un-seizing the brakes

Imagine that you have an Aston Martin DB5 car – the James Bond Goldfinger one with the ejector seat. (I enjoy imagining that). It looks great, it sounds great, it feels great. But there is a problem: the brakes are virtually seized and the car will hardly move. Wouldn’t you get the brakes sorted?

aston-martin-db5

In the ‘Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais (22 miles from UK) there are 387 unaccompanied children who are legally entitled to come to the UK. Under the Dublin Agreement on Refugees unaccompanied refugee children who have relatives living in the UK are entitled to be brought to the UK to have their Asylum application assessed here. Under the ‘Dubs Amendment’ to the Immigration Act 2016 unaccompanied children who were in Europe prior to 20th March 2016 are to be allowed into the UK.

It looks great, it sounds great, it feels great. But there is a problem. The brakes are virtually seized and the car will hardly move. Until recently hardly any were brought across. Now 4 a week are being brought across- at that rate it will take almost 2 years for all of these young people (who have the right to be here) to get here! While they are waiting these children are at the mercy of traffickers and in a very vulnerable situation. There is no child protection for them: if the legal route for them to get to the UK does not move the likelihood is that they will try desperate illegal routes.

Photo 26-08-2016, 10 42 58
The 4 Baptists in the delegation (right to left): Revds Penny Marsh, Me, Phil Warburton and Dan Pratt

Because of this I joined a delegation of 20 faith leaders (Christian, Jewish, Muslim) who went to Calais on Friday morning to deliver lists of those 387 eligible children to the French authorities (where the brakes are virtually seized). It was organised by Citizens UK. The aim was first of all to get these names officially received by relevant French authorities; secondly to get the problem highlighted we had Radio 4 journalist Trevor Barnes with us and I believe it will also be in a national newspaper. The news was embargoed until today (hence the bloggage today) but you can listen to the item here on the BBC Sunday programme podcast. (It’s about 25 minutes in). Our purpose was to highlight that these children exist so that the authorities could not deny the problem.

The official that my part of the delegation visited did not recognise that the system’s brakes were seized. He would not admit that there was a problem. He did receive the letter and list we wanted to give him and said he would look at them. He also tried hard to say that it was not his problem and that he could not change policy. He did admit that there were people working for him who were working on this problem but they were in Paris (allegedly). In my view, as a Civil Servant, he could not publicly say that there was a problem because then he would have to do something about it. It was evident that the brakes were not going to receive much attention there.

Some of the delegations did receive more positive responses and the list has now been officially received. There is a multi-disciplinary meeting in Calais next week and we hope that they will have to do something about this. I am sure that the British authorities can do a lot more to work on releasing the brakes for these young people who have a legal entitlement to be here.

If you are a person who prays please will you pray for the success of this campaign? If you are a person of action please will you consider putting pressure on your MP and the Government to do something about this?

Let’s work together to un-seize the brakes and get this great looking, great sounding, great feeling car moving.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

salty light

A short while ago I wrote a bloggage about taking action against the apparent rise in racist abuse and violence  and I have been reflecting on that since then. You see I think it is really important that we don’t just tut and roll our eyes when we hear about people being threatened, shouted at, trolled or bullied because of the prejudice of a tiny minority of people.

Do read the bloggage linked above because it tells of some brilliant ways in which Christians have been acting to counter the hatred. Here are some more suggestions:

Some people have taken to wearing a safety pin on their clothes as a sign that they are a ‘safe’ person to talk to. That’s a start but I worry that those who have malicious intent could also wear a safety pin and do all those who are possible victims know what the safety pin means?

You can write to your local paper and express support for those who feel oppressed. Get everyone in your church to sign the letter too. Or even better get everyone in your church to write a letter and overwhelm the newspaper so they see it as an issue to address.

You can speak out if someone in your friendship circle speaks in a racist fashion and gently explain why you think what they are saying is wrong.

targetThe advice I have read which makes most sense if you are a witness to racist abuse in public is to go and talk with the person who is being harangued, ignoring the abuser. Don’t argue with the abuser because they are after attention. Instead love the victim. Find out if they are okay, offer to go and have a cup of tea with them (or whatever their beverage), offer to walk with them to a safe place.

If there’s already someone else with the person, go and join them and start to form a crowd. You could invite other passers-by to join you: “Please will you come and stand with us because this person is being racially abused and we want to show them that this is not how most people think?” The advent of mobile phones with video cameras means that it’s also possible (discreetly) to record the abuse and give the video to the police because an offence may well be in progress. And of course you can call the police.

All these things (and others) are prophetic acts – demonstrations that hate is not stronger than love – and free samples of the Kingdom of God that Jesus spoke so much about. They are saying that this is not how God want it to be.

It’s horrible that we are living in times where this sort of thing even needs to be articulated. It’s hideous that this ugly troll is raising its loathsome head.

And it’s entirely right that we stand against it. We must.

It’s entirely right that we do things to counter it. We must.

It’s entirely right that we make it clear that focusing on what makes someone different from us is heinous and repugnant. There is far more that we have in common which we can emphasise. We must.

But I want to ask myself why it is that welcoming ‘strangers’ is unusual? Why is it that letting people know that they are accepted and loved is strange and noteworthy? Why is it that some people feel confident enough to shout vile words and engage in acts of violence?

Is it because we (Christians) have not taken Jesus seriously enough? If you just read Matthew 5 (the first part of the Sermon on the Mount) you will see what I mean. We’re supposed to be salt and light in our society. We’re supposed to love everyone, even our ‘enemies’. If we really lived like that I have a hunch that our society would be so much better – well seasoned, better preserved, well lit and well loved!

Be blessed, be a blessing (no really, go on, be a blessing!)

 

 

signet rings*

 

Last Sunday I had the unusual experience of hearing a sermon preached from Haggai. BIG points to any of you who have ever preached from Haggai, bonus points if you can find it without having to rummage through the Minor Prophets!

It’s a fascinating little book that dovetails particularly with Ezra and the rebuilding work following the return from Exile under Nehemiah. The preacher based his sermon on two phrases in Chapter 2 verse 4: “Be strong… and work. For I am with you.” There’s a lot in that alone, but later on I read the whole of the book and was fascinated by God’s promise to Zerubbabel (governor of Judah) that God “will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you.” (Haggai 2:23) That’s an unusual phrase, isn’t it?

I wonder how Zerubbabel felt when Haggai delivered those words to him from God. Was he hoping for something a bit more dynamic, a bit more impressive or a bit more visible? I turned to my three commentaries on Haggai (yes, three! (although they are all collections of Minor Prophets)) and discovered that Zerubbabel was not only the bounciest man in the Bible but was a grandson of King Jehoiachin, so therefore was part of the royal line of David. In Jeremiah 22:24 God had described Jehoiachin as being like his signet ring that he was going to take off and fling away (into Babylon) because of his sin. Now God is ready to put his signet ring back on, having retrieved it from down the back of the sofa of the Exile. To take the language of Habbakuk, in his wrath God had remembered mercy. And the line of David could continue through to Jesus.

A signet ring in those days was not a mere piece of jewellery. It signified the King. (Pharaoh put his signet ring on Joseph’s finger to give him his authority, for example). It was as important as a crown and was used to seal important documents to prove that the King endorsed them. God calls Zerubbabel his ‘Servant’ not ‘Governor’ in this prophecy, which is a messianic description too. However we don’t hear much more about Zerubbabel after this moment, except that he appears in Jesus’ family tree (Luke 3:27).

sealedSo what do we make of all this? Is it just interesting historical analysis? Is it merely fascinating Biblical cross-referencing? I think it’s so much more than that:

  • it’s a reaffirmation that God is still King of kings (which is why he wanted them to get on and finish the Temple rebuilding (see earlier in Haggai)) even though his kings had let him down;
  • it’s a reminder that God is the thread of continuity in history (despite the bleak present God will still be King in the future);
  • and it’s a reminder that God works through people (including political leaders). He spoke through Haggai and he planned to restore the monarchy through Zerubbabel (ensuring Jesus’ royal lineage). As God’s signet ring Zerubbabel would be God’s seal of endorsement on his activity. He would be his proxy.

These thoughts spoke to me in our current circumstances in the UK – where there is turmoil and a need for a reconstruction of society. We need to ensure that God’s visible presence (which is what the Temple was, and we now are) stands strong and proclaims that he is still King of kings. And we should remember that God fulfils his purposes through people – those in low positions and those in authority too. He longs for us all to be his servants and to use us to be part of the answer to Jesus’ prayer that “Your Kingdom come and Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Perhaps we might even dare to consider that as co-heirs with Christ we too are signet rings – signs of God’s rule and authority, and his proxy in his world.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*this was first sent out as a ‘thought for the week’ sent to Baptist Ministers in the Eastern Baptist Association

a rANT against violence 

Over recent weeks and months there seems to have been an escalation in hatred, violence and bloodshed across the world. It may just be a perception-thing, and the situation may not be worse than what I hesitate to call ‘normal’, but there have been so many atrocities. How do you feel about it? I have several different responses.

One thing is that I feel outrage and anger at the violence, bloodshed and death. This is not how the world is meant to be. Terror, intimidation, threats, abuse and racist attitudes are hideous distortions of humanity as it could be and it makes me angry that so often the victims are those who are ‘innocent’ and just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Another response (usually after I have calmed down a bit) is deep sorrow for the victims, their families, the communities and the countries that have been affected. Some are afforded the opportunity to grieve and mourn and lament, others simply recoil from what has happened before being affected by yet another incident. This is deeply saddening.

A third response is a sense of helplessness. What can I do in my comfortable, relatively safe cocooned lifestyle where despite the emotions I have expressed above I am insulated from the true horror of what has happened by viewing it on a screen or hearing it on a radio? Will anything I do make any difference?

My personal approach to each of these is also threefold as a follower of Jesus (who responded to darkness with deep emotions, prayer, action and solidarity with victims):

First I try to pray. Sometimes I can articulate my thoughts and at other times they are simply emotions that I offer to God. Sometimes they are angry prayers, sometimes sorrowful, sometimes bewildered. Sometimes they are prayers for someone to do something, sometimes they are laments of helplessness. But I find that in addition to turning to God for help there is a degree of spiritual and emotional catharsis in praying that enables me to express my thoughts and emotions honestly.

Second I try to see whether there is someone ‘on the ground’ whom I can support. Are there agencies, charities, organisations or simply people with whom I have contact that I can support financially; can I campaign on their behalf by petitioning Governments; or are there ways in which giving financially will make a difference? It’s part of being open to God asking me to be part of the answer to my own prayers (and the prayers of others).

Thirdly I can get involved locally. Because if everyone around this planet took action locally then we can make a significant difference. So I try to look for acts of kindness I can do for others. I try to look for ways I can express God’s shalom (peace and wholeness) to others. I try to find ways to be Love in my community. Even posting something on social media is a positive act. And, because of my role, I can also share great examples of how followers of Jesus (and others) are responding positively and encourage others to do the same.

For example (and I have shared this around a bit) Westcliff Baptist Church in Southend have been taking bunches of flowers to people in businesses in their community who may be subject to abusive words or behaviour. Here are three stories of what has happened:

‘The first business I visited was a café run by a lady from Germany. She had received some online abuse online after the referendum. She and a Polish waitress were delighted to receive the flowers. As we handed them over, a customer who had heard our conversation said “that has made my day – that you should do this”.’

‘Further down the road, an elderly couple from our church visited a Polish deli. The owner was a little slow to understand why this couple were giving him flowers. When they were able to explain, he broke down in tears and repeatedly hugged them, thanking them for thinking of him. He wouldn’t let them leave the shop without a complimentary box of chocolates!’

‘An Italian waiter who received some flowers declared that he would put them on a table in the centre of the restaurant so that everyone who dined there could see the positive spirit in the community.’

Along with the flowers the church has given out cards (a copy is attached) that say, “With love from friends at Westcliff Baptist Church after the EU Referendum vote. We wanted to say you are welcome here and your contribution to our community is very much appreciated.” It has contact details for the Minister.

Churches in Fakenham are doing something similar in the Market on Thursdays

Earls Hall Baptist Church have invited any and all Christians to come together for a time of prayer for our land/nation/country following the referendum on Sunday evening from 6.30pm.

Churches in Leigh on Sea are putting up signs expressing that all are welcome in the churches, especially those from overseas.

Churches in Cambridgeshire are being offered a template for postcards they can print out “for members to use in personal low-key acts of welcome and blessing to those in minority communities who may be feeling threatened by the recent upsurge in acts of antagonism and hatred.”

 

ant

We may not think that the small things we do make much difference but to the people on the receiving end they make all the difference. And if we all do this, the hatred in the world starts to be countered and overcome by a revolution of Love: one ant on its own cannot do much, but a swarm of ants working together can transform a landscape!

Be blessed, be a blessing

a reflective response to the referendum result

make a dealI have been trying to work out in my mind how to respond to the EU Referendum result. I want to offer some disparate thoughts.

To those who voted ‘Remain’: You did not lose. We made a decision. Right now you may feel as if you have lost, I understand that. (I voted ‘Remain’ too). From the comments I have read and heard it sounds like many of us feel like the Israelite exiles in the Old Testament who had been taken against their will to a new land where they did not want to be. I think we have two choices in that context:

Psalm 137

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
    when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
    we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
    our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
    they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How can we sing the songs of the Lord
    while in a foreign land?

or

Jeremiah 29

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

We can either sit down, moaning, complaining, weeping and writing Boney M songs, or we can get on with it, be activists, make a positive difference, work for peace and prosperity and pray for the new place in which we find ourselves. If you want to do the latter, I heartily recommend Citizens UK as an organisation through which we can do this. But if not them then get involved somehow, make a difference.

To those who voted ‘Leave’: You did not win. We made a decision. I did not vote the same way that you did. A lot of positive possibilities were offered to us about a future outside the EU – possibilities that inspired a majority of those who voted to choose to leave. We all now need to work together for the benefit of all to try to make positive change a reality. You need those who voted ‘Remain’ to make this happen. So don’t alienate us.

These words from Philippians 4 were written in the context of Paul pleading for two people who were in violent disagreement to work out their differences:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God,which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Bringing the two themes together I am reminded that Jesus taught people to pray that God’s kingdom would come and his will be done on earth in the same way as it is in heaven. But praying is not merely words of hope or aspiration. It is also an attitude that motivates action, it is the fuel that powers God-inspired change. Let’s pray – yes, yes, yes, but let’s act in response to, and because of, those prayers. Let’s allow ourselves to be changed by those prayers so that we are acting in accordance with what God wants – the peace and prosperity of the world in which we now find ourselves.

The country had a choice on 23rd June 2016. We now have another one: we can either focus on our difference or make a difference.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

notice the astro-naughts*

20140901_132530I have just looked at my computer keyboard and noticed that there is an area on the space bar which has worn much more than the rest of it, and indeed is much more worn than any of the other keys. Hopefully you can see what I mean from the photo here. There is a shiny patch in the middle of the space bar, which contrasts with the matt finish on the rest of the space bar.

That observation led me to two thoughts:

Thought the first – I must hit the space bar in more or less the same place each time in order to wear out that section. If that is so, the space bar could be a lot shorter and not cause me any problems. Keyboard designers take note.

Thought the second – I must use ‘space’ more than any other key.

If the latter thought is true (and when I type every word is bracketed by spaces, so I can see how it could be true) then perhaps I ought to pay more attention to these spaces: withoutthemitwouldnotbesoeasytoworkoutindividualwordsandreadsentences. They are not just there for show, to decorate the text. They help to define what I write. And yet so often I overlook and ignore them.

This has reminded me that many people are like spaces. They are easily overlooked but are vitally important. They are the people we only notice when they are absent. In our church on Sundays we tend to forget those who run groups for our children and young people, those who welcome others, those who operate the sound and video desks, the musicians, those who serve our refreshments, those who set up for communion services, even the cleaner – until they are not there and we have to improvise or do things ourselves.

And the same is true in all aspects of life. There are astro-naughts* everywhere: who are the spacemen and spacewomen you have taken for granted already today? Who are the people to whom you did not give a second thought, who counted for naught?

Or maybe you’ve been a spaceman or spacewoman today? Do you feel like you are unnoticed, unappreciated, taken for granted?

I would like to suggest that we stop for a moment and think about those astronaughts* in our life. And let’s resolve to do a few things – let’s notice them, let’s thank God for them and pray a blessing on them, and let’s thank them personally too.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*Yes, I do know that the correct spelling is ‘astronaut’ – it’s another new word from the weird world of my brane.

And finally a joke that tickled me a lot when I first heard it (a long time ago).

What do you do if you see a spaceman?

You park in it, man.

starfish wars

Starfish At Beach Texel 1Do you know the starfish story?

A big storm washed lots of starfish onto a beach. The next morning a child was walking along with her grandfather and saw all the starfish. She stopped and started throwing them back into the sea. Her grandfather stopped her and said, “There are too many of them for you to make any difference.”

The girl picked up another starfish and flung it back into the sea. “I made a difference to that one.”

I like that story. It is heart-warming. It shows us how a child’s perspective can be better than an adult’s. It is optimistic.

And yet…

I can’t help having a bit of sympathy with the grandfather’s position too. There are too many starfish. There are too many people who haven’t discovered the amazing news about Jesus. There are too many people in need. There are too many things that need to be done. I may be able to make a difference to one or two, but that doesn’t solve the problem for the rest of the starfish on the beach. So what do I do? Join the child and fling harder?

The grandfather could go back into the town and invite more children onto the beach to make a difference to more starfish.

When churches pay people to be Ministers or workers in a church those people can then try to do all the work. They can try to save all the starfish themselves rather than recognising that perhaps it is a better use of their time and more effective if they encourage more children to get involved in fish-flinging.

At a recent meeting we were observing how we need more people to be involved in helping out with different things in the church. When a gap appears it is tempting for me, as a Minister, to think about how I might be able to do it. But it might be better if I can encourage, equip and empower others to fling the fish. I have learnt that lesson so many times during my 19 years as an ordained Minister that you’d have thought it would be second nature by now. Instead I think I get distracted / attracted by the need to make a difference by flinging the fish myself, or overwhelmed by the size of the problem.

If you spot a starfish on the beach by all means fling it back, but don’t forget to invite and encourage others to join you!

Be blessed, be a blessing.