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.

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. 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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