neighbours, everybody needs good neighbours

[This post was written on 19th June and does not appear to have made it into the full bloggage history, so I repost it now for completeness. Apologies if you got it more than once.]

reaching hands

The news recently has contained harrowing accounts of a number of hate-motivated attacks, the most recent at the time of posting this was against Muslims in Finsbury Park. They have left me with a number of deep-rooted emotional responses. The first is deep, deep sadness for those who have been injured and bereaved; secondly there is anger that fellow-humans are treating each other in this way; the third is powerlessness that there is nothing I can do that will make a difference. And then I stopped and reflected on the third emotional response and that led me to write this tweet:

We pride ourselves on being a tolerant society but recent events show us it’s not enough. We need to LOVE our neighbours #lovenothate

It’s not that I think that by tweeting I can make much of a difference on my own. But the power of social media is that we can share our ideas, thoughts and emotions much more widely than ever before and that might make a huge difference. One brick on its own may make a couple of people trip up, but thousands of bricks together can create a a tidal defence that will hold back a flood of hatred. If you doubt me, consider this… last weekend all across the country hundreds of thousands of people engaged in The Great Get Together. It was a series of community events inspired by the late Jo Cox MP and her words: “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than that which divides us.” We got on board with this rather too late to organise a street party but we had some of our neighbours around for a barbecue. It was lovely to get to know each other a little more and come out from behind our front doors. It was a glimpse of what community could be like if we tried.

Coming back to my tweet, and bearing in mind that for me the origin of “we need to love our neighbours” was the encounter Jesus had with a lawyer who wanted to look impressive (what a surprise!). It’s recorded for us in Luke’s account of the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus in Luke 10.

The lawyer had asked Jesus what he had to do to “inherit eternal life”. Now he should have known (as a lawyer) that his question was fundamentally flawed. You can’t do anything to inherit something. An inheritance is a gift from another. But Jesus knew that the bloke wanted more than a semantic argument so he asked him what he thought the Old Testament said about it. (They didn’t have a New Testament at the time, they were living it!) The lawyer gave the stock answer which was to keep the Commandments and that is summarised as ‘Love God, love your neighbour’.

In order to show how impressive he was the lawyer asked a follow-up question, which he probably regretted afterwards: “Who is my neighbour?” That’s when Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan. If you’re not familiar with it follow the link above and read it. But make the man a violent racist and the Samaritan a muslim and you’ll get an idea of the shocking nature of the story and how radical it was that Jesus made the Samaritan the hero.

But the man didn’t actually get an answer to his question. The question was “Who is my neighbour?” but the story answered a different question. The message of the story is not that our neighbours are anyone in need. The message of the story is that to discover who our neighbours are we first need to examine ourselves and discover our self-justified prejudices, our self-obsessed self-interest, and our compassion-fatigue. We need to let go of those and see that we define who our neighbours are. The number of neighbours we have is limited only by the limits of our love.

And yes, let’s say that word. Love. Not mushy romantic love. Not lustful carnal love. Not even the love we have for our families. But rugged, determined, self-denying, putting others first and considering the needs of others love. If the story of the Good Samaritan didn’t tell the lawyer who his neighbour was it did give him a glimpse of how he was to love his neighbour when he worked out who it was!

make a dealWe pride ourselves on being a tolerant society but recent events show us it’s not enough. We need to LOVE our neighbours #lovenothate

Be blessed, be a blessing.

scarred love

 

There have been several major tragic events in the UK in the past few weeks, involving significant loss of life and injury, and my heart goes out to all who have been bereaved or injured.

Recognising and honouring the incredible acts of selfless generosity and heroism that have been shown in response to these events is one way in which we can respond with hope and resilience in the face of tragedy. Responses in these extreme circumstances are of hope not hate, of kindness not cruelty, of love not loathing, of heroism not hesitation. These responses (to me) reveal glimpses of the intended qualities of the One who created human nature.

There are different levels of human culpability in these horrendous events (by which I mean that I am not wishing to prejudge the outcome of any inquiry, trial, etc). We have to accept that if humans had not acted in certain ways these tragedies may have been avoided or far less tragic. We also recognise that there is a pernicious quality to the evil side of life.

 

So what do we do?

Scream

Rage

Weep

Sit in dumbfounded silence

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All of these and more. I think that we need to be honest with ourselves about how we feel as a first step towards being honest with one another. What emotions are we feeling? Why do we feel these things?

One response to these sorts of event is regret expressed as ‘if only’. If only’ regrets can be corrosive. They can eat away at our ability to confront the impact of what has happened and begin the long process of coming come to terms with it and how we feel about it. But I can’t help feeling a deep sense of ‘if only’ regret on behalf of the victims. All suffering and death is a vile reminder that things are not as they should be, but somehow when the victims are those we would deem to be ‘innocent’ that exacerbates our sense of outrage and indignation that it should maraud savagely into our relatively well-ordered society. So we wonder whether it could have been prevented?

‘If only’ also looks for someone to blame: someone should have done something differently. Often that ‘someone’ is someone who is not known to us. It is much more difficult to cope with when ‘if only’ points the finger of blame and someone closer to home, or even to us. The ‘if only’ blame requires someone to resign or to be convicted or to apologise. And while collectively we may feel better when that happens we transfer the blame to that person / organisation and we distance ourselves from it. But the regret remains.

If you want to blame someone, by all means blame God. If you want to complain about the injustice then give him your best shot. He can cope with the raging lashing-out of hurting people.

Writing this post today I remembered writing a lament to God a few years ago for those who died when a Malaysian Airlines passenger plane was shot out of the sky over Ukraine. I was surprised to find that this was 18th July 2014 – how was it so long ago and how had I forgotten all about it?

Did you hear the 298 30,000 foot screams? Do you know who pressed the button: do you know if they feel guilty? Did you fall with them? Do you share the grief of the parents, partners, children who have an unexpected chasm opened up in their life? Do you know how angry we feel about it?

Do you care about the people of Ukraine, because we have replaced them with new news? Do you understand the depth of division that is so deep that people have given up on politics and taken up guns? Do you know how many people have died unseen by the world’s media and unnoticed by most of us?

Do you know how many people are buried in the rubble of Gaza or how many have escaped with their lives but that’s all they have left? Do you comprehend the incomprehensible hatred that fires random rockets and retaliates with missiles that infuriate and motivate more rockets that exasperate and lead to invasion? Do you weep with the families of four young boys who had been playing football on the beach until the shells hit?

And then there’s the Islamic insurgency in Nigeria, civil war in South Sudan, ongoing uprisings in Afghanistan, destruction and devastation in Syria and Iraq, and so many more. We name countries because the people are unknown to us and because it makes it easier for us to cope rather than think of all of the individuals.

Does the inhumanity make you weep? Does it make you regret? Does it erode hope?

It’s wrong. So wrong. Words can’t express it. But they are all you have given me.

One of the consequences of our global news social media world is that, while we feel the impact of each new tragedy more keenly because we see footage from camera phones from those who were there and we hear eyewitness accounts almost as they happen, we move onto the next one fairly rapidly with an almost macabre fascination. I could easily change the words above to reflect the most recent events. And in a few weeks’ time perhaps (please God no) there will be new events to replace those…

But when you are screaming at God when these things happen, ask him where he was and is.

God is not indifferent to our suffering.

At the risk of being insensitive to those who are suffering in ways far beyond anything I can imagine I do believe that part of the answer to that is that he is with us, he is in the pain, he feels the impact, he is screaming the screams of anguish. Why? Because he loves each one of us with love that goes far beyond that of any parent or child. He loves us because he made us lovingly. When his beloved ones are damaged, ruined, destroyed, and defiled his love – even though it remains undiminished – becomes a scarred love.

Be blessed, be a blessing

doing things properly

One of the things that has occupied a lot of my thinking recently is our EBA Gatherings. These are opportunities for us to get together from across the Association. (In case you were unaware the first one takes place in the Southern Sector this Saturday at Romford Baptist Church. You can find out details about all of them here – it’s not too late to decide to come!)

This year we are holding three Gatherings across the Association rather than one Assembly. We have started doing this in alternate years in order to seek to involve as many people as possible. Doing things this way allows us to develop different but complementary themes – “Rejoicing in the Gospel” and “Pass It On!” – which will be explored in different ways. It allows for the involvement of far more people in the planning and delivery of the events. This is also partly a response to geography: our Association covers about 6,500 square miles, so travelling to one venue for the Assembly, wherever it is, means that some people have to travel a long way. Having three Gatherings means that people don’t have to travel so far.

I believe that these will be wonderful events that will be a blessing to all who attend. We are immensely grateful to the churches who are hosting us and to everyone who is contributing in some way.

But there’s a niggling thought in my mind that feels that we are not ‘doing things properly’ by doing this. And I am not sure I can put my finger on why that is. It might be to do with not fully expressing our unity as an Association: you might suggest that this Trinitarian way of working reflects our experience of God but we are not God and this way of working does reveal more about our three-ness more than our one-ness. It might be to do with us not having a common experience. It might simply be that organising one event is easier than organising three. Or maybe it’s that we have not only done it this way once before and last time it looked very different.

I know from my conversations with some of you that this is also something with which local churches are wrestling. With the advent of things like Messy Church, Café-style services and other expressions of church within the wide circle of church life new congregations are emerging. Similarly there are some churches that have a thriving midweek youth or children’s work but see very few of them in attendance on a Sunday morning. And we try to work out whether these are routes for people to follow to join in with mainstream church life or whether they are ‘church’ in themselves. And part of what lies behind that wrestling is wondering whether we are ‘doing things properly’.

I’m not offering a definitive answer to that as it will vary from church to church. But I wonder whether a part of the answer to my niggles about the three sector Gatherings and the local churches wrestling with different expressions of church / congregations is the same – perhaps we should ask what those who attend think it is! There’s a danger that when those who are used to a more traditional way of doing things try to define the way things should be done we revert to our comfort zones and thus stifle what God is trying to do – in effect we tell him that he can’t do things that way. I think Jesus preferred to allow those he was reaching out to on the margins of life to define what ‘it’ was: he met them where they were and almost seemed to improvise (temporary) community in response to them.

So the Samaritan woman at the well, for example, finds herself in conversation with a male Jewish stranger – a conversation that leads to her becoming an evangelist and Jesus and his friends staying in the town for an extra few days. The joyful entourage on the way into Jericho finds that the star of the show leaves the party in order to eat with the collaborating, thieving tax collector Zacchaeus and as a result there is spiritual, social and economic renewal. A leaders retreat for Jesus and his disciples becomes a feeding frenzy of healing, teaching, loaves and fishes for 5,000+ people… I hope you get my point. Because it seems to me that what wound Jesus up more than anything was religious people telling him that things had to be done in a particular way. And I would rather not wind him up.locked

Perhaps we need to be less worried about whether we are ‘doing things properly’ and instead allow Jesus to improvise community with us: joining in joyfully with what he is doing.

faith in a spin?

Today I put my faith in the weather forecast. It told me that although it was going to be very cloudy it was not going to rain and there would be a good breeze.

‘Perfect,’ I thought, ‘just right for doing some loads of washing.’

Stop sniggering.

So I put a load of washing in the machine, keeping one eye on the looming black clouds.

Stop giggling.

Then, when the machine had finished its cycle I hung out the washing to dry. Outside.

washing lineMeanwhile the clouds got darker and more ominous-looking. So I put another load of washing in the machine.

Stop chortling.

Then, when that was finished and hung out I put the rest of the washing in the machine. I ignored the moisture in the air.

Stop laughing.

No, seriously, stop laughing. Because it didn’t rain. The ominous clouds dispersed and now the sun is coming out. The washing is drying well in the breeze.

I began the day by wondering whether it would be worth doing some washing. I knew that it was needed. Then I did my research into the weather, checking out forecasts that were specifically for our town. Based on that research I decided that it looked like a good day to do some washing, even though looking at the sky you would have reached the opposite conclusion. I trusted the weather forecast.

But if all I did was trust the weather forecast the washing would still be sitting in the washing bin. I had to do something with my trust. I had to put it into action. That’s faith.

Some people reckon having faith means that you bypass your brain and take a leap into the unknown. That’s not what I have experienced.

Faith is putting the washing out on an ominously cloudy day because you trust the weather forecast. Of course there are a lot more reliable things and people in whom we can put our faith than a weather forecast but it’s the same process.

Faith is what happens when you take your research, your experience, your understanding, your hopes, your dream, your needs and your intelligence, blend them all together and then act on them.

Be blessed, be a blessing

Hateful

Over the last week or so hate has been bothering me. Not, I hasten to add, because I am feeling hated. And not because I hate someone else. I was reading some comments online from someone I don’t know but whom I respect about the level of negative, critical, judgmental, cruel and rude comments they were receiving. It was horrible.

And to make things worse, the comments were from people who said they were Christians!

It led me to post two Tweets:

It breaks my heart when I read judgmental comments online from people who follow Jesus. He was so inclusive of all.

Jesus welcomed and loved everyone (even the self-righteous religious people whom he called ‘hypocrites’).

I am acutely aware that by posting these Tweets I may well be guilty of judging too. But I feel a little bit justified because I am not naming and shaming someone. It’s not trolling. And as a note of self-restraint I recognise that therein lies the beginning of the thought process that can lead someone to feel justified in writing and posting horrible things about someone else with whom they disagree. Can’t we learn to disagree well?

These Tweets got an interesting and encouraging range of responses. I was getting ready for a lively discussion…

Then at 10:33pm on Monday 22nd May hate took on a hideous and heinous new form when a suicide bomber killed 22 and injured hundreds at the end of a concert at the Manchester Arena. The act in itself is barbaric, but to deliberately do it at a time and a place where you know that young people will be present adds an evil twist to an already evil act.

My initial response was stunned silence. I could not find the words to express how I felt. The tears that kept welling up in my eyes and the lump in my throat were the most eloquent expression I had.

Hands Holding a Lit CandleLater on I found myself reflecting on the hate that had been expressed. I thought about Revd Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s words:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

These words appeared all over social media. They are deep, profound, defiant words that also express truth.

So I let them lead me into a personal prayer:

You cannot stop hatred with more hatred
You cannot prevent darkness with more darkness
You cannot reduce pain with more pain
You cannot defuse anger with more anger
You cannot defeat injustice with more injustice
You cannot reduce outrage with more outrage
So I resolve afresh to pray for love, light, healing, peace, justice and grace in myself that I might share it with others

You see the first response that matters in the face of hatred, anger, evil and all else that seeks to destroy and tear down is the one within us. We can add to them, or we can diminish them. We can give them energy or we can starve them of life.

In some ways it’s counter-intuitive, it goes against the self-preservation instinct within us all. It is selfless, it is generous, it is loving. I believe it’s a glimpse of God.

We saw it in action on Monday evening:

The homeless man who ran into the arena foyer against the flow of people seeking to escape the carnage – to see if he could help the injured and comfort the dying.

The taxi drivers who took people home at no charge.

The people who opened their homes to strangers who were bewildered and didn’t know how they would get home that night.

The emergency services who had to deal with the carnage with dignity and professionalism.

The hospital staff who turned up for extra shifts.

The many people who gave blood for the first time.

People who brought lunches and cups of tea for the overburdened hospital staff who had no time to stop.

And so much more.

Hate is an acidic, corrosive, ugly word. It’s an even worse emotion. And as an action it is beyond appalling.

But it does not win when love rises up in our hearts. Love wins. Love wins.

Be blessed, be a blessing

just to reassure you

Hi, thanks for the many messages I received after my last bloggage, and thank you for your kind and generous thoughts, I really appreciate them. I also feel a bit bad that you wrote them in response to what I wrote because I think the way I wrote it suggested that I am still encountering the pain of the migraine and cluster headaches. I’m not in pain. Sorry if that’s what I communicated. What I was trying to say is that while the migraine and cluster headaches are still firing away inside my head the ONS means that my brain ignores the signals from them and I don’t feel any pain. 🙂

If / when the ONS expires the pain would come back rapidly but please don’t feel sorry for me or unnecessarily impressed at the moment!

I have adjusted the text in the bloggage in a way that I hope avoids that confusion.

Be blessed, be a blessing (and thanks to all who were a blessing to me)

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no pain, just confusion in here!