Coin sides and the shape of peacemaking processes

How many sides has a coin? When we toss a coin we call “heads” or “tails” because we assume that a coin just has the two sides. On the toss of a coin we are divided into winners and losers. The winners are able to claim that they won fairly (even though only by chance) and the losers have to suck it up. There are two sides now and both know whether they are on the side with greater chance or lesser chance. The losers’ last chance is to overturn privilege – and the odds are always stacked against them.

The 12 sided thrupenny bit was first minted in 1937

But there aren’t just two sides to a coin. There is another smaller side which nobody calls because it so disproportionately small that the chance of it landing on its edge are virtually zero. But then, who hasn’t spent time standing coins on their edge, and who of us of a certain age hasn’t enjoyed making the old thrupenny bit take its stand on one of its twelve sides (as opposed to its two large sides).

Just imagine twelve sides. That is precisely what our scriptures imagine – with the twelve tribes of the twelve sons of Jacob finding and founding society in the land they were caused to occupy. The early church shared that imagination, counting twelve apostles and replenishing that number when one fell out. The thrupenny bit represents a design to facilitate concelebration, conversation and dialogue – remembering that there are rarely only two sides to any question and that to resolve conflict many sides have to be considered. Sitting round a circular table is to adopt this design. Each person has their point of view, their side, in a facilitative process which intends to iron out the abuses of positional power.

Polyhedron 20 from yellow

Pope Francis, in Fratelli Tutti (2020), suggests the image of the polyhedron as the shape of better things to come. Promoting a “culture of encounter” he writes:

“The image of the polyhedron can represent a society where differences coexist, complementing, enriching and reciprocally illuminating one another, even amid disagreements and reservations. Each of us can learn something from others. No one is useless and no one is expendable. This also means finding ways to include those on the peripheries of life. For they have another way of looking at things; they see aspects of reality that are invisible to the centres of power where weighty decisions are made.”

Fratelli Tutti 2020

Colum McCann underlines how tricky it is to get beyond binary thinking about winners and losers and right and wrong in his novel Apeirogon. The title is a mathematical term for an object of an “observably infinite number of sides” – a shape that reflects that conflict can never be reduced to simple opposed positions. Apeirogon is based on the real life friendship between Rami Elhanan and Bassam Aramin, two fathers (one Israeli, the other Palestinian) united in their grief for their daughters – both killed in conflict. They both join the Parents Circle Families Forum – a group of people similarly bereaved who unite in their sorrow to press for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

Apeirogon: a shape with a countably infinite number of sides. Countably infinite being the simplest form of infinity. Beginning from zero, one can use natural numbers to count on and on and even though the counting will take forever one can still get to any point in the universe in a finite amount of time

from The Apeirogon

And there’s another shape – the circle. The shape of things to come if ever we come to the time of resolution – when there are no sides to join or oppose, when the corners we tend to cling to are rounded off by our encounter with the various truths of any situation. The earth is well rounded as if prepared for peace making.

Clocking Hugo

On the one hand there are clocks like this.

On the second hand there are clocks like this – click on it. It’s worth it.

Clocks and clockmakers have featured as metaphors in theological understandings down the centuries. Hugo is a lovely film based on the book by Brian Selznick which gets the metaphor of the clock ticking again. 12 year old Hugo Cabret lives in the huge clock at the Gare du Nord in Paris. Clocks are the family business. His father was a clockmaker, his inebriated uncle is the clockkeeper at the Paris station.
A present from my ValentineHugo is fascinated by the workings of the clock and how the parts all fit together. He knows that there are never any spare parts, so anything left over has to fit somewhere, and has a vital part to play in working the clock. (Flatpack furniture is packed along similar lines – it’s a sign that the assembly has gone wrong if there is anything left over).
Not only does Hugo apply this principle to the art of clockmaking, he also applies it to people. Georges Méliès was a pioneering film maker who found his skills not wanted as technology moved on. His life disintegrated and Hugo helps put George’s life together again – working like clockwork.
What if there are no spare parts? What if every part of our biodiversified universe has its part to play? What if nothing or no-one is redundant? While our human drives are shaped by the principles of the “survival of the fitting” our organisational thinking should be challenged by working out the role of the square peg, and not just the round peg for the round hole. Neither round pegs or square pegs are spare parts.There are no misfits. Even the orphan in his secret hideaway in the clock tower is no misfit, but has his vital part to play.

>between concentration and diversity

>Lighting effects figure in the story of Jesus’s crucifixion. The spotlight is turned on the cross – all else is darkness. Then the metaphorical curtain opens and the lights go up. It is not only the thief crucified with Jesus, or the Roman soldier who realise what a good day this Friday is. The curtain veiling God is ripped from top to bottom – a new act in history begins.

Funny how evil is an anagram of veil.  Today, Good Friday, embraces the evils of what we are able to inflict on one another. Venom and spite concentrated on Jesus was returned with the full force of humanity. Blind passion gives way to a forgiving love which permits no final solution.

IMG_0772A very belated cut to a hedge came to a sudden stop with this discovery.

Then the following morning in this very suburban garden a resident hedgehog revealed itself. The garden is only two years old, and has developed from a wasteland of a former running track (so the builders reckon). So quickly we are teeming with wildlife in an area which was jokingly known for its radio-active streams.

In contrast, how monstrous it seems to fly in the face of such diversity. This photo shows the one-eyed stupidity of such concentrated evil who thought they could control destiny. It was in the concentration camps that Hitler was able to concentrate on absolute power, without the restraint of any other point of view. I came across this quote from Primo Levi, who wrote in If this is a man Never has there existed a state that was really “totalitarian.” … Never has some form of reaction, a corrective of the total tyranny, been lacking, not even in the Third Reich or Stalin’s Soviet Union: in both cases, public opinion, the magistrature, the foreign press, the churches, the feeling for justice and humanity that ten or twenty years of tyranny were not enough to eradicate, have to a greater or lesser extent acted as a brake. Only in the Lager [camp] was the restraint from below non-existent, and the power of these small satraps absolute.”

Auschwitz II entrance
Auschwitz II Entrance – known as Death Gate
photo by vm-ramos



I was intrigued by a throwaway line at a recent training session when Gail Robinson (our Lay Chaplain for Deaf and Disabled People) explained the origin of the word “handicap”. It dates back to the time before welfare when they would have to beg cap-in-hand. The plight of the “handicapped” has been politically corrected over the years as we have responded to the demands of people with disabilities to be recognised as people with particular challenges which need not be totally disabling.

Andy Capp statue
Photo of Andy by Stan Laundon

Andy Capp is a famous cartoon character whose name is a deliberate pun on the word “handicap” (please imagine a North-East Hartlepool accent). The creation of Reg Smythe, Andy Capp was always the (very politically incorrect) cartoon I turned to in the Mirror when growing up. Andy never had a job and his life seems hopeless and hapless. Rather than rejecting the caricature of people surviving on benefits and those who have to go cap in hand to anyone who might buy them a pint, the people of Hartlepool have taken Andy to heart by celebrating him as a hero for those who can’t (or won’t) work – or aren’t and don’t fit. His place in society is cemented by the statue in Hartlepool – pictured above. There’s more information from Stan Laundon here.

Political correction still has a way to go. Access issues remain. But many people are becoming more aware of their own situation of having a place on the different spectra – for example, autism, asperges, obsessive compulsive disorder and dyslexia. We are now able to diagnose different learning problems (and, as often as not, their compensating abilities), appreciate different personality types and celebrate different intelligences. But in a training room focusing on diversity and disability it is still the tendency to look outside the room towards disabled people, instead of recognising the different (dis)abilities within the group as various people showed themselves differently gifted at sign language, and not so cap-able when it came to coping with IT.

It was distressing to hear the apparent exclusion of people with learning difficulties from our churches and how stones often seem to matter more than people when churches are trying to improve access. But it was good to hear about the Causeway Prospects and other initiatives to include people who find it difficult to express themselves.

Henri Nouwen reflecting on his experience of ministry (back in ’89 when the word “handicapped” was still being politically corrected) within L’Arche writes in The Road to Daybreak

‘Handicapped people are not only poor, they reveal to us our own poverty. Their primal cry is an anguished cry: ”Do you love me?” And “Why have you forsaken me?” We hear this cry everywhere in our world: Jews, blacks, Palestinians, refugees and many others all cry out, “Why is there no place for us, why are we pushed away, why are we rejected?”.

>Diversity Training 2

>Lost in thought this morning – with many matters.
Is this what diversity training looks like? This dance group won a British TV talent competition.

Diversifying is God’s business.

Through Abraham and the cross God provides us with a family tree which renders all brothers and sisters. Hear this (as Abraham and Sarah did) – from Genesis 17 – “I will make nations of you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations …”

God’s business is diversifying – as Paul recognised: “Now faith has come … there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for you are all one …” (Galatians 3:28)

Diversifying is the church’s business. Hear Jesus: “If you greet only your brothers and sisters what more are you doing than others?” (Matthew 5:47)

Restrictions and deprivations make up our history. Analyse the media and it soon becomes apparent that only a small section of society has any say. The voices of so many are not heard. Listening therefore becomes the essential requirement of diversity training. This was the strategy the Church of England try to deploy in our debates about homosexuality in the 90’s. We’re not sure how much listening happened – but the intention was that the gay voice was one which the Christian Church had tried to smother. If someone isn’t allowed to speak – how can they be understood? But how can you listen if you are not pre-disposed to love or care enough to listen to the muffled cries of those fighting for breathing space?

I am reading a book by Natalie Watson called “Introducing Feminist Ecclesiology“. Feminist theologians highlight deprivation and challenge practices which are exclusive. Natalie (why do we use surnames when referring to authors?) quotes Nelle Morton who draws attention to the way that women have heard from one another. “New words and the new way old words came to expression” became a liberating force for the women who have heard from one another. “women came to new speech simply because they were being heard. Hearing became an act of receiving the women as well as the words.”

Diversity training requires us to listen – to listen to those who feel excluded in church and from church, in society and from society. It requires us to realise that they are unable to raise their voices – and if we don’t listen we won’t hear them. It requires us to realise that only the rich and powerful make their voices heard when empires are being built.

Our liturgy (aka our “work) begins with the invitation “lift up your voice” – are we looking forward to a time when all people will be able to lift up their voice (with the confidence that their voice will be heard?

Thank you Tracy for the photo of the Jesus Tree.

>Diversity Training

>Kirsty Young began a four-part history of the British Family from the end of WW2 to the present day last night. It’s a sign of old age when you see your own childhood as history. But that’s what it was and it was a fascinating insight into how families have changed and how my own family changed. The programme highlighted how the family was in crisis as a result of WW2 and how marriage came to be understood relationally rather than institutionally. The programme reminded me of the angst of the 50s and 60s as we discussed and argued (not very calmly because of the issues at stake). Shocking statistics revealed the amount of sexual ignorance and repression. There’s more to look forward as the series continues next week.

Running through my own mind at the same time were thoughts about how to facilitate “diversity training” – that’s part of my job. I had already read Donald Clark’s post about narrow minded (and patronising, frustrating and annoying) diversity training and was wondering what it is all about. Then, putting two and two together I realise how diversity training has developed in family life. The politics of home life has seen the emergence and emancipation of women, the development of companiable relationships between adults and a transformation in relationship with children – (or is that all still aspirational?)

And what has been the training programme? Has it been that through the developments in the media we have been able to be part of a very public debate about relationships and the family? Through the soap operas we have seen all sorts of relationships and sufferings modelled and entertained ideas about where we fit in our own behaviours. And doesn’t the training continue through “homework” and “exercises” – in which we exercise and practise love for others, including listening for their best interest and their frustrations.

Is this a clue for facilitating diversity training? What else is there?

There is also listening. Are there voices we can hear protesting their exclusion and their hurt? Hearing their cries prompts us to ask questions about how much they count as people and to challenge the systems that oppress and marginalise them. We do have a hearing problem though – because the voices of suffering are hard to hear. Their cries are muffled and smothered in so many cases. Careful listening becomes a requirement – listening that is full of care will prise off respectability’s veneer to investigate what is really happening and what people are really feeling. This is diversity training which is moved by compassion to diversify practice and thinking so that there is room for people. People suffer the world over because of their gender, their sexuality, their ethnicity, their nationality, their age, their class etc etc. They suffer personally in the details of their daily life (and often within their own living space/home) – and they suffer because of our narrow minded thinking.

But why do we need “diversity training” in the church? That’s my exercise – “to review continuing ministerial development in the area of diversity issues” – within the monochrome Diocese of Chester. For one thing we could refer to the experience of those who complain about being excluded (women clergy some of the time), or to the absence in our congregations of youngsters (and other groups) because our thinking and practice is not diverse enough to embrace them. Or we could refer to our scripture and Jesus’ ministry which has “diversity training” so much at its heart. Jesus’ life was with the marginalised. He taught us (Matthew 25) to recognise him in the prisoner, the naked, the asylum seeker, the scavenger and the homeless. He invited his followers to diversify their thinking to embrace a saviour who could be crucified as a common criminal. Those who accepted the invitation became a diverse family in which “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female”. (Galatians 3:28)

As an enabled, white, English, straight, educated, male priest in the “established” Church of England in this skewed world I should have enough power to do something to diversify our world. I know it must start from where I am. I’m just off to the Post Office. Who knows – it could just start there.