which God’s people had become gatekeepers for grace (which was kept safely hidden away), not good stewards of it. The wise steward, as Jesus infers, unbolts the storehouse to bring out the riches and to lay a table of abundance.[7]

This week, may we be good stewards of grace, ushering all comers into God’s banquet of abundant life.

 

[1] 2 Corinthians 4:15. This comes just after Paul’s dramatic claim in verse 12, ‘So then, death is at work in us, but life in you!’

[2] John 15:18.

[3] For an interesting recent article on this, examining Wesley’s understanding of free grace over against more Reformed conceptions, see J. Gregory Crofford, ‘“Grace to All did Freely Move”: Thoughts on Charles Wesley’s 1741/1742 Hymns on God’s Everlasting Love’, Wesley and Methodist Studies, Vol. 6 (2014), pp. 37-62.

[4] Tom Greggs, ‘In Gratitude for Grace: praise, worship and the sanctified life’, International Journal of Systematic Theology 70:2 (2017), p149.

[5] See Greggs, p162, who notes that singing is a particularly Methodist way to signify gratitude for God’s overflowing grace.

[6] 1 Peter 4:10.

[7] Matthew 13:52.

An Update on the ‘Atonement Project’

by Ben Pugh.

In my last post (20 Nov 2017: ‘The Atonement Project: A Work in Progress’) I told the story, firstly, of how I became interested in the central symbol of Christian faith and then how far I had got with a trilogy of books exploring the theme of atonement first from the angle of tradition and reason (Atonement Theories), then from experience (Old Rugged Cross) and now from Scripture. And so, my third book: Pictures of Atonement: A New Testament Study is now underway. It is meant to be with the publishers by the end of April, so I will use this post as a chance to share how far I have got and try to elicit any feedback you might have.

The book will be a study of the leading New Testament metaphors of atonement: Participation (the dying and rising-with metaphor), justification, reconciliation, redemption, sacrifice and victory. Colin Gunton and John McIntyre, in their work on the New Testament metaphors of atonement and salvation in the late 1980s and early 1990s, were building upon, and sometimes wrestling with, the linguistic work of Janet Martin Soskice. They agreed with her that almost everything the New Testament writers wanted to say about the benefits of the death and resurrection of Christ was expressed in pictorial language, language which should not, however, be decoded into propositions but appreciated on its own terms as ‘reality depicting.’

A big part of my study will be about the origins of these metaphors. It is widely agreed that metaphors come into existence in response to the shock of the new. Something hitherto unknown to us starts to need language that is not yet in existence to describe it. The new language comes to birth via the use of some suitable aspect of a familiar thing which is pressed into service to explain the unfamiliar thing. And so, in this third phase of my project, I am focusing on that all-important beginning point. I have been trying to imagine the genesis of New Testament atonement language.

I have located that genesis within Pentecost. As Jimmy Dunn made clear many years ago, the experience of the Spirit, for the first Christians, was an experience of the risen Jesus. And, as I discovered the other day with my students as we studied the A, B, C, B1, A1 structure of Acts 2, the central fact of the Day of Pentecost narrative is the fact that ‘God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ’ (2:36). Ascension is the message of Pentecost. The giving of the Spirit is the evidence of the ascension. Once given, the Spirit seems to have been an entirely convincing experience of the risen, ascended Jesus, who was now Lord and dispenser of the Spirit. Not only did this result in the crowds that formerly mocked now being mysteriously ‘cut to the heart,’ but from here on in, the Spirit seems to have provided continual epistemic access to the two least verifiable and yet the two most crucially important axes of the Christian faith: the reported past of the resurrection of Christ and the uncertain future of the return of Christ. Nearly all the people depicted in Acts as coming to faith in Christ were not eye-witnesses of the empty tomb. They were convinced, it seems, by the indwelling of the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead.

As a result of the coming of the Spirit the metaphors of atonement were generated as ways of making sense of the great reversal that was the resurrection and glorification of the shamefully crucified Jesus of Nazareth. Pentecost, therefore, together with its immense after-glow, was a breakthrough. It cut people to the heart and brought an experience of life ‘in Christ’, together with such joy and peace that people became willing to risk everything for the Way.

This new Pentecost standpoint gave the earliest believers a subversively alternative angle on things over against the powerful hegemonies that still viewed Jesus as the shamed revolutionary. Metaphor gave triumphal expression to this subversive view of Jesus, the true Lord and Saviour. Hence it may be that the earliest metaphors are those of a more triumphalistic or reassuring kind: the union of believers with their triumphant enthroned Messiah, and the wonders of being justified in Christ; of sharing in his vindication. Then, as time goes on, the metaphors go on providing language for a faithful response to the ever deepening tensions with Rome and the religious establishment. I say this tentatively knowing that the dating of the New Testament documents is perennially contentious, but there seems to be a shift of emphasis in the later parts of the New Testament away from participation in the triumph and vindication of Christ and towards an emphasis on sacrifice.  As persecution mounted it may be that the metaphors of cost, though doubtless always to hand, were brought more into play. These express a more fraught relationship to power. To this phase belong the cost-orientated and bloody imagery associated with ransomed slaves, temple sacrifices and battlefields. These prepared the faithful for the eventuality of being called upon to pay the ultimate price for their faith.

The possible implications of this work of mine for mission, ministry and the life of faith I have yet to think through, so I would very much welcome any comments you may have about this post.

O Worship the King, all glorious above

by Sheryl Anderson.

I recently travelled to Ghana. I went to represent the Methodist Church in Britain at the Conference of the Methodist Church in Ghana. The opening of the Conference was an unforgettable experience; an event both entirely Methodist and thoroughly Ghanaian, which lasted nearly five hours. One of the most moving parts of the service occurred when the various groups and organisations within the life of the Church processed into Sekondi Methodist Cathedral, singing Wesley hymns, and offering gifts to give thanks to God. The familiarity of the worship demonstrated the Ghanaian Church’s roots as an ‘Overseas District’ of British Methodism. In contrast, the procession of the traditional chiefs exhibited a character and decorum most emphatically Ghanaian. Wearing magnificent robes and much gold, accompanied by a retinue of courtiers, the chiefs brought a quality of dignity and nobility to the proceedings. Speaking through an advocate – no chief acting in an official capacity talks directly to the assembled company, but always through a spokesperson – each one brought greetings and gifts. They were treated with deep respect and honour, as befits kings. The Conference was truly graced by their presence.

As I watched and listened I realised I was in the presence of customs, conduct and attitudes that are as ancient as human society. I was reminded of the behaviour of the Old Testament kings, whose royal courts comprised family members, officers, advisors, soldiers, servants and hangers on. Clearly, the writers of the Old Testament observed the way important men exercised power and authority, and decided that God, who is even more important and has the most power and authority, must behave like this too.

Consequently, we find descriptions of God’s court, and of God scheming and plotting to affect the affairs of humans.[i]

At the beginning of the Book of Job (one of the lectionary readings set for this time of the year) we see a similar scene portrayed. The heavenly court gathers; present are all sorts of beings and functionaries who come together to wait on the pleasure of God, the heavenly king. These courtiers include a specific individual, a character named in many translations as Satan.

I am not a Hebrew scholar, but the inference in the way the Hebrew is translated seems misleading.  The actual word is ha-satan, and it means, the satan.  In most English translations of the Bible it is written with a capital letter, so it appears that this is a being whose name is Satan.  However, this an interpretation of the text.  It is possible to understand the term as a role, an occupation.  Just as in the court of an ancient Middle Eastern king there were various roles that must be fulfilled, so the writer imagines it is the same in the heavenly court. The Hebrew word satan means something like, accuser, or prosecutor.  Therefore, another way of understanding the text is that there is a Public Prosecutor in God’s heavenly court, whose task is to present the evidence against those who break God’s Law. This interpretation helps to make sense of what happens next, for it seems that God and the Public Prosecutor have a contest, the object of which is Job’s faithfulness. The challenge is to discover whether Job is faithful because he has led a fortunate life and never endured any suffering, or because he truly loves and respects God. As the Prosecutor says in Job 1:9, ‘Does Job fear God for nothing?’

The Book of Job identifies a common misunderstanding about God. Human flourishing is often profoundly thwarted by circumstances.  We can explain this by imagining that the universe is engaging in a cruel game with us. For believers, it is easy to assume that the opponent is God – a capricious player, seeking to manipulate us by trickery and cunning. This misconception of God leads to the following logic: if I can guess the correct moves I can win the game and get what I want. Conversely, if I do not get what I want, or it is taken away, I must have somehow failed to play correctly.

Christianity offers a counter to this false construction. Surely, the mark of a loving God is that God would be born among us, live among us, suffer death as we do, and, by so doing, enable us to encounter the beauty of love, in that love can continue to grow, withstand and overcome even the most evil acts. In other words, God became what we are so that we might become what God is.

 

[i] See for example 1Kings 22:19-23. It is important to notice that this passage tells us more about the behaviour of kings in the ancient Middle East than it does about God.

Speaking freely about Free Speech

by Ermal Kirby.

I have a confession to make: I’ve struggled for a long time with the notion of free speech. There; I have said it! And now I will duck down behind my defensive wall, while the missiles are fired, and seek to explain this unorthodox view.

My unease is due partly to an awareness that speech is never truly unfettered. (For example, the law forbids utterances that incite racial hatred or violence.) More fundamentally, I see ‘free speech’ being widely presented as one of the foundational values of civilised, democratic societies – some people would want to regard it as an ‘absolute’ value – and I find myself wondering why this particular freedom should have been accorded this status, privileging it above other values.

While I believe that there are ‘absolutes’ in our world, I find that in practice we run the risk of leading distorted and unreal lives if we begin to treat any value or principle, apart from one, as absolute. We acknowledge the fundamental role of gravity in our universe, but we do not treat it as ‘absolute’, as we have discovered that it can be countered by other forces and principles that are equally valid. We take to the air and fly, seemingly unconstrained by gravity, while never forgetting its power, or the devastating consequences if countervailing forces fail.

So ‘free speech’ has to be qualified; and the necessary countervailing force (which I would argue is universally applicable) is found in the formula, “Speaking the truth in love.” It is a formula that is found in the Christian Scriptures (Ephesians 4:15), but there is no proprietorial right to be asserted, and the formula should not be dismissed solely on the grounds of its source.

According to this formula, speech that is truly free has the effect of liberating the speaker and the hearers, setting them free from constraints that make them less able to experience the wholeness and well-being that is their rightful inheritance as human beings. Christians believe that ‘Love’ (unconquerable benevolence) is the foundational principle of life; it is absolute. Love should be, therefore, both the motivation and the goal of ‘free speech’.

Comedians and politicians, columnists and poets, with all the rest of humanity, have the responsibility of ensuring that their speech is freeing as well as free. One quick way of testing whether speech meets these criteria would be to ask, If my audience was made up primarily of the people about whom I am speaking, would it be for them a liberating, life-giving experience, and would I be at ease sharing a meal with them after making these comments?

Boris Johnson, the former Foreign Secretary, is an educated man, and an astute politician. We can believe, therefore, that he was fully aware of the effect that his writing about the burqa in his column in the Daily Telegraph in August would have on his readers, and that he could anticipate the intense debate that would follow.

The arguments became so widespread, and so heated, that an investigation had to be launched, to determine whether or not Mr Johnson breached the Code of Conduct of the Conservative Party. I want to suggest that the test that needs to be applied is not the Code of a political party, but rather, the test of common humanity. What might be the adjudication if the charge were seen to be, in essence, one of bullying – using one’s power, influence or authority to intimidate, humiliate, denigrate, or deny rights to someone who does not have the same influence or power?

‘Confession’, admitting and turning away from fault in the context of worship, is practised less and less in our world. How refreshing, how liberating, it would be to hear an admission from Mr Johnson that on this occasion he had ‘missed the mark’ – or perhaps, given that Classics was his field of study, he might prefer to render it in Latin: ‘Mea culpa; mea maxima culpa.’ And then he would find that he is in the company of many others who recognise that they too keep failing as they try to learn what it means to ‘speak the truth in love’ – but we don’t give up, because we believe that love is the road that leads to Truth, absolute and whole.