Peshawar and Me: Peshawar or Me?

When I downloaded to my Kindle Kamila Shamsie’s prize winning novel “A God in Every Stone”  little did I imagine the personal significance it would have for me.   That is until I reached page 203 to find the bold heading 23 April 1930, the day of my birth.   It was fascinating to imagine, as I was taking my first gasp of London air, safely cocooned in my Grandparents comfortable London home, what might be taking place on the far side of this little terrestrial ball.    But fascination quickly turned to shame as I read on to the author’s vivid and moving account of the distress and grief of those whose defenceless brothers and sisters – and so, presumably sons and daughters – were being mowed down by English machine guns or hunted like wild dogs through the narrow streets of the walled city of Peshawar.

What had I done, or could I do, to deserve the privileges of the secure and modestly comfortable home in England at the cost of such inhumanity in the proud name of the British Empire?    But perhaps even more shocking was the indifference of the privileged English residents to the sufferings of the natives (used as a term of scorn and derision of those who had the right to own it with pride).

The facts are history;  the attitudes and emotions of the English characters the fruit of the author’s imagination;  but there is no reason to doubt they are a true reflection of the attitudes of the day.

It makes me ashamed of my British (or European !) passport.    But before I indulge in shame for events of 86 years ago over which I had no control I need to remind myself of the relative luxury I enjoy at the expense of today’s  victims of global institutions such as Bayer and Monsanto;  and the protection of their interests by treaties such as TTIP and CETA;. and so many of the items on my shopping list that have yet to earn the “Fair Trade” symbol.

And even if I voted “remain” and wear a safety pin in my lapel I cannot disassociate myself from a nation jealous for its former “glory” and so grudgingly accepting the minimum of those seeking refuge from today’s massacres or the hunger consequent on its profligate use of the world’s energy resources.

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Party – which party?

“A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand”.

Rarely could that warning have seemed more appropriate for the so called “United Kingdom”.    Not that political parties are at variance.    There have always been legitimate differences as to the policies by which this kingdom is governed and it is right and healthy that they should be openly discussed and challenged.    The sickness lies in the fact that the divisions today ar greater within the parties than between them, with the consequence that it is no longer clear who stands for what.   As a result there is no effective government and even less effective opposition but we rather flounder around in a primeval political soup.

When Charles Wesley penned the line “Names and sects and parties fall” he was thinking of the heavenly kingdom of Jesus Christ.   But might they not be usefully applied to our current secular kingdom?    Might it not be time for all politicians and politically aware citizens to have the courage to abandon the names and allegiances that have become virtually meaningless and to immerse themselves in a gigantic melting pot from which might emerge three or four totally new groupings – left, centre and right; or possibly left,  centre-left, centre-right and right?    At least at the next election the humble voters would then know who or what they were voting for.

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Security for churches?

A questioner on last Friday’s “Any Questions” programme asked “Should churches have security guards to protect priests and worshippers?

I appreciate that this question was in response to the terrible news of the murder of a priest while conducting mass in France but was shocked that none of the panel addressed the real significance of the question but treated it as a threat to just one more vulnerable institution or profession.

Surely the real issue behind the question lies in the fact that it was precisely about churches whose sole raison d’etre is to proclaim the lordship of Jesus the Christ who refused to resist arrest and crucifixion and ordered his followers not to use swords to protect him.

For churches or their representatives to rely on armed security for their protection would be a denial of their central beliefs and a betrayal of the many through the centuries and in recent times who have accepted martyrdom for their faith rather than rely on armed protection.

Non-Christians may regard this as naive – and so it may be – but Christians and churches do not have the option.   They are committed to a way of life, a discipleship, which is humanly foolish and must live by that way or admit that they cannot and renounce the claim to be Christian or churches.


I only heard the Saturday repeat of the programme and by the time I had prepared and emailed a clumsy response the “Any answers” programme was about to finish.   But it was gratifying to note that all those who responded were clearly motivated by these underlying Christian principles and not by reasons of expediency.
















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What’s wrong with real reality?

There was a discussion on today’s BBC Radio 4 “Today” programme on the wonders of virtual reality.   It would seem that before long we will have no need to react with the world outside our home but will be able to just sit in a chair and let the world come to us.

It seems that the history of civilisation has been a relentless retreat from the real world to a copy of our own making – from speaking to writing and from writing to printing – although no-one would quarrel with that – but today we no longer need real paper but can find all the words we need on an I pad or E book.

Homo sapiens first learnt to communicate by vibrating real vocal chords with real air and shaping the sounds in a real mouth with real lips.   But in the course of time we learnt to produce virtual copies of the vibrations at first mechanically, then electronically and finally digitally.

Once upon a time, to get from place to place people put one real foot in front of the other on real ground, until they found that sitting in a box on wheels was easier and more comfortable. They found their way by looking at real features of a real landscape – admittedly a difficult exercise if you were going more than a few yards so they produced a virtual landscape on a piece of paper called a map.   But that required a real brain so they devised a virtual brain which directs them by a virtual voice from a virtual map.   They still have to guide the box with a real steering wheel  but we are assured we shall soon be able to dispense with that and sit back and enjoy a virtual journey albeit hopefully to a real destination.

Real life can sometimes be tedious so very early on people learnt to escape its tedium by watching people enacting a more interesting virtual life on a stage.   But real actors wanted real wages so a way was found to produce virtual images of the actors at first on a screen in a virtual theatre called a cinema and finally in the virtual cinema of a television screen at home.

It seems that the only step left for me as I sit in my chair in my virtual world will be a virtual lunch, but somehow I expect I might get really hungry.

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More hope

After yesterday’s rather gloomy blog I was struck this morning by the beauty and promise of  Psalm 85.   “Lord, you have been gracious to your land and turned the tide of Jacob’s fortunes”.   It is as if the psalmist has reached rock bottom and the only way is forward and up.
Maybe we have yet to reach rock bottom but are desperately floundering in the bog, vainly trying to fight terrorism with its own weapons of violence in the Middle East and ever tighter security at home; fighting a corrupt capitalist system with ineffective legislation and the poison of prejudice and racism with righteous indignation;  searching for direction in squabbles over leadership.
When we reach rock bottom and know it, when we realize that our wounds can no longer be healed with sticking plaster but only by drastic vital surgery, when “love and faithfulness come together” and” justice and peace embrace” then the tide will turn and the only way will be up.   John the Baptist had a word for it “Repent”.   There, and only there lies our hope.

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Responding to a remark about the terrible things that have happened in the last month I commented that the world seems to be collapsing around us.
On reflection isn’t that  just what our corrupt, individualistic, consumerist hate-ridden world needs?   The process may be painful but so was crucifixion.   Yet without crucifixion there could be no resurrection.
Rather than despairing at the state of our world today should we not be looking in hope for the opportunity for a new and better world where justice may thrive and Blake’s prayer for  “mercy, pity, peace and love” find fulfillment.
Indeed, Paul’s vision of the whole of creation groaning in the pangs of childbirth (Romans 8:22) suggests that even the ominous threat of global warming may not be irredeemable if it inculcates a renewed respect for the environment and a responsible and sustainable use of its treasures.

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Oldies aren’t all leavers

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett’s article’ “Family rifts over Brexit” in today’s Guardian is so very sad.

As an 86 year old who voted “Remain” I have long been concerned about the generalization that older people are leavers but had not realized how deep and bitter this rift could be.

Riahnnon quotes a friend as saying “I saw this older couple in the street and just felt this sudden, enormous wave of fury towards them”.   It is hurtful – if understandable – to think that this is how young people may be thinking and feeling about my wife and I as we go about our shopping or other outdoor activities.  Indeed more sensitive souls might be discouraged from venturing outdoors rather than be the cause of such emotions.   I have long since abandoned the pride that would refuse a seat in a train and would have to think hard about travelling today if I could not depend upon the welcome offer of a seat by some generous younger person when needed.

I cannot blame young people for such feelings but would beg them to understand that not every old person is a bigoted “leaver” just because they walk with a stick.     I would like to say that I am as saddened and upset by the referendum result as those young people but that is not possible since they have a lifetime to lose whereas I can have only an imagined future.    Nevertheless, let them be assured that I am as sad and as hurt as my imagined future will allow.

It has been suggested that the age for voting should have been lowered because the young have a greater future in front of them.    But perhaps it would have been more sensible to have an upper limit and disenfranchise those of us who only have a brief spell to vote for.   In my lifetime I have never knowingly failed to use my vote in any election for which I was eligible but I would gladly have forgone my referendum vote if it could have prevented the injustice inflicted on the young.

I am tempted to paraphrase Martin Niemoller’s famous quote as “They came for the gays and I did not speak out because I was not gay, then they came for the Poles and I did not speak out because I was not a Pole, lastly they came for the oldies and there was no-one left to speak for us”.

I know that is absurdly over-dramatic but it is truly alarming to see how this referendum has divided our nation – or brought to the surface divisions and emotions that simmered beneath the crust of society waiting for the eruption of the volcano.   Forgive the mixed metaphors but I cannot think of a better way of expressing my concerns at this time.

To misquote again – this time from Shakespeare’s Hamlet – there is surely something rotten in the state of Britain and there is an urgent need for the voices that will speak out for the fairer, kinder, more just, more tolerant Britain that the “leavers” claimed to be voting for.

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