Bishop Guli's Blog, Talks and Publications

Bishop Guli's Talk for BREXIT Service with Conference of European Churches guests at Leicester Cathedral, March 29th, 2019

You may be familiar with the apocryphal story of the tourist in Ireland who asked a local Irishman for directions to Dublin, only to be told, “well sir, if I were you, I wouldn’t start from here”. Lest you think I’m being racist, let me say swiftly, that I think there is some wisdom in the statement - sometimes it is better to scrap something altogether and start again rather than tinker round the edges, trying to fix things.

But in the situation which we currently find ourselves, with regard to Brexit and our relationship with Europe, we don’t have that luxury. We can’t go back to square one and start all over again. We are where we are and it is from here that we must resolve to find our way forward. The destination itself is of course important but perhaps even more important is the manner in which we travel.

There’s a lot of talk about our country being in crisis. There are elements of that but let’s beware of doom mongering and self-fulfilling prophecies. During my teenage years I lived through a revolution in my home country of Iran. I remember well the chaos, the hatred and division and even the bloodshed all of which tore into the fabric of society.

I want to say emphatically that that is not where we are here. I understand there is fear and anxiety and some people’s futures are much more uncertain than others, but we can still choose the manner in which we journey onwards, whatever the destination turns out to be. When I first arrived in this country, I lived for 5 years as a refugee which meant technically I was stateless – a citizen of nowhere, or everywhere, depending on your point of view. I get that our national identity, belonging and residency is important – I get that people feel strongly about whether they are British or European or anything else. But I also understand that underlying each of our individual identities is our common humanity, the thread that unites us all, whoever we are, and which we should never lose sight of.

I want to suggest that the key to whether or not we can move forward together well is to be found in the human capacity to listen. If we can nurture and cultivate the art of listening it will help us journey well, so that we can understand one another and manage our differences and our disagreements not only appropriately but in a way that allows us all to flourish and thrive.

Though we develop our ability to hear in the womb, listening, it seems has to be learned.

The American educator, author and businessman Steve Covey said that “most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply”. In other words, even whilst listening to others, in our heads, we’re formulating our response; for our priority is to be heard. Moreover, often we hear what we want to hear, thereby reconfirming our own opinions and judgements. Instead, if we want truly to understand we must listen with a posture of openness.

First we must open our minds so that we begin to recognise and acknowledge differences of opinion. Next we need open hearts so that we develop the capacity to empathise. Empathy allows us to make an emotional connection with others and makes it possible for us to see through their eyes.

And finally, we must open our will allows for the possibility of a shift in our own thinking and even in our own identity and sense of self. The whole process has to be self-conscious and intentional but it has the power to be transformative.

As Christians, and indeed as people of faith, I believe we are able to develop this notion of deep listening through our practice of prayer. As we strive to listen intently to the voice of God in our lives and in our communities, if we do so with an open mind, an open heart, and an open will, then we begin to recognise our own shortcomings, we begin to grow in compassion towards others and begin to experience the possibility of transformation in our lives. I know for myself that competing priorities, the pressures of a diary that drives my working patterns, the constant demand to preach and speak all mean I have to be very intentional about ensuring that listening remains at the heart of my ministry, both listening to God and listening to those whom I serve and those with whom I am in relationship. I know from my involvement with the Conference of European Churches that the greatest challenge for our organisation, with its 113 member churches, is resisting the temptation of each trying to impose our own will rather than listening to the needs of others.

My friends, in the end, we have a choice to make in how we journey onwards, as British citizens, as Europeans, as human beings. Regardless of the final outcome of Brexit, we can commit to fostering relationships based on honesty, mutual respect, concern for the dignity of all and deep listening. Instead of blaming the systems, the processes and the politicians we can choose to travel well together, to create listening spaces and to build bridges but it won’t happen by chance. It will take effort, deep commitment and a willingness to speak well of one another even when we disagree.

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