My hope for next year: that we learn how to recognise the face of God in the stranger and the refugee, and to welcome those unaware angels.
A statement from leaders of Croydon’s Faith Communities on today’s tram derailment.
As leaders of the faith communities in the Borough of Croydon we join together to express our grief and shock at this terrible accident. We are remembering in our prayers those who have lost their lives, the injured, those who have been bereaved and their friends and families. We pray too for those in the emergency services who have responded so quickly to this tragic event.
This Sunday’s Remembrance Service at Croydon Minster, alongside remembering those who have died in war, will also include prayers for all those involved in this tragic accident.
The Rt Revd Jonathan Clark, Bishop of Croydon
The Revd Reuben Martin, Convenor Croydon Churches Forum
Nisar Karim, South London Council of Mosques
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.
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present* help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city;* it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.*
Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
‘Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.’
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.*
Some of you may remember seeing Mostar on the television, under siege in 1992 and 1993 during the civil war which ended with the break up of Yugoslavia. The ancient town in its beautiful setting was divided into three parts, with gunfire exchanged at practically point blank range across the streets. Most famously, the ancient bridge was destroyed by a lengthy bombardment, eventually collapsing hundreds of feet into the gorge below. The Old Town of Mostar, which centred in the bridge, was a pile of ruins. Some of the destruction wasn’t militarily important – it’s been described instead as “killing memory”, in which evidence of a shared cultural heritage and peaceful co-existence were deliberately destroyed.
This summer, along with thousands of other tourists, I visited Mostar, in what is now Bosnia Herzegovina. Now it is all restored – and more than restored. Visiting Mostar is like visiting a brand new medieval town – except that there are some ruined shells of buildings outside the centre, reminders of the conflict. But in the Old Town, it is almost as if it had never been. The memories are hidden away, easy to ignore by the tourists flooding through the streets. Everyone who lives there knows what happened – but it feels as if it’s all a bit too painful to remember. Instead there’s the marvellous restoration, making it look as if the destruction had never been, and the focus on the good living to be made from tourism.
The civil war tried to destroy the memory of peace, and the restoration (it seemed to me) tried to wipe out the memory of war. The whole thing made me realise how important it is to remember – to remember the good as well as the bad, the violence of war as well as the harmony of peace. If any people tries to live without memories, we lose our moorings, we end up tossed this way and that, no longer really sure who we are or what our identity is.
Remembrance Sunday is a day when we can remember together both the tragedies and the glories of our history, and those millions of individual stories which make up the story of our community, and our nation. We bring our own stories and memories – some of conflicts many years ago, some of the conflicts still being fought today. We remember them together, because it is only by doing so that we are able to make some sort of sense out of the suffering of war.
So today we remember those who have died in war: particularly those who fought, but also those who were the civilian casualties, those who were too old or not old enough to have any part in conflict, the countless people whose lives were devastated by injury or bereavement. It’s a day when we remember much that might have been otherwise, that might have been happier and better. And so grief is part of what remembrance must mean.
But then alongside grief there is also respect, and honour. Respect is not the pride that glories in defeating enemies, that makes itself out to be somehow better because it is stronger. When we honour the fallen, we are not making judgements or giving a verdict but recognising something good in itself. Remembrance did not begin as a celebration of victory, but as a way for a nation to deal with the fact that 887 thousand servicemen had died – about 2% of the entire population of the country.
Today we share a proper respect for those who have gone before us and have done what had to be done, even at the risk of their own lives. When we are uncertain about whether we have the strength to live for our deepest beliefs and values, it is right to take inspiration from those who were ordinary people like us, but yet found the strength to do the job they were given even in the face of death. Whether they were infantrymen or pilots, or seamen, fire fighters or stretcher bearers; whether they carried arms or healed the wounded, it is right to respect and honour those who did the thing their conscience told them was right, even if it led them to risk and lose their lives.
Psalm 46 was written out of the experience of war. The writer is experiencing a tumult which is almost like the end of the world: and war can be that much of a catastrophe. But beyond the uproar of the nations and more powerful than the worst catastrophe, the writer has faith in God. For him, and for all those who believe, God is the one who can bring peace and give strength in the midst of the greatest turmoil, because it is God who will also bring peace at last to the whole earth. God is not weak; in this psalm he is portrayed as defeating the forces of war, making peace through his own victory.
When we also attempt to make peace – and even when it is necessary to use the controlled violence of war in order to oppose even worse – we can hope that we are motivated by a desire, not to put ourselves in the place of God, but to make the peace in which we will see that we share a common humanity and a common creator, and that war should have no place in our relationships between nation and nation.
So in our remembering today, with grief, with respect and with honour, we also look forward in hope to the promise of peace and justice which is our common aim, and which is made possible for us today by those who went before us.