Just posted on the diocesan blog – http://southwarkcofe.tumblr.com/post/149876038913/what-makes-a-good-life
‘Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains a single grain. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.’
Jesus looks forward to his own death, his sacrifice of himself. In this Holy Week we are looking forward to our celebration – yes, celebration of Good Friday. A day of torture and death which was the sowing of the seed of abundant and eternal life. Christ received into himself the hatred and violence of humanity and transformed it into its opposite.
And then Brussels. Three men it would seem sacrificed themselves as suicide bombers. A sacrifice built on hatred of European culture, a sacrifice that desires to spawn yet more hatred, and its cousin fear. This seed seeks to die in order to make a harvest as horrible as itself, hundreds of times over.
I can’t condemn anyone for anger at a time like this. It’s because I know well what anger is like that I pray that it may not set hard into hatred. That way leads to the success of the suicide bomber. The more difficult path is for anger to become the passionate search for justice, and its cousin peace.
That is the way of the cross. If we can walk in it, even falteringly, we are beginning to take the seeds of hate and transform them into love.
I am writing this on the morning after the government announced that it will accept into the UK some (no number has been given) unaccompanied children from refugee camps around Syria. That is good news – and must be celebrated. Children whose life chances were fragile at best will have a chance to discover security, to receive a good education, to grow into healthy and secure adults.
But … why is it that we won’t accept those – even unaccompanied children of equal vulnerability – who have already made the crossing into Europe? What is the difference between the ‘bad’ asylum seekers who try to board ferries and lorries, and the ‘good’ refugees who sit waiting patiently in camps in the Middle East? My fear is that we now have a contemporary version of the distinction between the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor. The deserving poor know their place, they sit quietly waiting for things to get better, they’re grateful for what they receive and don’t ask for more. The undeserving poor don’t do any of those things. They are as irresponsible, demanding and full of themselves as the rest of us; they don’t think of themselves with the right degree of humility; they aren’t grateful. Asylum seekers who have made it to Europe have taken extraordinary risks to get there. They are desperate to reach a place of safety and security by their own efforts. For that we penalise and criminalise them.
People in need are people in need – and that is enough. When Jesus commends the ‘sheep’ in the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25 he does not differentiate among those whom they helped: in all the hungry, all the thirsty, all the imprisoned, all the strangers: in all of them you welcomed me, he says. Some of them will be bad people, but that does not let us off the hook of offering help to their need. In them too we serve Jesus.
This response from the Churches’ Refugee Network, which I am proud to chair
The CRN thanks the All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Migration for the thorough and substantial work they have done in their joint inquiry into the use of Immigration Detention in the United Kingdom, and for the report published this week. “The report is a searing indictment of the UK practice. As the report makes clear, in detaining people for indefinite periods of time, and for administrative purposes alone, the UK goes well beyond the practice in other European countries” said Jonathan Clark, Bishop of Croydon and chair of CRN.
Although the Government’s stated policy is that detention should be used sparingly and for the shortest possible time, the evidence received by the Commission in its six months inquiry is that the guidance is not adhered to, and that detainees are held indefinitely for long periods, with significant mental health costs to those detained and with huge and unnecessary costs to the public purse.
The Churches’ Refugee Network supports the Inquiry’s recommendations that indefinite detention should be abandoned and that, within a maximum time limit of 28 days, detention should be very rare and only for the shortest possible time in order to effect removal. The Inquiry examined a wide range of far less costly alternatives to detention used in other countries, and recommends that the Government should learn from international best practice.
It is not criminal to seek asylum. It is a basic, and long acknowledged, human right for those fleeing desperate conditions in their homeland. All people who seek sanctuary should be treated with dignity and respect. It is shocking that the Inquiry has found so many instances of this not being so in Britain. The Churches’ Refugee Network draws attention to the Inquiry’s finding that UK Detention Centres make use of conditions tantamount to high security prison settings, and its call for suitable accommodation conducive to an open and relaxed regime.
The Churches’ Refugee Network urges voters at the coming General Election to seek candidates’ commitments to bring about the changes called for by this cross-party Inquiry, especially the setting of 28-days as a maximum time limit to Detention.
A fascinating discussion on the Sunday programme today around the new book edited by the Archbishop of York, On Rock or Sand?
On the one hand, if the Church of England offers specific policies it is meddling and out of its depth. On the other hand if it offers statements of principle it’s being vague and wishy-washy.
All of which is a neat way of saying ‘keep off the public turf’ – religion is a private lifestyle issue and should keep in its place on Sunday mornings. It was summed up when Ed Stourton asked ‘where is the line (that the church shouldn’t cross)?’ To which I would want to say, ‘There is no line’! Christianity is a faith which looks for the new heaven and the new earth – a completely restored creation. Therefore we are concerned with everything, on our planet and beyond. If God is God at all, he is the God of the whole universe (or even, all the universes). So suggesting that Christians have nothing to say about something as near to home as poverty in our own country would be ludicrous, except that so many people do it. It acquires credibility by being repeated: but that doesn’t make it any less bizarre.
Of course I’m not expecting everyone to agree with a Christian critique – but as long as there are Christians we can do nothing else but offer our vision of the world for which we hope.
And a very interesting lively city it is too – with the slight oddity that nothing in the central area is older than 1945. It’s hard to hold in your head that this place is also that place – even when visiting the Peace Museum and seeing the before and after pictures of the city.
Maybe that sums up the problem – how to reconcile the creativity, resourcefulness and co-operation which brought Hiroshima back to life, with the cruelty and inhumanity of war, of the war which led to the atomic bombing, and the horror of the bomb itself. What odd beings we are that we can demonstrate such love and such hatred.
Hiroshima is not a sign of resurrection, but of resuscitation. That’s a miracle enough (as Lazarus would testify). Hiroshima reminds me that we human beings need more, we need resurrection. We need to step off our treadmill of the human cycle, with its evil and even its good, and step into something completely different.
Easter is the eighth day of week – the beginning of a new creation. All our best instincts yearn for that, our best endeavours point towards it, but it can only be given to us, not achieved.
I have enjoyed the reminiscence programmes this year – especially the ones reflecting in wonder and amazement at the UK’s amazing year of sport. The Olympics was such a success that even now more than three quarters of people in the country thought it was worthwhile – even after being reminded of the price tag. I didn’t think three quarters of people in the UK would agree about anything.
In the gaps between reminiscence, there has been prediction. What will be the main events of 2013? Who’ll be up / down / out? Will the economy feel any better? Will Andy Murray win Wimbledon? Will the royal baby be a boy or a girl? It’s a fun game, though pretty pointless, especially when you compare reality with the predictions of previous years. At least with the royal baby you’ve got a 50:50 chance of being right.
And now we’re heading for that one moment when we all try to live in the present (except those of us safely tucked up an asleep, I suppose). That second which is only different from any other because we make it so, but then gets invested with such significance – a time to make our resolutions start from (and last until Jan 10th, on average, apparently). It’s a sort of secular repentance: time to start again, do it properly this time.
Good as far as it goes, but my New Year’s resolution is not to let 00:00 01/01/13 be the only time I live in the present. Every moment can be a new start; every moment is the time of God’s grace. So may I wish you many many Happy New Years in 2013, many moments of repentance and grace. And champagne.