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It is not life as we know or understand it.

(Mr. Spock of Star Trek)

 

September 3rd 1939 was a Sunday.  When people went in to Church that morning the world outside was at peace.  When they came out it was at war.  Chamberlain had made the announcement at 11.15 am that this country was at war with Germany.

“The sun was shining, the garden never looked lovelier ~ everything was in bloom.  Tiger (the cat) lies there in the sun; all looks happy and peaceful.  But it’s NOT.  War has broken out between England and Germany, beastly, beastly war.” So wrote a 24 year old living in Croydon later that day.  The events that followed took on a roller-coaster pattern.  People had read HG Wells’ novel “The shape of things to come” so there was an immediate expectation of death and destruction; bombs, great fires and huge numbers of casualties.  Evacuations were organized.  Black-outs imposed but nothing happened.  For weeks nothing happened.  It was called the “phony war”.  As Christmas approached there were debates over whether or not it should be celebrated.  A great question mark hung over everything.

Today again a cloud hangs over us in the shape of a question mark.  What is to be our relationship in the future with Europe and with the rest of the world?  Developments in technology add another dimension to our uncertainties: driverless cars, parcels delivered by drones, health monitored via the television, household devices controlled remotely from thousands of miles away, hereditary diseases eradicated by gene therapy. And then we have global warming.  What kind of lives will we live? What kind of people will we become?  It’s a fantastic world where the science fiction writers race to keep up.  All previous guidelines are disappearing fast.  Constraints to our freedom are being broken on a daily basis.  Even religion no longer offers any restrictions.  We are removing all boundaries and we are not being struck by lightning.  We have never known such freedom.

In the opening verses of the Bible we read:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was barren with no form of life, it was under a roaring ocean covered with darkness,” Genesis Ch. 1 vs.1,2

It was a blank piece of paper.  There was nothing on it except for a question mark.

“But the Spirit of God was moving over the water. So the heavens and earth and everything else were created.” Genesis Ch 2 vs. 1.

Life and light was brought into the darkness.  On a personal basis there can be times when we find ourselves at a place of great confusion, when the unknown completely blanks out the known So much around us is shifting.  Our usual base points are no longer there.  The diary for the coming months is blank.  The Year Planner is empty.  We are facing a blank sheet of paper.  We are crossing from the Old Year to the New.

As people of faith we pray in silence for the Spirit of God and we wait.
As people of faith we believe that the Spirit of God will move over the water.
As people of God we have hope for the future.
As people of faith we are called to serve society, we are called to be the means whereby the Spirit of God can breathe life into its chaotic darkness.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin SJ was a French idealist philosopher and Jesuit priest (1881-1955).  He wrote this:
“We who are Christ’s disciples must not hesitate to harness this force – the world’s expectancy and ferment and unfolding – which needs us and which we need.  On the contrary…..we must share in those aspirations… which make men so intensely aware of the immensity of the world, the grandeur of the mind and the sacred value of every newly discovered truth.”  (Hymn of the Universe).

 In Holy Communion we share in the breaking of the bread, the sacrificial way of living of Christ and we also share the wine of New Life that is part of that Holy Communion.  So through our lives, lived within, and as a part of a chaotic world, the Spirit of Christ “shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it” John Ch..1 vs. 5.  This may well be life, but it may not be life as we know or understand it at the moment.                                                                                                                       

Eric

 

- - Isms”, Schisms and Prisms

 

This year we had two excellent but quite disparate Advent Talks. The first by Bishop Robert Paterson was, as might be expected, essentially theological in tone. It focused on who, or what, is the Messiah - a central figure in Judaism and the central figure in Christianity. The second by David Bryer was an historical travelogue through Palestine, particularly Bethlehem, from its origins as the cradle of Christianity to its present sadly divided state. It contained an undisguised political message concerning the appalling injustice visited on all the Palestinian people dating back to the Balfour Declaration of 1917, by subsequent events including the Seven Days War of 1967 and the annexing of land in the West Bank (previously ceded by Jordan to the Palestinians) for Jewish-only settlements. I cannot attempt here to do justice to either of these two talks, but I attempt to draw out what appears to me to be a common thread and that is that “isms”, which focus down on narrower and narrower concepts of identity, culture and practice, almost invariably lead to schisms and all too frequently to violence.

Bishop Robert explained the Jewish expectations of the Messiah, and why Christ “came unto his own, and his own received him not” (John 1 v.11). He was the wrong sort of Messiah - “political adversity had affected their view of God” He then went on to draw a parallel between that situation and the plight of the church today in the European sphere of influence. Society as a whole is obsessed with searching for individual salvation through a wilderness of “isms” – secularism, commercialism, relativism, celebrity-ism etc. and this has both disoriented and marginalized the church from its fundamental purpose of furthering the Kingdom of God.

 Turning now to David Bryer’s talk, particularly focusing on Bethlehem, we learned of the competing claims of the numerous Orthodox and Latin sects (isms) on the administration of Church of the Nativity from its foundation by Emperor Constantine in the 4th Century - disagreements often of the most petty issues having little or no theological importance. The situation became so bad that the keys to the church had to be entrusted to a mutually respected Muslim family and this had an unexpected link with LMP. We were told that many years ago, before Eric’s incumbency, the Bryers were entertaining some Palestinian friends and visited LMP on Sunday. The incumbent enquired of the obviously Arabic gentleman whether he had ever been in a Christian church before. To which the very gentle response was to explain that his family had been entrusted with the keys to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem!. Much of the rest of David’s talk centered on the more overtly political situation in the occupied West Bank in recent decades and the negative consequences that has had on all the inhabitants of the region - a much reduced Christian presence, an oppressed, dispossessed and embittered Muslim community on one side and a Jewish State feeling under constant threat on the other side.

 There is need for a disclaimer here. Whilst this piece has been prompted by David’s presentation it is not a summary of it. The following views are my own. There is not space, and perhaps this is not the place, to go into the minutiae of the circumstances which have lead to this travesty of justice in the cradle of Christianity, a region of sacred importance to all “The Children of the Book”, but a cascade of “- -isms” over the last Century has led inexorably to this situation:- i) competing European nationalisms ignited the tinderbox of WW1; ii) the well intentioned but ill-conceived Balfour Declaration of 1917 gave support to a nascent Zionism; iii) the Versailles Treaty of 1919 set the scene for the rise of Nazism in Germany leading to the Holocaust; iv) this generated further impetus to Zionism and the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine at the end of WW2; v) the conflicts which followed and continue to this day are too numerous to list here except to note that they were, and remain, instrumental in creating an Islamic fundamentalism the effects of which now extend to almost every continent.

 I regard myself as an optimist but this is a deeply depressing situation in which it seems almost impossible to envisage any just solution coming in the foreseeable future from human agencies. There have been repeated failures of peace talks as a result of religious and political extremism. The Camp David Accord of 1978 between President Sadat of Egypt and PM Begin of Israel failed to deliver its promise to exchange land for peace and resulted in Sadat’s assassination by Muslim fundamentalists. The Oslo Accord of 1993 signed by Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli PM, and the PLO’s Yasser Arafat was intended to facilitate withdrawal of Israeli troops from the occupied West Bank but aroused violent opposition on both sides to the point where the Two State solution proposed by UN Resolution 242 now appears virtually impossible. In the meantime violence on both sides – Palestinian Intifadas and overzealous Israeli reprisals - only produces more grief, mistrust and hatred, putting further back any hope of peace.    

What have prisms to do with any of this? Prism comes from the Greek word meaning something split or sawn. A single beam of pure white light enters one face of the prism and emerges on the other as an array of colours - red, orange yellow green, blue, indigo and violet, and one can even explore beyond the extreme ends of the visible spectrum into the infra-red and ultra-violet. This could be a metaphor for a particular type of human mind-set. Some are colour blind and only see the red light. Some can see the other colours but treat them with disdain or hostility and consider their colour to be the only true light, and a few are totally devoted to the ultra-violet or ultra-violent route to salvation. They seem oblivious to the fact that they are all derived from that single beam of pure white light which entered the prism. If we insist on “- -isms” put altruism at the top of the hierarchy and recognize that as all colours come from that single beam of pure white light we too are all children of the One God and need to have empathy and compassion for each other.

 At the entrance of the UN headquarters this sentiment is encapsulated far more eloquently than my clumsy metaphor. It takes the form of a poem from the 12th Century Persian poet Saadi Shirazi captured, appropriately enough, at the Siege of Acre (now in Israel) by the Crusaders in 1189.

These words are as relevant today as when they were penned over eight centuries ago.

You do not deserve the name of man If you fail to feel the pain of others.

 

All the sons of Adam are part of one single body,

They are of the same essence.

When time afflicts us with pain

In one part of that body all the other parts feel it too.

 

 

.Jhn Chatten

 

 

 

Just before Christmas I was reminded of a book by Kate Adie entitled ‘The Kindness of Strangers’. In this autobiography she describes how, during a career reporting on the horrors of conflict, it was often the simple, unexpected deeds of everyday people that surprised her.

           This was particularly apt when reading about members of the travelling community who started a national Foodbank challenge. Originating in County Durham the challenge was initiated by a traveller who noticed that the Foodbank donation basket at his local supermarket was usually empty. He filled a trolley with food to donate to the Foodbank and then nominated fellow travelling friends on Facebook to do the same, to give to those less fortunate than themselves. The challenge spread and thousands of members of the travelling community came together to donate. They filmed themselves handing over the items to supermarkets before nominating other friends. And so from County Durham the idea spread nationwide – to Gloucestershire and Dungannon, to Flintshire and Hertfordshire, to counties and cities.

The idea of random acts of kindness is not new. The book ‘Pay it Forward’ (C. Ryan Hyde ) takes the idea of repaying a good deed but instead of paying it back one should perform three good deeds to other people that they would not be able to achieve on their own. The idea was originally the subject of a play produced in Athens in 317BC. It was also a concept embraced by Benjamin Franklin. However such was the impact of the book that the idea blossomed and spawned a worldwide movement. On the 28th April this year the UK will participate for the ninth time in Pay it Forward Day. Schools have embraced the idea forming homework clubs and reading groups.

A simple idea existing in our community is that of the Repair Café. People who might otherwise find themselves forgotten by society now have the opportunity to pass their knowledge and skills on for the benefit of others. We repair rather than replace, recycle rather than waste, attempt to save our environment.

Even with big problems facing us in the world, by taking the time to show love, appreciation and kindness, we all have the ability to make a difference to the lives of others.

Perhaps Mother Teresa summed it up by saying: "If you can't feed a hundred people, then just feed one."

Barbara Steele

 

A Subversive Organisation?

 

   I was recently asked to give a reference for a longstanding friend of mine requiring high level security clearance for Government and associated work.

   I was asked to complete a series of questions before writing some “freehand” comments.

   One of the questions was something like this :-

Does he/she belong to or have links with any subversive organization?

I immediately thought, well yes, of course, he’s a committed Christian and the church is a subversive organization.( I can assure you that I answered that he was not subversive in the sense they were enquiring about.)

   But it set me thinking. I believe that if you read the gospels Jesus is a very subversive character. He turns all sorts of views and beliefs upside down including those of the religious establishment of the time, not to mention the government. He also rates women highly, not how his culture worked at all. And how about letting little children into religious secrets? Immigrants invited to share the goodies if they dare to ask, like the woman saying that even the dogs get the crumbs.

   What does that say about how we should be in the world?

How do we challenge people and ourselves to look again at underlying beliefs which we may not realize subtly influence our treatment of other people, making them “outsiders” or “others” or “foreigners come to nick our jobs / clog up our schools / abuse our welfare system” ?

And what about our attitude to prisoners and criminals? And what do we think Jesus would have said about these things?

I believe he would have reminded us of the intrinsic worth and gifts of all human beings and encouraged us to acknowledge our own particular gifts and those of others and use them to turn our societal damaging “norms” upside down. It may be that doing this alone is too daunting, and joining with others for inspiration and support is necessary, perhaps campaigning groups or political alliances or even PCN !

Anne Burge

 

ON JUSTICE

 

Churches Together in Malvern support a Justice and Peace Group. Justice and Peace are central to the message of the Gospel and the Prophets and the establishment of the Kingdom of God and should be of central concern to all those who subscribe to the teachings of Christ. The J & P Group organises Prayers for Peace, the annual Hiroshima Peace Vigil and a range of other meetings and activities designed to keep Justice and Peace issues in the Church’s, if not the public’s, eye. There will be an open meeting on 24th February to discuss how far it is possible to criticise Israeli government policies without being labelled ‘anti-semitic’.

 People of faith should be concerned by the injustices of discrimination, social deprivation and poverty and more general infringements of human rights - for example equality of opportunity and employment, equal access to health and social care, and access to adequate housing - and how to combat them. Responsibility for these is spread across many government departments such as the Home Office (particularly in the rights of refugees and asylum seekers), the Department of Work and Pensions (when it comes to ensuring fair wages and adequate financial support for those unable to work), the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (providing for appropriate housing and communal facilities), the Department of Education (providing access to appropriate education and training) and the Treasury and Department of Business (when it is a question of ensuring that economic activity is directed towards the Common Good and not towards enhancing the wealth of the already rich at the expense of the poor).

 From this brief overview, it is clear that issues of justice lie at the heart of much of our social, political and economic life, but are hardly talked about as such, and it is equally clear that nobody in government takes overall responsibility for ensuring that we live in a just and peaceful society.

This is where people of faith come in. In the Vatican II document on the role of the laity, it is stated quite clearly that it is part of the role of the laity to read the signs of the times and interpret them in line with the principles of Catholic Social Teaching and take appropriate action. The three Abrahamic religions all worship a just and merciful God. We are called to act in concert with each other and with all people of peace and goodwill to make justice and peace shine out in the world. Governments won’t do it. We must.

Taken from (and slightly edited) an article by Michael Townson Hugh McMichael

 

 
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