Andrew White, vicar of St George’s Church, Baghdad, fights back the tears as he is asked by John Humphrys if we are seeing the end of the Church in Iraq. ISIS ordered all Christians to leave the city of Mosul within 24hrs or convert to Islam or face execution. Those who leave are allowed to take nothing with them. Andrew tells of one woman who even had her wedding ring snatched from her. What is it that breeds such hate in the human heart? How can human beings become so alienated from each other that they can behave in such terrible ways? Whenever any philosophy, faith or political ideology becomes dismissive of “the other”, then it has become less than human and must be resisted. Similarly we must learn to protect our own hearts from being dismissive or rejecting of those that are “other” to us. When we exclude or deride those who are different from us we let into our hearts the germ that grew to infect Mosul.
The devistation of flight MH17 and the destruction in Gaza make the heart weep. The pain and grief they each bring is unbearable. Resolution seems out of reach and the commentators seem too partial. The United Nations meet, debate, make statements but for all their words it all seems so ineffectual. And yet… And yet… We need to regain the original vision for the United Nations, re-invest in its processes and re-affirm our commitment to working with and through its agencies. In an increasing interconnected world, where events so often have global consequences the United Nations becomes ever more important. Without it, it is nation against nation and interest group against interest group. It is time to bring the UN centre stage. United, peace and justice can prevail, divided…?
Mark Pryce, priest and poet, reminds us that Oscar Wilde called Jesus a poet. Mark also says that Jesus had a poetic spirit that troubled and tickled the imagination.
Robert Graves described poets as “Ambassadors of Other-where”. Should this not also be a description of priests too? Our task is to help sculpt spaces where the other-where of God can be known and encountered and human imagination be troubled and tickled.
Finally General Synod has said yes to Women Bishops. It has been a long and difficult journey but even now as some rejoice (me included!) others will feel anxious. The ordination of women as priests has felt so right and greatly enriched the life of the Church. Indeed it is hard to believe that is only 20 years ago; such has been their contribution that it feels as if this change happened much longer ago. For me being an inclusive church is essential to the heart of the gospel and so today there is a deep thankfulness as the Church takes another step in being truly inclusive. Nevertheless being inclusive also means welcoming those who see things differently including those who find nothing to celebrate in the General Synod’s decision. I therefore remain committed to helping lead a Church which is truly open to all.
I always get anxious when a former Archbishop chooses the columns of The Daily Mail to make his views known especially when they are in direct contrast to those of the present holder of that office. And yet, as Archbishop Tutu rightly reminds us, there are very real issues around the unnecessary prolonging of life. Similarly the issue of assisted suicide cannot be simply dismissed with, “No. Never.” Yet in wanting to respond with compassion to those seeking to so end their lives, we cannot ignore possible unintended consequences for those who have no such wish. The issues here deserve more than a one day debate in the House of Lords. The House of Bishops call for a Royal Commission surely offers a place for a quieter and more nuanced debate.
Sara Parkin, Founder Director of Forum for the Future, speaking about the impact of population growth (10 billion by 2100?) encouraged us to be positive deviants. In seeking to address the challenges that face our planet we have to live the change we want for our world, we have to be prepared to be a positive deviant from the prevailing culture. Our positive deviance is aimed not at maintaining/protecting our present living standards but at enabling all to become individuals who are flourishing participating citizens.
Addressing the future needs of our global village can seem overwhelming but we were reminded of an Hasidic saying: It is not yours to complete the task but neither are you free to neglect it.
Is not the role of the Church to be a positive deviant in the midst of society?
Some want to sing of a God who is so strong and so mighty, but I have learnt to kneel before a God who is powerless. Such is the nature of a God of love. When our loved ones are struggling we long to help them, long to intervene and make it better, to take away their pain or what ever is troubling them. The reality is that, more often than not, even though it breaks are heart, we are powerless to do anything. All we can do is tell them we love them. It seems such an inadequate thing but it is such an important thing.
In the same way God hangs upon a tree, the divine arms nailed wide in an eternal embrace of all creation. It is love that brings God to this moment and in this moment the true nature of God is revealed. In this most visible sign of God’s powerlessness, everything is changed and nothing will ever be the same again; this powerlessness is transformative. God gives up all power that God may more fully and completely love us. Amidst the highs and lows of our daily lives, God comes to us in love. Understanding this means we know we are never ultimately alone and it is the knowledge and experience of this that helps us endure. When life starts to crumble I look not to a God who will intervene but to put my hand into the hand of the One who loves me and then together to walk forward to embrace what ever will be.
It is through God’s love not God’s might that I know I will endure.
Whilst Germany’s 7-1 victory over Brazil has stolen the headlines, behind the scenes allegations about corruption in FIFA continue and Sepp Blatter has finally admitted awarding the 2022 World Cup to Qatar was a mistake. But the real story that should stop everyone in their tracks is the number of construction workers killed in the building of stadium for Qatar. Some reports put the death toll as high as 1,200 – that is more than all the footballers taking part in the Brazil World Cup. It is hard to celebrate the football when the reality of the world cup hides such tragedy. Football no longer seems such a beautiful game.
It does not have to be like this. The London 2012 Olympics was the first olympic games where no construction workers were killed – that was the most important gold medal in London 2012.
A new blog and yet more words but increasingly for me God is silent. For some the statement “God is silent” will be taken to imply that God is absent. But the very opposite is meant. The sheer, utter, immeasurable silence of God, holding everything in a love which is beyond all words. This silence is the assurance of God’s presence and an affirmation of God’s faithfulness. With God there is a deep and truly companionable silence. God knows I am here and I know God is with me; in the silence we are enfolded one in the other. Neither of us needs to say anything; to be in each other’s presence is enough. God in me. I in God. The silence of God upholds me, calms and clarifies my troubled mind and refreshes and restores my burdened soul. God need offer no explanation; it is enough that God is – the great I AM. Words can only distract and confuse. All that is required is to be truly, deeply aware of each other. Words will only ever give a pale shadow of this encounter. In this encounter with the Mystery in, within and beyond all things, silence is the only adequate response, and in that silence to discover the Divine Silence which is at the heart of all things. All the words of this blog will only ever be as in a mirror dimly as they try – and no doubt often fail – to point to the wondrous mystery that is God.