Vicar's letter for February Fowey News

Dear Friends

Jordan Peterson, 55, is a psychology professor at the University of Toronto. His book ‘12 rules for life’ has been in the news following a sold out associated lecture tour and a controversial Channel 4 News interview with Cathy Newman watched by over 3 million people. He is renowned for his blazing, outspoken opposition of political correctness, which he characterises as totalitarian, intolerant and a growing threat to the primacy of the individual – which is his core value and, he asserts, the foundation of western culture. His primary concern is the defence of the individual against ‘groupthink’.

Peterson’s worldview is essentially this: “Life is tragic. You are tiny and flawed and ignorant and weak and everything else is huge, complex and overwhelming. Once, we had Christianity as a bulwark against that terrifying reality. But God died. Since then the defence has either been ideology – most notably Marxism or fascism – or nihilism. These lead, and have led in the 20th century, to catastrophe.” In particular he highlights an unpopular but perhaps vital realisation: that we are creating a generation of men who (especially if they don’t belong to any ‘minority’ group) are without hope, foundation or purpose.

In all this, the thing that resonated with me is that Peterson is very realistic about the essential darkness of humanity. He points to the flood of hatred, abuse and rage that is now clearly visible on anonymous Twitter feeds and that historically it was “so-called normal people”, not sociopaths, who were responsible for the atrocities of nazism, Stalinism and Maoism. We must not forget, says Peterson, that we are corrupt and pathetic, and capable of great malevolence.

At the same time Peterson believes that everyone is born with an instinct for ethics and meaning and so we have a responsibility to pursue those. He suggests this is what the biblical stories tell us. The great world stories have a moral purpose – they teach us how to pursue meaning over narrow self-interest. 

What ever you make of Peterson as a strange mixture of theologian, psychologist, conservative, liberal, wit and lay preacher, he is asking penetrating questions and exposing the ‘Emperor’s new clothes’ in much of our cultural assumptions and discourse.  For what it’s worth, I think he’s right about humanity - both our essential flaws and our amazing capacity which is part of the bedrock of a Christian worldview and why, for the Christian, Jesus is such good news.

with every blessing

Philip de Grey-Warter, Vica

Vicar's letter for January Fowey News

Dear Friends

December saw a new series of The Grand Tour on Amazon Prime. Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond are back with their banter and outrageously expensive cars. But Top Gear long ago ceased to be a programme about cars. It is pure entertainment. TGT is essential a never-ending middle-aged road trip. The jokes are the same as ever, the outcomes predictable, but the locations are stunning.

What, though, is the secret of the appeal of The Grand Tour? I think it is because Clarkson et al are the court jesters of contemporary culture, or more precisely the jesters of middle-aged male culture.

The 17th century philosopher Blaise Pascal asked "Why do kings have jesters?" In human terms, they have everything anyone could want. The answer, according to Pascal, is that the jester prevents the king from thinking about the one issue he really needs to face up to – death.

Hugo Rifkind unconsciously recognised this when he reviewed the first episode of the new series of TGT in The Times. He wrote: “The presenters of The Grand Tour are not normal. They’re three florid multimillionaires in wallpaper shirts who only leave the Cotswolds for work… And yes, they are anti-PC, instinctively sexist and inclined to laugh at people for things like “being French”, but none of that is ever the point. They don’t talk like this because they mean it. They talk like this because life and existence is a gaping void of nothingness and we are all cold and lonely and going to die. All male conversation – cars, football, politics, woodwork, the merits of the M6 Toll, how you work a tank – is basically the same conversation. It is white noise. It blots out the fear… [it is] holding sadness and despair and terror at bay through the sheer power of inconsequential taking the piss… Weird, mad and pointless, but all the more real because of it. Bantering perennially into the void.”

In the end, if there is no hope beyond death, this makes logical sense. We need our jesters to help us make it through. Our culture craves entertainment to divert us from reality. But these entertainments cannot provide a real hope.

Jesus, however, does.  He is the answer to the deep angst we feel. “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead” (1 Corinthians 15v20), so that death has been defeated and can be faced head on with confident hope. There is no need to ignore it, or to just try to make the best of life before the inevitable. We are not condemned to “eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15v32). We can look forward to being with Christ the other side of death, which is better by far (Philippians 1v23).  

So rather than a banter-full 2018, I pray you a truly Happy New Year founded on the solid hope that Jesus offers. (with thanks to John Stevens)

with every blessing

Philip de Grey-Warter,  Vicar


Vicar's Letter for November Fowey News

Dear Friends

Five hundred years ago a discovery (actually a re-discovery) was made that would change the world, unleashing happiness wherever it went. And still today that discovery is transforming lives and cultures.

The secret was this: that failing, broken people “are not loved because they are attractive, they are attractive because they are loved.”

That realisation could not be more counter-cultural in modern Britain. Everywhere we look today, in magazines, on tv, bill boards and in films we are told that the more attractive we make ourselves, the more loved and happy we will be. But 500 years ago, the Reformation began with the story of one man - Martin Luther - discovering, as he read his Bible that with God, it is the other way round. God does not love people because they have sorted themselves out: he loves failures. And that love causes them to flourish. 

It all started on 31 October 1517, when Martin Luther, a German monk, posted a discussion document - ‘Ninety-Five Theses’ - for debate on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg and the ripples of that action changed everything. 

If we believe 

  • that all human beings are created equal;
  • that everyone is free to act according to conscience;
  • in the right to speak freely and to be treated fairly before the law;
  • that rulers should obey the same laws as their subjects; 
  • that oppression should be resisted; 
  • that leaders should be held to account; 
  • that differences should be tolerated within civil society…

… all that comes from the Reformation as it established the moral, philosophical and political foundations upon which our society is built. Through the Reformation a tidal wave of social improvement was unleashed. Not least because people understood, having first been loved by God, they could go out to love and serve others.

Battles, kings, conquests and empires all get forgotten in time, but good ideas don’t. And that’s why the Reformation is worth celebrating. It wasn’t just a moment in history but the recovery of beautiful truths.

Today we live in an age of extraordinary technological advance. But while technology is doing wonders for our health, work and lifestyle, it is clearly failing to provide us with any deep and lasting satisfaction. Restless, fearful and lonely, ours is a generation self-medicating on the internet, alcohol and anything to fill the void. So for us today the Reformation is still sparkling good news - news of an enjoyable and satisfying God. A God who lavishes his love on those who are flawed and messed up and unattractive. A God whose love can liberate even the most broken and guilty. Nothing about that message has changed or lost its power to brighten lives.

with every blessing

Philip de Grey-Warter, Vicar

Vicar's letter for October Fowey News

Dear Friends

X Factor is now in its fourteenth series and the core formula remains the same. 

In shops, factories, offices, and building sites up and down the land, there are people who sense with every fibre of their being that they are not living the life for which they were made. For many aspiring hopefuls X factor is their one chance to change things for themselves and their families and, as they say into the camera, to show the world and themselves that they are worth something.

Between them and their dream sits a panel of three judges. ‘What would it mean to you to get through?’ one of them trots out, understandably a bit bored by the whole thing. The screen fills with a face, naked with fearful desperation. ‘Everything… it would mean everything. All I want to do is sing.’ And – the unspoken subtext – ‘have you validate my existence.’

Whatever your views on the show, it touches on some profound universal themes – the quest for meaning, significance, and worth. When there is discordance between who we feel we are and what we spend our days doing, that inevitably creates stress. And if we allow anyone but God to determine our self-worth we become incredibly vulnerable. As Simon Cowell dismisses yet another not-quite-good-enough crooner from his presence, all too often you can see their self-esteem crumbling before your eyes.

Christians have a different judge. This judge, our Father God, created us and pronounced us ‘very good’ (Genesis 1:31). This judge sees everything about us (Psalm 139) and is under no illusions about our flaws and imperfections, yet looks on us with delight (Zephaniah 3:17). This judge tells us we are precious in his sight (Isaiah 43:4) and loves us enough to give the life of his Son for our sake (John 3:16). The X Factor he is looking for in us is faith, and faith is a gift he gives to anyone who asks. (with thanks to Jo Swinney at LICC)

with every blessing

Philip de Grey-Warter, Vicar

Vicar's letter for August Fowey News

Dear Friends

Christopher Nolan’s film Dunkirk looks set to be a summer blockbuster and it recalls one of the most extraordinary events of the Second World War: Surrounded by an overwhelming enemy and faced with imminent annihilation, an entire army escaped to safety by sea. It is a gripping story. And a thought-provoking one, too, because even today the word ‘miracle’ hangs over it.

On 23rd May 1940, King George VI requested that the following Sunday should be observed as a National Day of Prayer. Late on the Saturday evening the military decision was taken to evacuate as many as possible of the Allied forces. On the Sunday, the nation devoted itself to prayer in an unprecedented way. Eyewitnesses and photographs confirm overflowing congregations in places of worship across the land. The same day an urgent request went out for boats of all sizes and shapes to cross the English Channel to rescue the besieged army, a call ultimately answered by around 800 vessels.

Across the Channel, in a decision that infuriated his generals and still baffles historians, Hitler ordered his army to halt. Had they continued to fight, the destruction of the Allied forces would have been inevitable. On the Tuesday bad weather grounded the Luftwaffe, allowing Allied soldiers to march unhindered to the beaches. On Wednesday the sea was extraordinarily calm, making the perilous evacuation less hazardous. By the time the German Army was finally ordered to renew its attack, over 338,000 troops had been snatched from the beaches, including 140,000 French, Belgian, Dutch and Polish soldiers.

Now you could argue it was all a coincidence, but I think not. It certainly wasn’t considered so at the time. Sunday 9th June was declared a National Day of Thanksgiving and, encouraged by Churchill himself, the phrase ‘the miracle of Dunkirk’ began to circulate.

We live in a world where most are not simply sceptical or cautious about miracles, instead our culture dismisses miracles as impossible.The view is that, while we may pray, there is no one on the other end of the line. However the events of Dunkirk may suggest we ought to reconsider the elimination of God as an actor in history and politics.

Indeed I think Dunkirk stands as an extraordinary encouragement to pray in faith. However great our problems, God is greater than them all. That ‘Dunkirk encouragement’ to pray in times of need applies at every level of life and to every challenge, from what may be a petty domestic crisis to a national disaster. And although our nation may not face imminent military catastrophe on the scale that it did in 1940, we don’t have to look that hard to see major and overwhelming problems. Dunkirk was a military epic that deserves to be remembered. But, far more importantly, it is an encouragement and reminder to pray. (With thanks to J.John)

with every blessing. Philip de Grey-Warter, Vicar

Vicar's letter for July Fowey News

Dear Friends

Recents events nationally have reminded us that we live in a world that is predictably unpredictable. We have had an election in which the winners lost and where the losers feel they won. We seem to have to endure regular acts of terror and we have had the most appalling catastrophe in London which has revealed incompetence and injustice at the heart of the nation. Finally, almost as an incidental, we have a weakened and divided government starting the most important international negotiations since the Second World War.  Old certainties are being questioned and in the midst of this there is a danger that some of our most deeply held values in society are under threat, not least the values of free speech and true tolerance. 

In that light, the resignation of Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron may be a bell-weather. In his resignation speech, Mr Farron gave his reason: “To be a political leader - especially of a progressive, liberal party in 2017 - and to live as a committed Christian, to hold faithfully to the Bible’s teaching, has felt impossible for me.” Mr Farron does not specify the exact issue, though he admits that it is “hold[ing] faithfully to the Bible’s teaching" that has caused the problem - and he has drawn a great deal of fire for this. His home affairs spokesman, Lord Paddick, resigned on account of Mr Farron’s views. It is certainly true that the Lib Dem leader’s Christianity has been regarded by some as a “problem.”

Our supposedly tolerant society, it seems, isn’t as tolerant as all that. It seems that leaders (and perhaps all of us…?) are not just expected to practice liberal tolerance of others with whom they disagree, but to submit to a new absolute morality and dogma that demands they signal their virtue by celebrating the very thing with which they disagree. Leaders must not merely act in accordance with the democratically determined law of the land, but they must also think correctly, otherwise they will be hunted down by the present day equivalents of the Spanish Inquisition on the lookout for heresy, or Big Brother seeking to suppress thought crime. This is a deeply worrying. Are we now living in a culture in which Voltaire’s aphorism is no longer true: “I wholly disapprove of what you say, and I will defend to the death your right to say it.”?

But I suggest this shouldn’t be a surprise for Christians such as Mr Farron, for we follow a Lord who, in the end, people wanted to be rid of. And there is something Mr Farron knows about the crucified Lord which many of his detractors don’t. It is that on that cross, Jesus wasn’t just experiencing humanity’s hatred and opposition to God; but in the plan of God, He was dying for us.

That is real love and acceptance.  As Paul put it, Jesus is the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2v20) It is a love which none but those who have experienced it can understand.  And those who experience that love know that, when they face a fork in the road on account of their faith, they can only side with the Crucified One.

As Mr Farron himself put it: "Imagine how proud I am to lead this party. And then imagine what would lead me to voluntarily relinquish that honour.  In the words of Isaac Watts it would have to be something “so amazing, so divine, (it) demands my heart, my life, my all”.  And I can testify that it certainly is.

with every blessing, Philip de Grey-Warter, Vicar