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Posts by Beth Routledge

If I Were Prime Minister

Good morning, Mr Cameron.

Paracetamol? Coffee?

The campaign is over and the post-election knees up is over and the weekend is over. It is Monday morning. It is the start of the next five years of your life. It is time to go back to work and get on with the business of governing the country, including the nearly two thirds of us who voted for someone else.

Oh, that’s right. I didn’t vote for you and I loathe everything you stand for, but you are apparently my Prime Minister too.

So with that in mind, let me offer you some unsolicited advice on what my priorities would be if I were in my first hundred days of a new Parliament.

  • Set out a timetable for electoral reform. I would start by abolishing the House of Lords and setting a date for a referendum on PR.
  • Secure the future of the National Health Service. I would tell the public that the NHS is incredibly expensive for government and is delivered absolutely free of charge to the public, and that that is the way it is and the way it should always be. I would tell them what an absolute privilege it is to live in a country where our highest economic priority is to look after the sick. I would reverse the steps that have already been taken towards privatisation, completely and unreservedly. I would put control of decisions about the NHS back into the hands of healthcare professionals and patients. I would fire Jeremy Hunt.
  • Repeal the Health and Social Care Act 2012. 
  • Disestablish the Church of England. 
  • Raise the minimum wage to the living wage.
  • Reshape the funding of higher education. Specifically, I would abolish tuition fees and student loans and I would reintroduce student grants. I would pay for this by introducing a graduate tax of 10% on any income over £21,000.
  • Have a different conversation about immigration. In the last year, every mainstream politician in England who has talked about immigration has framed it as a problem. I still don’t know why. I think we would get a lot further if we stopped blindly accepting that it is a problem, and started talking about the positive effects that immigration has had on the UK.
  • Reform taxes. I would close tax loopholes on big business, I would actively seek to prosecute and recover funds from those who have evaded tax, I would abolish the non-domiciliary tax status, and I would raise the top tax bracket by 2% on the richest 1%. Just for starters.
  • Start the process of nuclear disarmament. I would commit to completing the process during the life of this government.
  • Recommend to Her Majesty the Queen that the 49,000 men who were convicted under historic anti-gay laws are immediately given pardons and full apologies.

I have more, but that’ll do you for now.

Best wishes,

A Socialist Liberal
(for whom you now work)

Fifteen Hours To Change The World

And so it is that every once in a while we all get one day to say what we really think.

This is not simply an opportunity, but a right and a privilege and a responsibility for our own futures, for the lives of our fellow men and women, and for the world we will leave to those who come after us.

Vote for a better world. Vote for a braver world. Vote for a more compassionate world. 

Vote because today you get to decide what matters most to you.

Vote to say something about healthcare, about education, about war and peace, about social justice, about the economy, about our place in the ever growing and ever shrinking world, about transport and the environment, about the kind of people you want us to be and the kind of society you want to be part of building.

And above all, don’t squander your vote to apathy, or to cynicism, or to staying home.

Go.

Separate Is Not Equal

Today, members of the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church were sent a paper on “the theology of marriage as currently articulated through the Canons and Liturgy of the Scottish Episcopal Church, and exploring whether there is a case for change based on tradition, scripture, and reason”.

This has been sent out in advance of the bulk of the Synod papers, and we have been asked to devote some time to reading and digesting it in preparation for what is suggested will be substantive debates at Synod in June. It clearly represents an enormous amount of work by the Doctrine Committee, and they are to be praised for their commitment to it. I believe it has the potential to be a very useful document, both in framing and informing such debate. The purpose of this document is not to take a position, but to outline all the positions and the arguments for and against them. It starts by suggesting cases for no change and for change to Canon 31 (which it calls Options A and B, and, recognising that those arguments tend to be in direct opposition to one another, lays them out as far as possible in parallel. At the end, it suggests a case for what it calls an Option C, which represents the argument to allow recognition and blessing of same-sex partnerships but not to allow them to be called marriage.

It is this last part that is my concern.

And let me be very clear: I am not criticising the Doctrine Committee for fulfilling their stated purpose and outlining all possible options. I do not think that this option was dreamed up by the Committee; I think that it represents a position that exists and has been thought of already by many people and was always going to be proposed in one form or another.

As an option that has now been articulated and put out there into the world, I think it is important that we talk about it.

Because let me also be very clear: Option C is not a real option.

In an effort to be clear about their meaning, the Doctrine Committee explain that what this suggests is ‘a rite equivalent to marriage for same-sex partnerships but called something else’. Again, this is not language peculiar to the Doctrine Committee; it is an explanation that I have heard in synods and committees and Cascade Conversations for the last three years from well-meaning people who have never read Animal Farm.

In the world before civil partnerships, Option C was something that we might have grabbed with both hands. In a world where I had never campaigned for marriage equality, I would have said that this was the best we would get and more than I had ever dared hope for. I know now that that is not true. The world has changed, and will keep on changing. I live now a country where marriage is just marriage, where equal means equal, and where I know that we can believe in and fight for better.

During the House of Commons debate on marriage equality in England and Wales, in a speech that will go down alongside Martin Luther King in the history of great human rights speeches, David Lammy said, “Separate but equal is a fraud. Separate but equal is the language that tried to push Rosa Parks to the back of the bus. […] It is an excerpt from the phrasebook of the segregationists and the racists. It is the same statement, the same ideas, and the same delusion that we borrowed in this country to say that women could vote — but not until they were 30. […] It entrenched who we were, who our friends could be, and what our lives could become. This was not ‘separate but equal’ but separate and discriminated, separate and oppressed, separate and browbeaten, separate and subjugated. Separate is not equal, so let us be rid of it.”

If an Option C is passed by the Scottish Episcopal Church, it will achieve something that is not fair or just or right and that pleases no one. Option C will alienate couples who are married out there in the world and are… what, when they walk through the doors of a church? Option C will not guarantee an end to homophobic and separatist policies such as the ones enumerated in the Bishops’ Guidelines in December. Option C will stall the fight for real equality as we live through a decade or more where people like me will be expected to sit down and shut up because we will be thought to have won. Option C is something people will expect me to say thank you for.

No.

The lie of separate but equal is one that sustained apartheid in South Africa and segregation in America. It is a lie that today allows a political campaign to flourish in Britain through the language of hate, and that in the Church aims to make us all believe that the struggle for gender equality in Lambeth Palace has been won and is over when nothing could be further from the truth. It is the language used by those who believe that men are better than women, that black people are inferior to white people, and that gay people are deserving of less than straight people, but who do not have the guts to say any of it out loud in a world that knows how wrong they are. It is a lie that has no place in a civilised society, and it is one that I will never vote for.

The Further Adventures of My Ridiculous Accent

He got up to leave, thanking me for seeing him and brushing off my apologies about the wait.

He said: “And before I go, Doctor, whereabouts in Northern Ireland is that lovely accent of yours from?”

“Newcastle upon Tyne,” said I, with a straight face.

He frowned. “I don’t think I’ve heard of it,” he admitted. “Where is that in relation to Belfast?”

“Far side of the Irish Sea,” I said. “The one next to Hadrian’s Wall.”

Brighton Marathon 2015: Race Report

I signed up for the Brighton Marathon in July last year. I didn’t tell many people about it until after the Great North Run, in September. I trained through the snow and drizzle of a winter in the west of Scotland (with varying levels of consistency). I somehow ended up doing most of my long runs during the week, from work to home in a very much Going The Pretty Way; I realised that this had perhaps been a mistake when I discovered at 10pm on a Wednesday that I have great difficulty stomaching real food after anything beyond about 14 miles. By the time I got to Holy Week (and taper / cross training via altar stripping and thuribleing), I was questioning my own sanity.

On Friday, I packed and panicked and dithered. I almost forgot my gels. I did forget my sunscreen, which is why I am now sporting an impressive Garmin sunburn line on my left wrist. I slept badly, alternating between worrying that I’d sleep through the alarm and having confusing dreams about running five different marathons that weren’t Brighton.

My goal was to finish (and get an automatic PB). My second goal was sub-6:00. My only-if-unicorns-exist goal was sub-5:30, which would happen only if I didn’t hit the wall and my legs became powered by jet fuel.

We arrived in Brighton on Saturday afternoon, caffeinated, to blue sky, sunshine, and hugs from Pam, who was to provide the Local Knowledge section of my support crew. If you are doing your first marathon, I highly recommend choosing a city that has a friend in it. Not only are they able to source plates of the city’s finest carbohydrates, they can also be emotionally blackmailed into provision of cheerleading services.

Of course, it turns out that I have many excellent (and insane) friends. Since starting to tell people in September that for my birthday I was going to run a marathon, I had amassed quite the cheering squad and with more to come.

Support Crew Selfie

Support Crew Selfie

My morning began with a hug from Holly and an observation that I appeared to be shaking, and then a frantic hunt for an open shop that would sell me some sort of sanitary wear. At eight in the morning. On a Sunday. In England. Thank God for Tesco Metro. And because the queue for the Portaloos was going nowhere fast, thank God also for large trees and shamelessness.

I joined a crowd of people who were wearing trainers and carrying kit bags, and trusted that at least if we got lost we would all get lost together. I got chatting to a man who was running for Clic Sargent. We exchanged cities and half marathon times and longest run stories and gel flavours, and chat about triathletes (neither of us are) and Tough Mudder (he will be next month). I never did learn his name. I hope you did well, Clic Sargent Man! A short way from Preston Park, the guy at the head of our little group walked into a housing estate, which didn’t seem quite right, and then he started to look a little vague. “Mate, do you know where you’re going?” asked my friend. He gestured at the twenty or thirty people who were behind us. “Only, we’ve all been following you.”

Finally, we all came upon a park with a lot of people lining up behind a start line. After a brief panic, we realised that they were the runners for the Brighton 10K. We agreed that we were a bit envious, but magnanimously cheered them on their way before splitting up to find baggage trucks and coffee and, in my case, the aforementioned large tree.

As I was searching for the entrance into the start pens, my phone rang. Coralie! She had been travelling into Brighton for the day and hadn’t expected to make it to the start, but she was standing next to my corral. It was lovely to see a friendly face before I got going.

And then we did get going and I was sent on my way by a high-five from Jo Pavey. I love Jo Pavey. The Paula Radcliffes and Mo Farahs of this world are fabulous and inspirational and I’ll never shut up about the year I high-fived Mo Farah in the Great North Run, but people like Jo make people like me believe that we can do it too.

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The first mile loops around Preston Park, up what on the elevation profile looks like the worst hill of the course. I was running next to a rhino, a Peppa Pig, and a guy called Dave who was wearing an enormous telephone and raising money for the Samaritans, so there was plenty of crowd support for the little knot near me. I liked that hill, which kept me from going off too fast, and as we turned downhill just before the first mile marker I was chanting to myself to not overcook the downhills. I still had twenty five miles to go, and that’s quite a lot of miles.

The next few miles ticked away steadily. It was nice to run past the Pavilion, which felt like a landmark. Coralie saw me there and screamed, but apparently I had game face on and didn’t notice her at all. (Sorry.) A bit past The Level, there is a tiny loop less than a quarter of a mile long that goes up a short sharp hill and past about five apartment buildings. I realised halfway up the hill that I had gone past the 4 mile marker and that that meant I could have my first gel.

A very short way after that, there is a longer hill on the way up into Kemp Town. I was happy and enjoying the sunshine and feeling strong, and the crowds were out in force. And then, out of nowhere, Holly and George were on the street and cheering. I hadn’t expected to see them until half marathon point, so it was amazing to see them there. “WHAT ARE YOU GUYS DOING HERE?!” I shouted. “GO RUN!” George yelled at me.

Photo Credit: Her Majesty (in the blue jumper, above)

Photo Credit: Her Majesty (in the blue jumper, above)

And less than half a mile later, there was Pam, who got a sweaty hug before I dashed off down to the seafront.

The course after that point cuts off the pier but then follows the seafront for a long way, all the way down to Ovingdean, as an out-and-back. I liked the out-and-back aspect of it at that stage; I was on a nice gradual slope up, and I enjoyed watching the faster runners and realising that it would be mostly downhill on the way back into the centre of Brighton. It was warm and there was a gorgeous sea breeze and the smell of salt in my nose. I was having a ball. My energy levels were good. My legs felt good. The only thing that was bothering me, actually, was an awareness that my underarms were beginning to get quite sore. There was a St John Ambulance cadet at the 6 mile marker handing out Vaseline, and I cut across the road to get to him. “Yes,” I said, and slathered it on. Sorted.

Later, so I am told, a very small boy who borrowed George’s lap because his feet were sore would get very concerned that the cycling St John Ambulance paramedics were “cheating”.

I had been taking on a couple of slurps of water at most of the water stations, but I was offered a bottle of Gatorade at that point. I hadn’t trained with it but I tend to handle sports drink fairly well if the flavour isn’t too strong, and I grabbed a lemon one. I had never had it before yesterday, but it is the most delicious thing in the world. It tasted like a lemon ice lolly. I decided then that that was what I wanted at the finish. I took a bottle of lemon Gatorade every time one was offered after that, and let me tell you, the thought of that ice lolly (which by the end I didn’t even want anymore) sustained me through a few dark patches in the later miles.

There were no dark patches yet, though. There were some quiet spots down at the far reaches of the course, out on the coastal path between Brighton and Ovingdean, and I’d tucked my iPod into my belt in case I wanted music, but I found that I was quite happy just to be alone with my thoughts and the wind and the sound of a hundred running shoes slapping on the tarmac.

The support picked up again as we ran into Brighton, between the 10 and 11 mile markers. A woman in a burgundy fleece was giving out free hugs and she was so enthusiastic that I took one, which was a good decision. An older gentleman was giving out Jelly Babies and I took one of those, too, which was a bad decision and I had to fight off nausea for half a mile until the next water station.

Just after 12 miles, I heard a yell of, “GO ON, GIRL!” and I waved at Pam who had made it down from Kemp Town.

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And very soon afterwards, near the hotel, were Holly and George and Coralie, screaming fit to wake the dead and having got hold of a couple of noisemakers.

By now, the fast runners were coming back towards us and heading down towards the finish line. I had a long, long way to go before I was back on that side of the road.

I got quite worried when my Garmin went for 13 miles and I couldn’t see a mile marker anywhere. It had been measuring a tenth to two tenths of a mile long ever since Preston Park, but usually I was close enough to spot the mile marker when it went. A few fuzzy-headed minutes later, I saw the Hilton arch for half marathon point and figured out that that was what we were getting instead of a 13 mile marker. I’d set up my Garmin so that I could just see the clock and get an alert and lap pace every time I went through a mile, but I flicked through the screens as I went under the arch.

2:41, which is twelve minutes quicker than my half marathon PB in any actual half marathon. And yet I was about to do it all over again.

I knew I wouldn’t see my crew again until near the end, so I settled in for the long haul.

We drifted along the seafront, still passing all the people who were racing through 24 and 25 miles and towards the finish. At some point we split so that they were on the seafront path proper while we were on the road, and then after the 14 mile marker the course took us up into Hove. Hove was out in force, although my main memory of this part was that it was an awful lot longer than it looked on the map. My pace had dropped by a fair bit by 16 miles, but I was determined that I was going to keep running until the 18 mile marker, which had been the length of my longest long run, before I thought about walking and just let’s never mind that all of my long runs had been punctuated by breaks for traffic lights… I was uninjured and my energy levels were still good, but my legs now felt very much like this qualified as a very long run indeed. I took on more water, more Gatorade, and orange slices where they were offered. I avoided the jelly babies like the plague after the nearly-puking incident by the Marina. I had been dutifully taking on gels every three miles, but I was struggling to stomach them now. I asked one of the spectators if I could have her glass of Prosecco instead. I cheered for Ellie the Elephant, running for Mind.

As I finally glimpsed the corner that would take us back down to the seafront, I bleeped for 18 miles and I saw the mile marker a short way ahead and I thought that I really might walk.

And then a pub started playing Chariots of Fire.

You can’t walk in Chariots of Fire.

Of course, you also can’t cry in the eighteenth mile of a marathon, that’s stupid, there’s still eight miles to go.

But it was about then that I started to believe that I was really going to finish this thing.

I got down to the seafront and to 19.26 miles (on my Garmin) before I walked. I walked to the 20 mile marker and then started running again. This is called the Road To Hell, out to the lifeboat station and back, and I was beginning to see why they call it that. In my head, I devised a run/walk strategy of a mile and a half running to a half mile walking that was intended to have my last walk finish at 25 miles. I forced another gel, and made a face but didn’t feel sick.

“And then you run,” I told myself.

The course support was very very thin that far out. I thought about my music, but decided that I would just get annoyed by it. I became that irritating person who cheers on the other runners. I ran for a bit with one man in sore silent solidarity, after a brief chat where we agreed that we were nearly done and we would finish and we might as well run through the pain. Just before the turn around, the course goes around the back of the lifeboat station. I was done with this bit. Oddly, not necessarily done with running so much as just very much done with this section of the course.

The out-and-backs that make it such a fabulous spectator course, both for the spectators and for the seeing a lot of your crew, especially if you have as dedicated a crew as I did, are a bit of a double-edged sword for the actual running of them. I loved seeing people come back from Ovingdean and thinking that I’d be coming that way soon, but I hated seeing how far we had to go before we were done with the Road To Hell.

At the 23 mile marker, there was a chip mat and a crew member reading out everyone’s names. He pronounced my last name right on the first try. That was maybe more impressive than the fact that I had just run 23 miles. Also at the chip mat, the map on the Brighton Marathon app corrected itself from projected position to actual position. This put me back from 23.9 miles to 23 miles, accounted for by my walks but apparently putting my crew down in Brighton into a frenzy as they tried to work out whether I had been put in the back of an ambulance.

That got me back onto the seafront, down by the beach huts and with lots of support out.

At 25 miles, I kept the promise I had made to myself back down by the lifeboat station. “And now you go and you don’t walk again and you bloody well run it in!”

I’ve said much the same thing to myself twice now at the 12 mile marker of the Great North Run, and I’ve never managed it. I was going to manage this one. I would never ever again get to do the last mile of my first marathon. Every time I looked like I was struggling, every time I caught someone’s eye, every time I was alone, someone shouted for me or a kid gave me a high five. “Great form, keep that up all the way to the finish!” someone yelled. “You’re still smiling; keep running happy, 3823!” shouted someone else. It worked well enough that I got my pace back up to 12:40 minutes for my twenty-sixth mile.

Not fast. But, faster than I had been — relentless forward progress.

I passed a young guy at the Panda Bridge at the end of Brighton Pier as my Garmin went for 26 miles, and I shouted some encouragement at him. “WAS THAT BEEP FOR 26 MILES?” he screamed at me. “Yes,” I said. “It might be a tiny bit out…” I called over my shoulder. “I DON’T CARE, WE’RE NEARLY DONE!” he screamed back.

The finish line is at the end of a proper downhill, and I went for it. I had glanced at my watch, and saw that I was back on for sub-6:00. The crowds were still out in force, still cheering everyone home, hours and hours and hours after the elites had gone through. And then there were Stewart and Kathryn, and past them Holly, and George who had somehow acquired a windmill, and Coralie and Pam, all of them yelling.

Photo Credit: Stewart Macfarlane

Photo Credit: Stewart Macfarlane

I crossed the line and my medal was put around my neck by the medal lady, and I burst into tears. It is very shiny.

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 18.39.44

My squad found me, and we stood for a good while at the finish line and cheered the last hour of people over the line. And then they got me tea and clothes, and in the case of George allowed me to sit in her wheelchair so that I could get on my pants without falling over. And then we walked slowly home together in the sunshine.

Photo Credit: Stewart Macfarlane

Photo Credit: Stewart Macfarlane

Afterwards, George told me that when they were waiting for me at half marathon point they had been watching the fast runners go through the 25 mile marker. A guy who had been going along at a good clip collapsed, and two other guys, also running fast, both probably on for PBs and proper fast times besides, stopped and got him back to his feet and ran him into the finish. That sums up the spirit of a marathon more than anything else I can write. The running community has a big heart, and room for fast legs and slow legs, and leaves no man or woman behind, and I am very proud to have been a little part of it this weekend.

I did it.

Chip Time: 5:58:31

Inside The Head Of A First Time Marathon Runner

case

  • THIS IS THE MOST EXCITING THING EVER.
  • But what if my legs forget how to run?
  • What if my legs drop off?
  • 26.2 miles is a really long way.
  • Why did I miss that long run that time a couple of months ago?
  • shoes … Vaseline … comfy clothes … comfy shoes … comfy everything … safety pins … gels … Garmin … spare Garmin … all the chargers that have ever existed … spare hair ties … sunglasses … porridge … malt loaf … kitchen sink …
  • No. Really. Shoes.
  • Whose stupid idea was this, anyway?
  • I am very very insane. Obviously.
  • Where did I put my train tickets?
  • What if all the trains break down and I don’t get there in time to get my number?
  • Remember that you always feel terrible until about 4 miles in.
  • You know you can get to 20 miles, and then it’s only a 10K and you can crawl that if you have to. Probably.
  • I AM REALLY EXCITED.
  • AND ALSO TERRIFIED.
  • How many different kinds of weather is it reasonable for a paranoid Glaswegian to pack for?
  • It won’t snow in Brighton in April, right?
  • Am I hydrated enough? Am I hydrated too much? What colour is my wee?
  • What if I sleep through my alarm?
  • I had a dream the other night that I went the wrong way and accidentally ran to London. It’s not impossible.
  • *brain explodes*
  • *words that my grandmother thinks I don’t know in the general direction of my running shoes and the cats*
  • What have I forgotten? It is not possible that I haven’t forgotten anything.

The Secretary General of the Anglican Communion

At the end of last week, the Most Reverend Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, who is the Bishop of the Diocese of Kaduna in Nigeria, was appointed as the new secretary general of the Anglican Communion.

The announcement was made quietly on Maundy Thursday, on a day when most people who might usually be inclined to notice and comment on a significant appointment in the Church could quite properly be expected to be busy with all the furore of Holy Week. A day to bury bad news if ever there was one; and make no mistake, this has been bad news.

To be secretary general of the Anglican Communion is not a little thing. In effect, this man has been appointed as the executive officer of the Council which writes policy for the Anglican Communion and is charged with being one of the bodies that is meant to keep the member churches of the Communion together, and who is now expected to represent the Communion to ecumenical bodies, to worldwide churches, and to secular institutions including the United Nations. This is an appointment that it was important to get right, and that it was important to be seen to get right.

Ask yourself, at a time when issues of human sexuality are tense and prominent in the life of the Church, is it right of the Anglican Communion to appoint a man who has in the past been seen to be so vehemently anti-gay?

Bishop Josiah told the Dallas Morning News in 2007 that “[gay people] are wrong”, and just thirteen months ago at a high profile event in Nigeria he said that “the government has criminalised homosexuality, which is good”. It is not clear whether these are still his views. A private correspondence to the Episcopal Women’s Caucus which was made last week after they had made contact with him stated that his position has not changed and that he does not support the criminalisation of homosexuality — it seems to me that it is not possible for both of those things to be true. He has made no effort to publicly clarify his views; nor has either the Anglian Consultative Council or Lambeth Palace.

It is, perhaps more importantly, also not clear whether the Anglican Consultative Council believed these to be his views at the time that they made the appointment.

I am usually capable of allowing for difference of opinion. I usually take great joy in the fact that in the Anglican Communion we seek to love one another for our differences as well as for our similarities, and that we can make room for how each one of us sees theology and Scripture and God. I can recognise as an adult that not everyone shares my view of the world, and in all the things I have ever said about the theology of human sexuality I have never considered people who believe differently to me to be less than I am or to belong in this Church less than I do. I wish everyone did believe the same as I do, but they don’t and that’s okay.

But it is a different thing to hold and express divisive views as an individual than it is to hold those views when you are supposed to be a visionary bridge builder for reconciliation in a worldwide Church. I am paraphrasing from the person criteria now.

And if you believe that consensual sexual activity between two people who are of the same sex ought to be a criminal act, you are just plain wrong.

That’s not my opinion. That’s just the way it is.

The views of Bishop Josiah need to be clarified publicly. If the Anglican Consultative Council and the Archbishop of Canterbury and my own Primus believe that it is a good and holy thing that someone who holds these views becomes the face which we as Anglicans show to the world, then we need to consider whether we, as individuals and as member Churches, remain in communion with the Anglican Communion.

EDIT: A statement has now been made by Bishop Josiah that he does not and has never supported the criminalisation of homosexuality. He continues to express some very troubling anti-gay sentiments in that statement. There also needs to be clarification on this statement that he “has never” supported criminalisation, which is a direct contradiction to a statement he made in March 2014.

There Has Been A Resurrection

The Provost, the Director of Music, and the Easter Bunny

The Provost, the Director of Music, and the Easter Bunny

Heaven smells like incense and Radox and chocolate and rosemary and Brasso and wine and the dawn and a burning fire.

Christ is risen. Alleluia! Alleluia!

The Unknown

We believe that Christ died and that Christ rises and that Christ will come again.

Right?

I don’t, not today. I believe that he died — except, no, I don’t; I know that he died, because I sat there and I watched it. I sat at the foot of the cross with hundreds of people, all people who had loved him and who had come back to be with him at the end. It happened. The man who travelled and worked and ate with us is dead and buried. Today, I do not believe priest or prophet or any power in heaven or on Earth who tells me that they know what will happen tomorrow.

I keep hearing the unholy screams that you sometimes hear at the news of a sudden death. It is a sound that rips through you like a knife, and once heard it is never forgotten.

Our grief is very very real.

And I wonder: if Christ does not rise, will we still gather here?

After all, he’s dead and yet here we all still are cleaning up his church and setting things to rights. That means something.

He was the speaker of justice and truth and love, the Son of God, teacher and friend and redeemer, who in the end loved all of us so much that he died for us. If tomorrow there is no resurrection, will any of that stop being true? I don’t think it will. I think we might be here anyway, a people whose faith in who this man was and what he did for the world is strong enough to surpass even death.

In our religion the whole symbol of the religion ended in crucifixion and condemnation, but that wasn’t the measure of the experience. That was just the way it ended.

Confession

I am writing this on a piece of paper which I have found in my pocket. I am writing it so that after the end of all things, someone might realise what it was like to live this life and might understand what happened tonight and two thousand years ago and on all the nights to come. As I write, people are coming and going. Some of them I know well, some I have never seen before. They all look just as confused and frightened as I feel.

I still do not understand what happened tonight.

It was never supposed to be like this.

The sun was out today. There was spring in the air. It carried the smell of good food and the noise of young voices making joyful music. We were decked out in gold and glitter and tassels. The city is in holiday mood.

I was there when they destroyed the temple. It’ll be in tomorrow’s papers, no doubt, blamed on kids or yobs or perhaps even terrorists. As precious things were broken to pieces around about me, I heard footsteps coming from behind. I looked around — I thought there was a fire, or an accident, or perhaps the police coming. And as I looked, one of them flew down the centre, eyes wild, elbowing bystanders out of the way, up the steps, and leaping into the most holy of holies, destroying it. In that split second, I saw something that wasn’t for drama or for show but was someone hell-bent on destroying that which he had once loved most. I stopped what I was doing, frozen, with everything around chaos and darkness. I thought: “God, what have we done?” And as suddenly as I’d stopped, I went back into action. It had gone too far to take it back, and dashing through seats and around tables all I could do now was make sure there was no trace left of us. This is what fear tastes like.

As I left, I looked back. It is a dark and desolate place now. There is no love left there.

And now I find myself in this garden. I can see him, here with three of them. I’m hiding in the shadows. I’m not sure I’d be welcome. I want to throw myself down and beg forgiveness for the great evil I’ve helped to do, but I am frightened. I am frightened that he would turn me away and that he would be right to. I am not worthy to be forgiven; why would he forgive me?

Beyond the gates, I can hear traffic and music and people laughing. I want to shake them. My world has ended tonight. They do not care.

I call myself friend, but what sort of friend does this? I call myself an activist, but this time I am too afraid to speak out. I call myself a healer, but look at the destruction I have wrought. I call myself beloved, but what good has loving me done him?

Should you forget everything else I’ve told you, remember this and tell this to your children and your grandchildren: he was a good man who deserved better.

They were followed here by dozens of people. The people are beginning to leave; gathering their things and whispering to each other as they leave the perimeter. I should leave, too. I should take my stiff legs and my hungry belly and my tear-dirty face and my guilt that’s no good to anyone, and I should go home. I won’t, though. Because something is happening tonight, something that I don’t understand and that I’m scared by and that I can’t see ending well. I am too much of a coward to stop it, but I’ll stay here with my cold patch of floor and my thin blanket to at least see it through to the end.