Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A jumbo-jet developed serious engine trouble in mid-Atlantic. The pilot broke the news to the passengers and asked their permission to open the hold and dump all their baggage in the ocean. “Yes, yes, yes,” they all cried. It was done.

A jumbo-jet developed serious engine trouble in mid-Atlantic. The pilot broke the news to the passengers and asked their permission to open the hold and dump all their baggage in the ocean. “Yes, yes, yes,” they all cried. It was done. Thirty minutes later the captain said, “We are still losing altitude. We must get rid of all your hand luggage. The cabin crew will collect them and when we have dropped to a safer altitude they will throw them out.” “But of course,” the cries went out. And it was done. An hour later the captain said, “We still need to lose more weight. Fifty people will be safely dropped into the water with their life-jackets. This airline operates an Inclusive Equal Opportunities Policy. And we shall now put it into operation. We shall use the alphabet to guide us:

“A – are there any Africans on board?” There was silence. “B – are there any blacks on board?” Again, silence. “C – are there any Caribbeans on board?” Yet again, silence. A little black boy turned to his father and said, “Dad, who are we?” The father replied, “We are Zulus!”

As a white Englishman I would not venture to tell this apocryphal story. Except that I heard it from a black archbishop, and not just any old archbishop, the number two Anglican churchman in England, John Sentamu, Archbishop of York. In the last three years since his appointment as Britain’s first black archbishop he has impressed with his openness, his plain speaking, his willingness to confront public issues – and his sense of humour. He said he was surprised at being appointed. “I was like John McEnroe, ‘You cannot be serious.”

Sentamu was described in The Independent on Sunday as “one of the most charismatic religious leaders Britain has seen for years” and having “no fear of rocking boats when he thinks he can make a difference”. The paper predicted, “He is expected to make waves.”

In December 2007 he did so when he was interviewed on one of Britain’s leading TV news shows in what The Times of London called “one of the most dramatic political interventions by an Anglican cleric in modern times”. It was at the time of a summit of European and African leaders boycotted by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown because of the humanitarian disaster under President Mugabe’s rule in Zimbabwe. Before the cameras and quite unexpectedly Sentamu removed his clerical collar. Wielding a pair of scissors he cut it into small pieces, saying that he wore such a collar to identify himself as an Anglican clergyman and the Zimbabwean president had taken people’s identity and cut it to pieces so there was nothing left. He added, dramatically, in words featured in newspapers next day,“I am not going to wear a dog collar until Mr. Mugabe’s gone.”

The archbishop knows repression when he sees it. Before entering the church he was a judge in Idi Amin’s Uganda. There he was physically attacked and arrested in 1974 for his criticism of the Amin regime and involvement in a case that led to the imprisonment of an Amin cousin and he had to flee the country. It was when his friend, the Ugandan archbishop, Janani Luwum, was murdered he vowed to take his place and was ordained in 1979. “You killed my friend, I take his place.”

In the TV interview he also criticized African leaders for their support of Mugabe and described it as “pernicious, self-destructing racism. A white man does it and the world cries. A black person does it, and there is a certain sense, oh, this is colonialism. Africa and all the world have got to liberate Africa from this mental slavery and this colonial mentality.” He told his audience that during the time of the previous white prime minister Ian Smith and apartheid South Africa “we prayed. We marched, protested. We collected money. As Christmas comes around spare a pound, spare a pound for a child starving in Darfur and in Zimbabwe.”

After his appointment as Archbishop of York in June 2005 he astonished many by praying for and offering the hand of friendship to those who sent him hate mail. If the letters had not been anonymous he would probably have invited the senders for tea. He draws on truths his mother taught him. He remembers her words that when you pointed your finger at your neighbour there were three pointing back at you. “My mother used to say, ’John, God gave you one mouth, two eyes and two ears, use them in proportion’ So I try to listen twice as much as I speak.”

But when he does speak he is listened to. He has spoken against the unjust treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, against the BBC for being frightened of criticizing Islam, and against his own church for being “too monochrome”. He has warned conservative Anglicans against boycotting next year’s Lambeth Conference over their war with liberals about homosexuality. He has criticized some members of the church for the way they have spoken about gay people and has indicated that he would be happy to ordain women bishops if the Anglican church were to change its rules. He turned down an invitation to appear on “Celebrity Big Brother” because celebrity can become a form of idolatry: ‘People live their lives vicariously through the rich and famous rather than attending their own lives.’ He has also fasted for a week for in solidarity with those embroiled in the Middle East.

In 2008 we will, I am sure, be hearing from him again. “Everything that I have ever fought for,” he says, “has come out of my deep sense of God. I never take up causes because they need to be taken up. I take them up because they have come out of a wrestling with God. I would like to share my life, my faith, my hope.”

This article appeared first on www.spiritrestoration.org