Disappointment

Tudor GriffithsAs a Welsh exile in Cheltenham, I have to confess to disappointment at events on two successive Twickenham Saturdays after the high of winning against England. The dream is over for another four years. But even if we could not care less about rugby, we know what it is to be disappointed. Other people have let us down, disappointed us. We have disappointed others and we have disappointed ourselves, kicking ourselves perhaps for something we said poorly or inappropriately.

But those of us who are Christians often like to appear relentlessly upbeat; somehow being disappointed  can seem unspiritual. Do we have a Theology of disappointment?

Maybe we begin with a frank recognition that some hopes are dashed. We simply do not get all we would like or ask for. Growing in maturity means we accept this. But I have learned that those who have been powerful in business or successful in any enterprise can find it very hard indeed when they don’t get their way in other spheres of life.

In our more reflective moments we could consider where we have invested our hopes – in our jobs or family or achievements in one way or another. If we ask too much of any of these, we may find that we have simply set ourselves up to be disappointed.

What about the things that God never says? Never in the Old Testament does God say to people, ‘I am disappointed in you’. Jesus never told his disciples that they were a ‘disappointment’ to him. He is frustrated with them clearly and at times very cross with them, but he never calls them a ‘disappointment’. Maybe we can take heart in our disappointments, that it seems Jesus remarkably continues to believe in us.

The Revd Canon Dr Tudor Griffiths, Area Dean of Cheltenham

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The Gift of Hospitality

Bishop MartynHospitality – a word that is bandied around a lot these days, but do we all mean the same thing when we use it?

Immanuel Kant famously spoke of hospitality as ‘the right of a stranger not to be treated as an enemy when he arrives in the land of another’. The philosopher Jacques Derrida drew on this essentially political understanding to contrast the laws of hospitality (for example the laws that surround immigration) and The Law of unconditional hospitality, the universal law of welcome to the stranger. We need them both, he says, but their relationship is highly complex.

As someone who has lived in a number of different countries, I can bear personal testimony to this tension. I have been on the receiving end of extraordinarily generous hospitality in countries that place a very high value on welcoming the stranger, while also enshrining profound prejudice in their legal system.

Perhaps one way for us to wrestle with this tension is to understand hospitality as a form of gift exchange, an exchange in which both parties give and both parties receive. So we will always find that the guest brings unexpected gifts, which elicit surprising responses within us. In Christian terms, these surprising responses can be understood as the work of God’s Holy Spirit, the One who works in the relationship between ‘the other’ and me. It’s in this interaction between host and guest, between giving and receiving that the Holy Spirit of God comes to us as The Gift.

The Bishop of Tewkesbury, the Rt Revd Martyn Snow

The World in Union

Nikki ArthyA homeless woman lay slumped at a table in MacDonald’s for hours before anyone noticed that she had died.  The incident took place this week at a MacDonald’s in Hong Kong. CCTV footage showed that the woman had not moved for seven hours before other diners realised that something was very wrong.

The woman has been held up as an example of Hong Kong’s McRefugees: people who are homeless and so regularly spend the night in MacDonald’s restaurants that are open 24 hours. The restaurant is a safe environment, a place to get through a long night rather than try to sleep on the streets.

The story echoes the plight of homeless young people in London who are unable to find a bed in an emergency hostel. As a last resort, it’s reported that New Horizon Youth Centre distributes bus tickets and information about bus routes, encouraging young people to spend the night on the buses that traverse the capital. With the lack of affordable accommodation, spiralling rents and cuts in the number of hostel beds, it’s safer riding buses than spending the night sleeping rough.

England’s exit from the Rugby World Cup is sad for many reasons, above all perhaps for the premature evaporation of that sense of community spirit that many of us have enjoyed whilst watching a match. The World in Union; the World as One? Here’s hoping that we will translate that spirit into a legacy of care across our communities, especially for those most in need.

Revd Canon Nikki Arthy, Rector of Gloucester City and Hempsted and Residentiary Canon at Gloucester Cathedral

Don’t lose faith

Richard AtkinsLast month, the Government downgraded the role of Minister for Faith, handing it instead to a junior minister. Meanwhile, the Labour Party has refused to comment on speculation in the religious press that Jeremy Corbyn is thinking about appointing a Minister for Jews and a Minister for Muslims.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair was once told “we don’t do religion” by Alistair Campbell. From Blair back to Corbyn may seem like a journey of a million miles but an interesting article in the Spectator illustrates that, far from being the angry atheist that some have painted him, Corbyn is much more moderate than perhaps the press are giving him credit. “I’m not anti-religious at all,” says Corbyn, “not at all… I find religion very interesting. I find the power of faith very interesting. I have friends who are very strongly atheist and wouldn’t have anything to do with any faith, but I take a much more relaxed view of it. I think the faith community offers and does a great deal for people. There don’t have to be wars about religion, there has to be honesty about religion. We have much more in common than separates us.”

As Faith and Ethics Producer at BBC Radio Gloucestershire for the past decade and more I would say the same – the faiths have more in common than that which separates them; they have an enormous amount to offer –  working together and not apart. This view is seen by some Christians as being the weak option; they see the role of the Christian to ‘convert’ those who are different from us, have a different belief; we like to take the moral high ground as THE faith not a faith.

That’s one way of understanding the Christian faith but it’s not the one I can sign up to. I simply don’t believe that view is valid. Yes, there are differences, of course there are, and it seems to me that civilisation is all the better for it. Would the world be enhanced if we were all only Christian or Muslim, Hindu or Jewish? Personally, I can’t think of a worse place to live.

One of the highlights of Bishop Rachel’s Inauguration was the fact that leaders of other faiths were invited. I know Imam Hassan from the Rycroft Street Mosque in Gloucester, he’s a friend, and I know he was thrilled to not only to be invited but also to be involved and have the opportunity to welcome Bishop Rachel. The Government may have downgraded the role of Minister of Faith but the faiths themselves should not feel downgraded but continue to find a voice in an age when the voice of reason and hope needs to be heard more than ever.

Rev Canon Richard Atkins, Faith and Ethics Producer/Breakfast presenter, BBC Radio Gloucestershire