Judgement and hope

I once described the “9/11″ attack on the World Trade Centre as a wake-up call. Thirteen years on that call has been ignored. The Western world has continued sleep-walking into an abyss, clinging to the illusions that its decadent materialistic society can be secured with more and more arms and its appetite for economic growth met by more and more advanced technology.    Yesterday I was dismayed by the news that the Lima talks on climate change had ended in dissaray with an inconclusive agreement.   Tonight I have been physically sickened by the news of 132 school children murdered in cold blood by Taliban gunmen.

I feel it is time to ask whether there is a point of no return, and if so whether that point has not been reached. This may seem an outrageous question but I ask it in all seriousness. Historically every empire and every civilisation has had its day and it is sheer arrogance to assume that ours should be an exception.

The warnings of the Old Testament prophets were not empty threats. The Israelites were carried off into captivity. The messages of the prophets were messages of hope but it was hope beyond judgement, not instead of it.  The captivity was not forever, there would be a return. The judgement was on human wickedness and folly; the hope was in divine faithfulness.

Could we be about to enter a new dark age?   If so hope will be kept alive not by ever tighter security, not by technological inovations, not even by the church as an institution, which comes under the judgement of every institution insofar as it is infected by the materialism of the age, but by the spark glowing among the embers of an  exhausted culture, in those remaining faithful to the spirit of divine humanity revealed in Jesus Christ, waiting to be fanned a into a flame when society has been purged of its idolatry.

Postscipt:
After all, isn’t this cosmically what cross and resurrection are all about?   To suppose that we can have the hope of resurrection without the judgement of the cross is to live in cloud-cuckoo land, it is to cry peace where there is no peace.

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Christmas – what christmas ? (lower case intentional)

Three days after witnessing the TV pictures of the almost obscene scramble for the goodies on Black Friday – well, at least it was appropriately named – and on the morning when Vodaphone were extending it on the radio to black Monday, I received through the post an envelope on which were emblazoned in giant bold print the words BARCLAYCARD THE MOST USEFUL CARD YOU COULD GET THIS CHRISTMAS.

That just about says it all – well at least again – it saved me opening the envelope.

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Signs or Wonders

The other morning our Bible reading included Jesus’ rebuke to the scribes and pharisees for requesting a sign.   I have always felt that their description as a wicked and godless generation was rather harsh.   After all the Gospels are full of signs and John in particular speaks of Jesus’s signs – “that we might believe”.

Some time ago I submitted the following for a hymwriting competition.

God of the holocaust where were you hiding
when from the gas chamber we heard your cry?
God of the battlefield where children are dy-ing
Speak through the darkness and give us a sign.

God of the market place, where are you hiding
God of the boardroom where profit is king?
God of the media, truth oft denying
Make your word heard now and give us a sign.

Lord God of Hagar alone in the desert
watching her dying child pleading for food
What of the mothers with no hope of rescue
God of the famine we beg for a sign.

God of Bathsheeba where are you hiding?
women are prey to lust, children abused
God of the drug barons peddling their poison
Shine in this cruel world and give us a sign.

God of my yesterdays when I betrayed you
whether through weakness, through fear or through pride
Lost opportunities, promises broken,
God, can you use me still, give me a sign

God of tomorrow, what lies before me
Heavenly glory or just a deep hole?
God of my destiny I hear you answer
Today is enough for you, be my sign now.”

What the scribes and pharisees wanted were not signs but wonders – stones into bread or a fall from the temple pinnacle unscathed   What they needed were not wonders but wonder.
Their sceptical, legalistic minds blinded them to the wonder of the signs that were there for all to see.    Is this why Jesus speaks of them as godless, literally adulterous, rather than faithless which would seem to be particularly apropriate here?    Wonder is one of God’s most precious gifts and without it our relationship with God is broken.   Metaphorically speaking “adulterous” is perhaps not too strong a word.
The signs today may be less evident than they were to the scribes and pharisees but they are there for those with eyes to see.- every speck of beauty in a world where there is so much ugliness,  every word or act of kindness in a world where there is so much cruelty, every sacrifice for justice in a world of compromise…   and every sign is a wonder.    Faith needs a sign or it is mere credulity.    But without wonder we would be no better than the scribes and pharisees – a godless generation.

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To grow or not to grow…

…that is the question.

Last Sunday the BBC reported that world leaders at the G20 summit talks had agreed on measures to increase economic growth  by 2%.   I am no economist, and this may be the ultimate economic heresy, but it seems to me that growth is the vey last thing our planet needs – especially when the measurement of that growth includes the profits of drug dealers and prostitutes – but that is food for another blog.
In other spheres gigantism is regarded as a pathological condition so why should the economy of the planet be an exception?

Growth is hitting the planet a double wammy.   On the one hand it is depleting its precious finite resources while on the other it is polluting the environment with the waste products, thereby destroying its ecological balance and rendering it uninhabitable.

Austerity has now become a dirty word although I grew up to regard it as a virtue.   Austerity for whom, that is the big issue.   It is a dirty word when it means austerity for those least able to bear it.    Googling income statistics for the United Kingdom I find myself falling comfortably short of what is regarded as average and yet I have to confess that for me the “austerity” of the past decade has meant no more than inconvenience.   I have not been hungry, I have a secure and comfortable home, I have had all the medical care I have needed,  I have been able to afford an annual holiday and the occasional special treat.   As for those who have seen the value of their investment portfolio crashing I suspect they have mostly had a comfortable cushion to fall on.

You may call me naive but I suspect there are better brains than mine who believe that what is needed is not more growth, not the medicine as before, but a radical change from the present free-for-all economic system to one that ensures an equitable sharing of tthe world’s precious finite resources.   Either that or we join the dinosaurs and the Gadarene swine on a mad rush down the rapidly steepening slope to extinction.

Postscipt:   I wanted to include lemmings with the dinosaurs and swine but I find the myth of them suicidally running over the cliffs to their deaths is just that – a myth.   It seems that we who believe it are the stupid ones.   Pity though, it would have made a better ending!

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A better radicalism

Having recently read the Hamas Charter I can understand how gullible young idealists can be attracted by the call of unconditional commitment to what is none the less an abhorent and obscene cause.   In the face of such a call the government’s negative efforts to combat extremism and radicalisation are not only futile but – in the very nature of things – counter productive.   Once committe to a cause idealists are not only undeterred but thrive on opposition.
I can testify from personal experience of the – albeit very different – cause of nuclear disarmament.    Nothing was a greater moral booster than the arrival of Defence Secretary Michael Hesseltine, complete with flack jacket, on the scene of anti-nuclear protests at Molesworth air base.
Be that as it may, if negative efforts to combat extremism are unlikely to deter those committed to the cause, they only serve to glamorise it for those still looking for a purpose in life.
If the challenge of Islamist extremism is to be met and overcome, as surely in the face of ISIS it must, it will not be through negative propaganda or even tighter and tighter security measures – necessary as they may be in the short term – but by the challenge of a better and worthier cause.
I firmly believe that the Islamist movement sprang initially from a revulsion to the materialist, consumerist decadence of Western society and flourishes under the continued commitment of Western Society to those values.   At the time of the Twin Towers calamity I remember preaching that I believed it to be a wake-up call, a call to repentance, and I know that many shared that conviction.    The call was ignored and we reap the fruits today.
My prayer is that it may yet not be too late – it wasn’t for Ninevah.   Western civilisation had its roots in Christianity although with Constantine it quickly lost its way.   With the greatest respect to my Jewish, Moslem, Hindu, Atheist friends – and those of all other faiths and none – I firmly believe that a return to those roots is the only answer to the challenge, the threat, that we face today.   That is not to say that I think everyone should be a church-attending, card carrying Christian, but that whatever our faith, or none, our society should be based on the values testified to by Jesus of Nazareth, values of justice especially for the underprivileged and marginalised and selfless care for the neighbour, a society best expressed in the beutiful Hebrew word often on the lips of Jesus himself – SHALOM.

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Talking to the animals

I was happily walking towards Burderop Down en route to Barbury Castle when I felt something soft nuzzling my hand. Assuming there must be another walker coming with a friendly dog I turnsed to pat it only to find that it was not a dog but a cow – or large calf. After exchanging friendly greetings I turned to continue my walk. But when I felt a more insistent nudge to my hind quarters delight at the encounter melted into apprehensiveness. Turning again I was now alarmed to find a whole herd closely following my new aquaintance. What had begun as a friendly encounter was fast becoming a confrontation. Not quite sure what to do I raised my hand in a forbiding gesture and uttered in what was meant to be a friendly but firm tone the words “No! Go back!” I then continued my walk at a rather faster rate than hitherto. After about 100 yards I dared to look back and was relieved to find the heard contentedly grazing some hundred yards away.
How much, I wonder, did that cow understand. I don’t imagine it spoke English but did it really understand from my gesture and tone of voice that enough was enough and it was time to call a halt to the encounter or was it just coincidence that it chose not to continue.

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What makes Britain great?

A recent article in the Financial Times (where else?) reports that Britain has decided to include prostitution and illegal drugs in its official national accounts. This it is claimed will add a “£10bn boost” to the measurement of the nation’s economy, adding  “up to 5 per cent to the UK’s gross domestic product.” Joe Grice, chief economic adviser at the Office for National Statistics is reported as saying that “These improvements are going on across the world…”. The statistics themselves are shocking enough but that they should be taken as a measure of the nations economic health is shameful beyond belief. It is a most shocking illustration of the depths to which the worship of Mammon can take us. It seems that when the economy is the ultimate measure of Britain’s health all questions of morality go out of the window.

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