what right do I have not to be offended, outraged or indignant?

Hatred of the most despicable kind was on display in Charlottesville (USA) last weekend. We saw what happens when racists get together and find the cowardly courage of the crowd to shout and march and chant. The mob mentality encouraged them to make public the acidic bile that has rotted their souls: it is easier to wear racist emblems and make nazi salutes when there are others alongside you doing the same.

I have been hesitant about writing anything about what happened in Charlottesville because I am a middle-class white male who has only experienced any sort of discrimination in the form of bullying at school because I am a Christian. I have been hesitant to write about the predatory attitudes that we find skulking in the shadows of all cultures, thinly disguised as nationalism and preying on the insecurities of those who consider themselves to have been hard done by because I have not suffered in the way that others have at the hands and mouths of prejudiced bigots.  What right do I have to be offended, outraged or indignant?

But then I thought, “What right do I have not to be offended, outraged or indignant?” I may not know how it feels to have suffered racist abuse or violence but I do know that it is a nauseating stench in the nostrils of all that I believe in and stand for.

Regrettably that rally would not have received the publicity it did if it was not for the death of one brave person. The evil that reared its hideous, heinous head in the land of the free and the home of the brave was focused for the world in the act of one person who decided to use their car as a weapon of mass destruction and drive into a crowd of people protesting against the racists. It is tragic that Heather Heyer’s life was taken by that fascist-fuelled act and that others were seriously injured. It is tragic for the families affected and yet Heather’s last post on social media has become a rallying cry against such attitudes:

“If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention”

I want to say the loudest possible ‘amen!’ to that statement. I am outraged. I don’t want to make her a martyr to a cause because first and foremost her death is a family tragedy, but she was (along with many others) a brave woman who refused to stand by and allow evil to go unchallenged. I hope and pray that history will reveal this as a turning point when ordinary men and women across the world rose up against these attitudes. As Revd Dr Martin Luther King Jr said:

“For evil to succeed, all it needs is for good men [and women] to do nothing.”

stop

So what does ‘not doing nothing’ look like for me? This blog is one small thing – seeking to add my small voice to the many other small voices across the world that denounce racist and fascist attitudes so that together we might become a resounding roar of resistance against racism and leave no room for doubt that these people are a small minority of small minded people whose myopic and bigoted view of humanity is so far out of focus from the truth that they will never prevail.

We can expose lies with the truth. We can dis-empower evil by calling it what it is. We can not only stand against injustice but we can act for justice. If we ever encounter such discriminatory attitudes let us resolve that we will not leave them unchallenged. We will stand in protest. We will stand in solidarity. We will speak out against them. And at the same time if there is one present near us whom the bigot would try to make into a victim with their vile evil lies let’s be determined to stand with that person and for that person and ensure that they know that they are not alone. We may not be able to walk in their shoes but we can walk with them.

I have no wish or intention to diminish the hurt and insult that is felt by those who are subjected to racist taunts and attacks by claiming that we are all victims of racism. I cannot know how that feels. But by sub-humanising one group of people on the basis of their ethnicity racists are actually sub-humanising themselves and the poison of racism pollutes all of humanity. If one person is considered less than another we are all diminished by that attitude. So let’s resolve to honour and value and respect every single human being – even (or perhaps especially) those with whom we disagree. A powerful antidote to the poison of racism is the refusal to dehumanise racists: to refuse to fight fire with fire, hatred with hatred, evil with evil.

We can restore the dignity that the undignified are seeking to destroy by recognising that dignity is not only something inherent within all of us, but it is also something that we can give to others. If someone seeks to diminish the dignity of another we can enhance it by giving greater dignity in response. Look at the way that Nelson Mandela showed dignity and gave dignity in such a way that the racism of apartheid crumbled.

In response to the attack in Charlottesville President Obama tweeted a quotation from Nelson Mandela’s book The Long Walk to Freedom:

“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin or background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

Jesus Christ said that we should love our neighbours. More awkwardly he also said we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. That’s easy to say but it’s not easy to do. We don’t have to agree with them. We don’t have to allow them to succeed. We don’t have to submit meekly to those whose perverted view of people leads them to despise others – non-violent resistance has been at the heart of some of the most powerful movements in human history. ‘Turning the other cheek’ is an act of defiant rebellious love – responding extraordinarily to violence inflicted upon us and demonstrating an undiminished resolve not to retaliate and take revenge upon that person.

Loving our neighbours and our enemies does not mean that we cultivate mushy romantic or familial feelings for them. It means that we want the best for them (surely that includes that they recognise and repudiate the inhuman nature of their attitudes). So I also resolve to pray against the evil of discrimination that seeks to undermine the value of another person on the basis of difference and pray for a change of heart and mind for all who hold such views.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

blind to the truth?

20160402_114517Recently I acquired a study. The garage in our house has been converted into a study. It’s a lovely space in which to work, study and meet people and makes my life a lot easier. It’s also downstairs, which helps (not too many upstairs garages though, so I guess you realised that). And it’s much closer to the coffee-making facilities in our house.

The front of our house faces south. And it was only after we had some vertical blinds installed that I realised the significance of this: if it’s a sunny day when I twist the blinds open in the morning I have to twist them to the right so that the sun does not shine directly through into my eyes. Later in the day, after the sun has traversed (or, for the cosmic pedants the earth has rotated) I have to twist the blinds to the left for the same reason. It’s not something that is bothersome, but it’s not something I had considered until the first sunny day when I was in my study.

I think that the ability to be flexible, adaptable and open-minded is one that all of us need to develop because the environment and circumstances in which we exist changes around us. I think most people suffer from change-inertia. It’s not necessarily that we don’t like change but it takes so much effort that we’d rather not bother thank you very much. However if we don’t change and adapt to the changing circumstances around us in the same way as if I failed to adjust the the blinds we may find that we can’t operate effectively because those changed circumstances make it more difficult.

It seems to me that churches suffer from change-inertia. Christians are like all people who tend to like things the way they have always been. Keeping church the way it has always been is perhaps a bit like a spiritual security blanket and if things change in church one of the fixed points of a person’s faith has changed and that can be uncomfortable. I understand that.

But I don’t think it’s healthy. Because if one of the fixed points of a person’s faith is the way a church has always been then their faith is in the wrong thing. We are supposed to be followers of Jesus and put our faith in him not in traditions, preferences, buildings, or even other people. And following Jesus involves change. That is at the heart of the word ‘repentance’ (a change of direction back towards God). It is inherent in what the Holy Spirit is doing within us – changing us to become more like the people God created us to be. And if you look at how Jesus engaged with the religious people and traditions of his day he was all about change! I would go so far as to suggest that if a church does not want to change (if the change is Jesus-led) then they are in danger of becoming a church-preservation society and not a church.

I may be coming across a bit strong here, but it bothers me that if churches do not change and adapt to the changes in culture around them they will be seen as out of date, irrelevant, and old fashioned and that people will then think of Jesus in the same way and ignore him. We’re supposed to be free samples of Jesus not of our own preferences and traditions. And if we refuse to adapt to our changing environment and become irrelevant while remaining in a happy holy huddle we are not only being selfish but disobedient to Jesus by not going to make disciples.

Now before anyone starts branding me a heretic and picking up virtual stones to lob at me or my blog can I say that I am not suggesting that we change the core of our message. Churches must always be ‘on-message’ when it comes to Jesus. But we can change the way that we say it. For example, Christians may (or may not) know what I mean if I say, “I’ve been washed in the blood of the Lamb.” But for most people outside church if they hear that they will imagine I am engaged in some sort of animal cruelty and may call the RSPCA.

Jesus used language and illustrations that were contemporary for his day, but were also radical and challenging to the status quo and that is a problem for us if we refuse to change and adapt. Many of the amazing stories he told are culturally irrelevant to the Western post-modern society in which I live. (Don’t lob those virtual stones yet, read on). His parable about a Good Samaritan needs a lot of explanation to people today (explaining the depth of the historical animosity between Jesus’ Jewish listeners and the Samaritan people of his day, the religious cleanliness rules that would have prevented the priest and Levite from carrying out their duties if they had touched the beaten up victim, for example) even though the message is relevant today (perhaps more than ever). Today in telling the same story we might talk about the parable of the Good Immigrant who goes out of her way to look after a Right Wing Racist thug who was beaten up by a rival gang (who might still be hanging around) and was ignored by the leaders of his gang who ran away and a vicar who was on her way to a PCC meeting. It’s the same point Jesus was making about who your neighbour is but set in a different cultural context.

So how would you communicate the truth of “I’ve been washed in the blood of the Lamb” to someone who knows nothing about the Biblical imagery or theology of that statement?

Do we adapt to our ever changing world, or do we keep the blinds as they were and end up unable to see what we are called to do?

Be blessed, be a blessing

too good to be true

iStock_000008192999SmallFollowing on from the Spam, spam, spam, spam bloggage earlier this week a friend told me about how they had clicked on a link on a well-known social media website (rhymes with spacehook) and a pop-up had come up saying that they could be in line to win an iPhone 6 or other consumer tech from a giveaway section on a large online retailer named after a South American river. They clicked again and found that, lo and behold, they had won a top of the range iPad!

But they were a bit suspicious. The link supposedly to this retailing giant’s website was to the .com version not the .co.uk version, but it was still showing the value of the items in £s.

And more than that, they had never heard of this retailer giving away such expensive items. And why would they?

In the end they applied the ‘if it seems too good to be true then it probably is’ and tried to leave that page. But the pop up kept popping up, and when they tried to delete it the page it was referring to was definitely not the online retailer.

They managed to close the windows in the end, but when they were telling me about it I wondered whether that might be similar to how some churches go about things.

We tell people that we have an offer that is too good to be true, offering them things that they would want, and then when they decide that it’s not true we make it difficult for them to leave. That sounds like a cult to me!

What do I mean? Well, some churches seem to promise a relationship with God where all your dreams come true. Or they say that if you become a Christian then everything will be wonderful after that. Or they suggest that following Jesus will answer all your questions. Or they say that your problems will fade into insignificance if you become a Christian…

And (forgive me if I lack faith here) that’s just not what I read about in the Bible, and it doesn’t match with my experience of following Jesus. Your problems don’t disappear, but you do find that you are not alone with them because you can become more aware of God’s Spirit in you. All your dreams won’t come true, but you may find that your hopes and dreams change to become more in line with God’s will. Everything is not always wonderful, but grace, hope and forgiveness are available in abundance. All your questions won’t be answered, and you’ll still doubt at times, but you’ll find that the questions might seem less important, or might even change to better ones…

I wonder whether churches add special offers to the Good News of Jesus because they wonder whether it’s enough – a relationship with God, a fresh start in life, God’s Spirit in you, a worldwide family, a purpose to live for, hope for the future… But I believe that if we are honest with people that ‘life in all its fullness’ includes the side of life that can lead to the expression of expletives but knowing that God is with you in it, perhaps they will be more ready to believe us with the rest of what Jesus has to offer.

Just a thought.

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Be blessed, be a blessing

vive l’amour

tricoloure fb[Warning, this started off as a mini-bloggette, and has developed into a long bloggage!]

Over the weekend many people have changed their Facebook Profile Picture so that it temporarily shows a Tricoloure (French Flag) across their image – comme ça. (Facebook now has the facility to do this temporarily.)

It is to show solidarity with the French people following the horrendous events in Paris last Friday. I felt moved to do the same, as you can see. I wanted to express my horror at what had happened and this was the first time I had realised that it was possible to change my picture in this way.

But almost immediately I was made to feel guilty for doing so. Facebook statuses started appearing that suggested (either implied or explicitly) that those who had added a tricoloure to their photo were wrong to do so. It was not because they should not express solidarity with the French, but people were asking why there had been no similar solidarity with victims of violence elsewhere in the world – Beirut, Baghdad, Syria, refugees, and so on. The suggestion was made that it was only because this was close to home (across the channel) and (almost unbelievably) because the majority of victims were white Europeans that this was receiving the attention that it was and that by changing my Facebook profile in the way that I did I was perpetuating this discrimination.

I felt bad.

I wondered whether I should remove the tricoloure.

And then I decided that I would not. I think that those who were making these statements were generally having a go at the Euro-centric media (but inadvertently having a go at the rest of us who were apparently suckered in by this). Just because I did not change my Facebook profile picture for any of the other atrocities does not mean I do not care about anyone else. I think that for most of us it means we did not know about the other atrocities, or didn’t know we could change our profile picture.

I have also made this statement on Facebook to clarify my position:

The French Flag on my profile photo not only represents solidarity with France and those affected by the attack on Friday, but is representative of solidarity with all who are victims of violence wherever it is perpetrated, and whether on a national or personal scale. Lord have mercy.

It may have been slightly defensive (I admit) but I wanted to say that everyone matters. And they matter to God whether or not I know about their pain and suffering. They matter whether it happens in the public eye or out of the awareness of the media. It matters whether it happens to hundreds of people in a public place or to an individual in her home.

Violence, brutality, bullying, assault, murder, persecution, genocide, injustice, slaughter, hate, and many other words are not only part of our language, regrettably they have also become part of our world. And while temporarily changing my Facebook Profile Picture may not make much difference, it is at least a statement. It is a statement of defiance: that evil will not win. It is a statement of friendship: you are not alone. It is a statement of love: that I care.

And for me it is an outworking and a public expression of my personal faith in Jesus of Nazareth (who was a refugee in childhood and a victim of bullying, persecution, injustice, assault and state sponsored murder) that God’s love is stronger than anything evil.

Love wins.

And God’s love can not only overcome, it can diminish and weaken violence, brutality, bullying, assault, murder, persecution, genocide, injustice, slaughter, and hate at their source – the human heart.

I recognise that it’s a lot more complicated than this bloggage can express, but bear with me…

God’s love can change hearts in a way that no other force in human experience can.

His love can be expressed practically (rebuilding homes and offering aid…) in ways that do not create enemies in the same way that bombs and politically motivated invasions do.

God’s love can (often very gently and gradually) release people from the chains of domination and violence that continue beyond the end of physical oppression if someone is unable to forgive and is bound by bitterness and anger.

God’s love can stop the cycle of violence – transforming ‘an eye for an eye’ to ‘turn the other cheek’.

(And God’s so gracious that his love can be shown by people who don’t even know the source of it, he doesn’t even claim exclusive rights or seek the credit!)

I am not suggesting that we do not resist evil. I am not suggesting that victims of violence do not need protecting. Lord, no. But love shapes how we respond. Let me illustrate from my personal experience:

When I was a lawyer a lady was brought to me by someone from a woman’s refuge. She had been beaten by her husband for many years and finally his brutality and hatred and violence had been so great that the need to escape it broke her free from his dominance and her fear of him and she sought help. She needed an emergency injunction to keep him away from her. The poor lady’s face bore testimony to that need, and the memory of it still haunts me today.

I was angry. I was angry at the husband for the violence he had inflicted on her. I was angry that such things happened behind closed doors and for the most part were hidden. But anger would not help, it would only escalate the situation and perpetuate the violence. Love was what was needed. We needed to act in a loving way.

Some people think that turning the other cheek in the name of love is weak. But it did not mean that the lady should not be protected by me getting the injunction (which I did). It did mean that we did not get together a ‘posse’ to go around to his house…

‘An eye for an eye’ had been intended by God as a way of limiting the ‘compensation’ for injury. It was intended to prevent an escalation of violence. It was saying that any response must be proportionate to the offence and not excessive. But human beings being what we are had subverted that from a limit to a right – ‘I have the right to retaliate’. Jesus’ teaching: ‘Turning the other cheek’ is not about meek submission but about a refusal to retaliate. It’s about seeking the best for everyone, including your enemy. It’s about love. God’s love.

God’s love is the only thing that can change the human heart permanently. Jesus didn’t command us to do much, but he did command us to love one another… as he has loved us.

It’s not easy, especially in the face of violence, brutality, bullying, assault, murder, persecution, genocide, injustice, slaughter, and hate. But it’s the only way that will change the world, one heart at a time.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

life in all its fullness

DSCF1884Just a short thought today as I have been out for most of the day…

When Jesus told people that he had come to give them “Life in all its fullness” did they realise that the fullness of life includes pain and suffering as well as joy and excitement? Did they understand that the fullness of life includes doubt as well as certainty? Did they expect fullness of life to include moments when God seems distant and silent as well as those times when we are aware of his awe and wonder? Did they think that forgiveness is only needed after hurt has been caused?

I doubt it.

But then we don’t often think of it in those ways too. We want the good, the exciting, the joyful and forget that character is more often forged in the furnace than among feathers.

Yet they are all experiences of life. The difference with Jesus’ offer of “life in all its fullness” is that there is a God dimension in our life too. He is there with us in pain and suffering as well as joy and excitement. He understands our doubt and certainty. He has not abandoned us even when he seems distant and silent – he is just as close as when we are aware of his awe and wonder.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

in the end are the words

I was glad I was not there. I would have disgraced myself with sniggers, snorts and perhaps even full-blown laughter.

It was an important meeting making important decisions. The meeting seemed to be moving towards agreement when a lady who might be described as ‘traditionally built’ (see No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency) stood up.

“I have a ‘but’,” she announced, “and it’s a very big ‘but’!”

A friend of mine who was there at the meeting told me that there were many people who were trying hard not to show any reaction as they mentally added a ‘t’ to ‘but’ while others stuffed fists in their mouths or had thinly disguised coughing fits.

 

I was angry that I was there. I almost disgraced myself with an outburst, but my wise and loving wife restrained me with a gentle hand on my arm and prevented me from making a scene.

At the time I was working as a lawyer. I had many different clients and had recently had to obtain an injunction to keep a man away from his wife after he had beaten her to a pulp.

The (allegedly) qualified Christian speaker stood up at the seminar on marriage at the Christian Conference that is held in the Spring and announced, “It is always right for a husband and wife to remain together.”

In my mind I could see my client’s battered face and wanted to introduce her to this speaker and see if she still believed that statement.

 

Typewriter 3
26 letters can rearrange themselves into all sorts of amazing combinations

The words we use are incredible. They have the potential to amuse (intentionally or otherwise), to convey wisdom, to encourage, to correct, to support and so much more. And they have the power to be destructive, to tear down, to imprison, to denigrate, to humiliate.

Most of the time we lob out words without giving them much thought. We scatter them liberally as we travel throughout the day. We leave them behind us like the wake behind a speedboat and don’t consider the impact on those who are bobbing around behind us. Some may enjoy the ride, others may be swamped.

In James 3 we read of how potentially dangerous the tongue is and James suggests that it needs taming and restraining, it as if it were a wild horse. He continues:

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

Jesus spoke of how the mouth reveals what our heart is like.

I don’t think they were just writing and talking about swearing: if we say things thoughtlessly, what might that say about what we are like?

In writing this bloggerel I am acutely aware that once I click on ‘publish’ these words are out there for anyone to find, read and react to. I hope and pray that they are a blessing and an encouragement to you. If they are the opposite, please let me know so I can respond and amend what needs amending.

How will people respond to your words today?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

grinding away the grot

Today a very nice man is sorting out some rust on Sally’s car and some damaged paintwork (already there when I bought the car) on my car. I am confident that he will do a good job, but it is a little unnerving having someone take a sanding disc to your car and start making loud grinding noises on the paintwork. I am sure that at the moment there is more of a mess than there was before he started (he’s only about an hour in) but it’s like the old adage: if you want to make omelettes you have to break some eggs. If you want lovely paintwork on your car you have to get rid of the grot first.

And if you want a healthy relationship with God, you have to be prepared to grind away the grot in your life. It may not be easy, it may not be comfortable but it is worth doing. And God gives us his Spirit to help us:

Paul puts it in drastic language in Colossians 3:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

But there’s a counterbalance. Paul did not just tell us to put to death what belongs to our earthly nature, he has a range of positive things to replace them and the desire to do them:

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility,gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do,whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

I love the practicality of this. Addicts know that stopping addictive behaviour is very difficult. But it is easier to do if you replace that negative addition with a positive attribute, activity or attitude.

Listen to some worship songs (and sing along?) if you are tempted to think or act in a way that is spiritually unhealthy.

Ask for God’s peace instead of angst, perhaps taking time out to go and relax rather than blowing your top.

Remember that you are forgiven if you are tempted to hold a grudge.

Try and do what is loving in any given circumstance.

Whatever you do, do it with an attitude of gratitude to God, and do it all as an act of worship to him.

All of these have the effect of drawing us closer to God, and that has the effect of making us want to get closer still and sin less.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Dear Insurance Company,

I am writing in response to your request for additional information. In block number three of the accident reporting form, I put “poor planning” as the cause of my accident. You said in your letter that I should explain more and I trust that the following details are sufficient:

I am a bricklayer by trade. On the day of the accident, I was working alone on the roof of a new six-storey building. When I completed my work, I discovered that I had a large pile of bricks left over. Rather than carry the bricks down by hand I decided to lower them in a barrel by using a pulley, which fortunately was attached to the side of the building at the sixth floor.

Securing the rope at the ground level, I went up to the roof, swung the barrel out and loaded the bricks into it. Then I went back to the ground and untied the rope, holding it tightly to insure a slow descent of the 500 pounds of bricks. You will note in block number 11 of the accident reporting form that I weigh 135 pounds. Due to my surprise at being jerked off the ground so suddenly, I lost my presence of mind and forgot to let go of the rope. Needless to say, I proceeded at a rather rapid rate up the side of the building.

In the vicinity of the third floor, I met the barrel coming down. This explains the fractured skull and broken collarbone. Slowed only slightly, I continued my rapid ascent, not stopping until the fingers of my right hand were two knuckles deep into the pulley. Fortunately, by this time I had regained my presence of mind and was able to hold tightly to the rope in spite of my pain.

At approximately the same time, however, the barrel of bricks hit the ground – and the bottom fell out of the barrel. Devoid of the weight of the bricks, the barrel now weighed approximately 50 pounds. I refer you again to my weight in block number 11. As you might imagine, I began a rapid descent down the side of the building.

In the vicinity of the third floor, I met the barrel coming up. This accounts for the two fractured ankles and lacerations of my legs and lower body. The encounter with the barrel, slowed me enough to lessen my injuries when I fell onto the pile of bricks and fortunately, only three vertebrae were cracked. I am sorry to report, however, that as I lay there on the bricks in pain, unable to move, and watching the barrel six stories above – I again lost my presence of mind.

I let go of the rope!