Mene Mene

It has been suggested that the use of the expression mene mene tekel u-pharsin in my previous blog was “very strong stuff”.   In defense I would stress that it was applied to global power structures and not to any specific regime or organisation.   It was also expressed in the superlative mood as a possibility for consideration rather than a prophecy.

However, Michael Northcott entitles the penultimate chapter of his book (A Political Theology of climate Change) “Revolutionary Messianism and the End of Empire” and the sub-section on William Blake as “The Apocalypse of Albion – Christ”.   Hardly weak language.   As a liberal Christian I am wary of applying apocalyptic language to contemporary situations but I find the parallels between the industrial society challenged by Blake and the global economic situation facing us today remarkably convincing.

So let us consider that mysterious expression from the book of Daniel, phrase by phrase as it might apply to our 21st century world.

Mene – “God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end.”    Our post-Christian society may think it can dispense with God but it cannot dispense with history.    Every previous civilisation has come to an end and it is the height of arrogance to suppose that ours will be an exception – that we have in fact reached the end of history.   It is indeed apocalyptics gone mad.

Tekel – “You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting.”     Suppose it were true, that history had in fact reached its goal, that there was nothing to look forward to, nothing to hope for.   Would it be ground for satisfaction, let alone pride?    We are slaves to the fear of terrorism;   international security rests on the mutual threat of a nuclear holocaust;   refugees flee from war or famine and the countries in which they would seek security fear the threat to their comfortable living standards;   where the privileged enjoy luxury others depend on the charity of food banks to satisfy their hunger……….   Can there be any doubt but that the global power structures on which the welfare of the world depends are wanting?

U-pharsin – “Your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”   Mention of the Medes and Persians makes it clear that the expression applies to a particular historic situation, namely the capture of Babylon by Cyrus the Great in 539 B.C.  It is futile to attempt to apply the particulars of a specific situation in 539 B.C. to a totally different situation two and a half millennia later but the intention of “u-pharsin” to explain how the end implied by “mene” was to come about is clear.    It remains to be seen how history might bring an end to the empire of contemporary political and economic powers but there is no shortage of candidates – a nuclear holocaust, climate chaos,  an Islamic Caliphate…….

But do we need to be so negative?    Might not the demise of the present political/economic empire be a cause for hope rather than despair?    Whatever the faults and dangers of cyber-technology it has given rise to a real sense of the empowerment of ordinary people.    They are waking to the realisation that they do not have to accept slavery to the  pressures of media, the economists, the politicians, the global corporations………   Here is hope for a saner, happier more peaceful world.

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Back to the Future

It is remarkable how strains of thought have a habit of coming together like bananas in a bunch.

I have just struggled through Michael S. Northcotts seminal book – “A Political Theology of Climate Change” and although I cannot claim to have understood much of the philosophical reasoning, as a fool where angels fear to tread I understand his conclusion to be that the hope for the future of our planet lies not with the deliberations and decisions of national governments and global enterprises but with the empowerment of ordinary people in local communities.

This thought is echoed – or foreshadowed – by Justin Welby in his contribution to John Sentamu’s book “On Rock or Sand” in which he stresses the importance of solidarity as seen where “communities bind themselves together for the good of those who have suffered” in the face of crises such as the riots of the summer of 2011 or more recent flooding.

Then, in my devotional handbook this morning I was directed to the words of the apostle Paul “It is far on in the night; day is near.” (Romans 13:12). If that is a promise to the faithful of this generation might not its converse judgement on King Belshazzar – “Mene mene tekel u-pharsim” – (Daniel 5:25) be the verdict on the powers of our day?

Watch this space.

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Calais’ Jordan

Leaving Calais we were confronted with a web of seemingly miles of high fencing topped with rolls of razor wire and barbed wire, erected in our Government’s xenophobic, canutian attempt to protect fortress Britain from the invading “swarm” – sic – of refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants desperate for a share in the security and relative prosperity we enjoy.

We were reminded that this fence was erected by the UK government, that is at the UK taxpayer’s expense, an expense in which, to my shame I have shared, I who have protested with righteous indignation at the wall erected with rather more justification by the Israeli government to protect their security from their Palestinian neighbours.

But that is a shame in which I have no no choice but to share.   A far greater shame was my indulgence in the emotional titillation of watching from the safe and comfortable seat of my luxury coach the distant figures standing or walking  about in the rain who had endured God knows what tribulation in their pilgrimage to a promised land.   All that remained was to cross the Jordan of the English Channel which our government is sparing no effort to prevent.

Cameron’s declared policy is to make this country so unattractive  to would-be migrants that they no longer wish to come.   Notwithstanding the difficulty of making life less attractive than what they presently endure, the bitter irony of such a policy is that its justification is their perceived threat to our privileged life-style.    Since when have we had a divine right, or indeed a human birthright, to a more comfortable standard of living simply because we had the privilege of being born in this “other Eden” of Shakespeare’s Richard II.   He may have boasted of “this precious stone set in the silver sea which serves in the office of a wall…a moat… against the envy of less happier lands”  but the world has moved on and such jingoistic isolationism is no longer tenable in the globalism of the 21st century.

If Cameron really wants to discourage the envy of those from “less happier lands” the logical policy would be to bridge the moat, open the flood-gates and welcome with open arms those who find our life-style more attractive than that into which they had the misfortune to be born until the waters of global economics have found their level.   Then, and only then there will be peace.

Postscript
The cynic may write this off as unrealistic, utopian idealism but those who claim to be disciples of Jesus Christ have no such let out.   They are bound by the words of him who to the question “How can a rich man enter the kingdom?” replied “With God all things are possible”.

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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.  http://www.rawstory.com/2014/06/drones-are-cheap-soldiers-are-not-a-cost-benefit-analysis-of-war/ 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 ?

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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