Brother, sister

This morning we sang Richard Gillard’s beautiful hymn “Brother, sister, let me serve you.”   It is one of my favourites and judging by the enthusiasm with which it was sung that goes for most of our congregation too.   We sang it looking to the front, to the communion table and the pulpit, symbols of the divine presence.    But it is not addressed to God, it is addressed to our brothers and sisters in the congregation..   How much more meaningful it would have been had we turned to face one another and sung it to our brothers and sisters in Christ as the words so clearly require.

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The cost of killing

Casually overhearing reference to drone warfare on BBC Radio 4 started me thinking of the insanity of spending so much money, human time skill and energy, and the resources of modern technology  to produce a single object the sole function of which was to self-destruct. Googling “Drones for defence cost of I came up with this chilling article. I got the answer I was looking for: “the MQ-9 Reaper drone used for attacks in Pakistan has a single unit cost of US$6.48 million” How many hungry people would US$6.48 million feed, how many sick treated, how many children educated;  and what lives and buildings, destroyed in the process?    That was madness enough but the true obscenity of the article was that the benefit-cost analysis was expressed solely in dollars, a drone was cheaper than a soldier.     Even the effect of a soldier casualty was calculated solely in financial terms;  the human suffering he or she endured did not come into the equation, not to mention that of those, mostly innocent, killed, wounded, widowed, orphaned or rendered homeless in the process. To be fair, the article did refer to the moral issue but only to rule it out of the discussion. Many of the common objections to drones, such as their ambiguous place in humanitarian law become second-tier issues when the cost benefits are laid out……good intentions concerned with restricting the use of drones are likely to remain secondary.

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Tsunami ?

Nick Robinson comments that Cameron’s reference to “totally unacceptable scenes” in Calais is his way of saying “I get it”.   But what Cameron doesn’t get is that sooner or later the unacceptable has to become acceptable.  The efforts of Great Britain and Australia for example – to protect their prosperity from a tsunami of migrants, be they frightened, hungry, or simply wanting their share of that prosperity, is reminiscent of the legendary efforts of King Canute to stem the incoming tide. The difference, as I understand it, is that Canute was intelligent enough to know the task was impossible and just wanted to demonstrate the fact to those who would attribute to him superhuman powers;  a lesson our governments, with the support of large portions of our populations, have yet to learn.

I believe we are witnessing an awakening of the have-nots, fuelled by the images on their TV screens and the messages on their mobile phones, to the global inequalities of wealth and privilege that can no longer be hidden and they are no longer content to sit in the cold hungrily watching the haves enjoy the feast.

To use another watery metaphor we  are living in a fertile valley nourished by a steady flow of wealth from a global reservoir of under-privilege, and the cracks in the dam are beginning to show.    From Cameron’s perspective in the fertile valley the trickle we are witnessing in Calais is indeed unacceptable but that will not stop it happening.   Sooner or later the pressure between the inequalities must break the dam and the trickle become a flow until the water of humanity finds its true level.   AND THEN THERE WILL BE PEACE.

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Why? That is the big question on the lips of politicians, media pundits and ordinary people today. Why are young people being groomed and radicalised to throw in their lot with the barbaric ideology of Islamic extremism. It is a supremely important question because unless an answer is found and acted upon hope for the future of our society is bleak indeed.
And yet the answer is staring them in the face if they only had eyes to see. Idealism is one of the most precious virtues of the young, they cannot survive without it They demand visions where their elders are content to dream dreams.    Of no age group is the proverb more relevant that “where there is no vision the people perish.”

But what has our Western Society to offer – 24 hour supermarkets,  glitzy shopping precincts,  television reality shows, soaps and talent competitions, interrupted with adverts for luxuries they do not need and cannot afford, or a national lottery promising £millions to someone else ?

The United States proclaims democracy as the ultimate panacea but what is that worth if this is the best it can offer a sick world.

Our Government seeks to inspire with “British values” :  respect for the law, respect for your neighbour, tolerance of different opinions, freedom of expression etc. etc.    All these things are important and precious.   They are essential for a just and peaceful society.   They are a necessary foundation on which to build.    But the proof of the pudding is in the eating and when the idealistic young see the pudding that this recipe has so far produced can it compete with the illusion of utopia that the Islamic State promises to offer.    To return to the foundation metaphor, do they see a derelict building site because the capital to finish is exhausted and compare it to the magnificent, shiny edifice of Islamic State delusions ?

There is a vision that is worthy of the idealism of our young people.   It is the vision of a society built on the values of Jesus of Nazareth.  Values that cross every barrier of race, nationality, culture, social status, sex, sexual orientation, politics, religion or whatever else separates God’s children to bring people together in friendship, love, compassion and forgiveness.     That is a vision worth living, and if need be dying for.   And thank God that there are those, Christians, Muslims, Jews, people of every creed and none, who are living by that vision, crossing the barriers of prejudice and enmity that separate God’s children.   In these lie the hope for our world.

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What is logical ?

It was only recently that I realised the connexion between the Greek word “logos” (rendered as “Word” in most English translations of John’s Gospel) and the English word “logic”.   This may seem obvious but to me it was a eureka moment transforming the significance of the incarnation in an explosion of light.

We live in a logical universe.   To the eye of faith this logic is of God, it is divine.   Every atom is infused with it, every moment is governed by it, it is the ultimate reality, it is non-negotiable.   The incredible mystery of the incarnation is that this divine logic has been expressed in the human life of a man born in a remote corner of the Roman Empire who grew up in obscurity, spent a couple of years in a teaching and healing ministry authenticated by its grace and truth alone, died an ignominious death as a blasphemer yet some 2,000 years on is acknowledged as Lord by over 2 billion people world-wide.

To put it the other way round, the way of living that we see in this Jesus, the way of justice for the poor and under-privileged, the way of comfort and healing for those who suffer in body, mind or spirit, and perhaps supremely the way of gracious, forgiving acceptance of those who hurt or offend us is not some freakish, altruistic utopia but is the logical way, the way the universe is meant to be.    Jesus had a name for a world in tune with such logic. He called it the Kingdom of God.

It follows that whoever is living in harmony with the way of Jesus, whether Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist or of any other persuasion, though they rail at God with Stephen Fry or sneer with Richard Dawkins, are living logically, they are heirs of that kingdom, they belong to it.

By contrast whatever is in denial of that way: war, cruelty, greed, prejudice, resentment, indifference to suffering, is not simply wrong, it is illogical,  in denial of the logic of the universe, or to use the vivid metaphor of the risen Christ to the apostle Paul it is “kicking against the pricks” – and as such is an alien intrusion, out of harmony with the purpose of the universe, it does not belong.

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A Better Way

I ended my last blog on events in Paris with the question “What to do about it ?”.

Predictably the response from Western governments is tighter security and from Charlie Ebdo more deliberately provocative cartoons.     Just what the perpetrators of the atrocities wanted.   Raise the stakes !  Heighten the the tension !   Increase the hostility !   A more appropriate cartoon would have shown the perpetrators rubbing their hands in glee.

There must be a better way.   What if rather than frantically shoring up the ramparts and hurling insults or bawling “Je suis Charlie” from the parapets we hung out a sheet emblazoned with the invitation “Can we talk?”.    Can you imagine how deflated those behind the atrocities would feel.

By now 99+% of readers will have written me off as a naive idealist and looked for a more “realistic” blog elsewhere.     But if you are of the -1% who think there must be a better way please read on.    I write as a Christian but not as one who believes the church – still less the state which claims to inherit Christian values – is whiter than white.   I write as a member of a church that acknowledges Jesus as Lord but not of a church that has the monopoly of Jesus.     Moslems claim to acknowledge Jesus as a prophet and we have a starting point for dialogue here.

What if we all – Christians, Moslems, Jews, Hindus, Bhuddists, Atheists….. – started to take the words of Jesus seriously and live as if his words “love your enemies…do good to those who hate you…bless those who curse you…etc.etc. really were the things that make for peace.    I am not so naive as to imagine we might bring heaven on earth overnight.   But hurling insults gets us nowhere;  those who are responsible for our security admit that we can never be totally secure;  sowing the wind of guns and bombs has only reaped the whirlwind of ever escalating violence.   Maybe it is time to look for a better way now.    It is the only hope for our world.

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Charlie Hebdo or Hyper Cacher ?

Huge crowds and some 40 world leaders have gathered in Paris for a unity march after 17 people were killed during three days of deadly attacks.

40 world leaders including UK PM Cameron and German Chancellor Merkel attending.

Two quotes from the BBC website at aproximately 13.30 p.m today, January 11th 2014.
The brutal murders perpetrated in Paris during the past week are atrocities that call for utter condemnation and tragedies that demand deepest sympathy for the loved ones of the victims.   But such atrocities and worse are taking place around the world daily and receive little more than polite condemnation from world leaders and fleeting moments of despair from the rest of us.     David Cameron speaks of “freedom, democracy and tolerance” as the values to be defended at all costs but I suspect the mass response to the events of last week is less about “freedom of expression, democracy and tolerance” than about the fact that events that have been common-place for years in Asia and Africa have come too close to home for comfort.

If that is so then it is rightly so for that is where the true threat lies.  Freedom of expression,  democracy and tolerance are relative.    We are not free to incite others to racial hatred or acts of terrorism;  democracy – rule of the people by the people for the people – can be subverted by the media, by demagogues and powerful commercial interests;   tolerance has its limits, we do not tolerate murder, rape or child abuse.    But the aim of the Islamic terrorists is absolute – the right to life except under submission to their rule.

Charlie Hebdo has been a convenient handle both for the terrorists and Western governments and media for their propaganda purposes.   The terrorists could use it as a response to provocation and blasphemy while Western governments and the media could make much of it as a threat to freedom of expression.    The hijaching of the Jewish supermarket on the other hand shows it as it really is – a blatant unprovoked attack on the right of innocent people to peacefully go about their daily business.

So much for the problem.   What to do about it ?   That is the question which must wait for another blog.

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