Sunday, January 29, 2017

All Welcome?

It is fortnight since my last blog. And what a two-weeks it has been! Almost hourly I’m getting news flash alerts with yet another event or another order signed or another protest in defense of human rights happening.

I think the availability of news has changed the world. Andy and I were talking this morning about how everything is public knowledge almost as soon as it happens. What a contrast with a few years ago, before social media and the internet.

Recently, Andy and I went to see “Allegiance.” It is a Broadway musical which was screened as a one-time event at our local cinema. It was excellent. It was about the Japanese internment in the second World War. It showed all the prejudice experienced by people of Japanese descent regardless of citizenship. As we talked this morning we wondered if it could have happened in the same way in an age of social media. Would there have been a big outcry from the general public?

Of course, with all media and news feeds it is necessary to take care to try to sieve the facts, to discern what is fake news, what is opinion and what is an actual fact. Nevertheless, the amount of information available is enormous. This has caused huge changes in society. With an increase in knowledge comes a need for an increase in response. Or perhaps, I should say I need for an increase in responsibility by the general populous.

I think the question for all of us, whatever side of the political fence we fall on, needs to be; How am I going to respond? What am I going to do?

Today’s Gospel text is those verses commonly known as the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-12). In the story Jesus goes to a mountain for some peace. In the Gospel of Matthew’s version of this story only the disciples come to find him and he teaches them. The teaching is about those who will be blessed. In Matthew’s version of the story the author has additional clauses that spiritualize it somewhat. My preference is the shorter version found in Luke (6: 20-26).

Regardless of which version, as is often the case with the gospel writings it would have been a little disturbing, or maybe even shocking, to those who were listening. Look at the list of those who will be blessed — the poor, the hungry, those who weep, those who are hated, excluded, insulted and rejected.

As I read this list I could not help but think about the photographs I saw in the news yesterday. Those of the refugees, and others, who were being detained at airports and refused entry into the country. It seemed that today’s gospel reading was so pertinent. Those people are the poor, the hungry, the sad, the hated, the excluded, the insulted and the rejected.

So, what is our response going to be? What is our responsibility? With access to the media today we cannot say that we did not know, we were unaware of what was happening.

Last week, I took part in a Women’s march in our local city. It was estimated between 8,000 to 10,000 walked. It was a humbling experience to be among so many people who supported human rights for all people. I have friends and colleagues who went to Washington, a big commitment in terms of time and money.

Yesterday, the photos of those protesting at airports were heartening, many thousands of people saying they wanted all to be welcome. It is a scary thing to be detained at a border. Our family has experienced it on more than one occasion. I remember all the times with amazing clarity. The first time was crossing in from Canada after a visit to Niagara Falls. It was pre-Green card days but we were already living in the USA on a correct visa. Still we were detained. We were put in a small room and kept there for a couple of hours while being bombarded with questions. The questions come thick and fast, some of them repeated multiple times. After two hours our heads were spinning. Ultimately, we were given a smiling handshake and sent on our way. However, it was a scary experience, our daughter, then 13 years old, was terrified. Even now, I get “butterflies” every time I cross the border back into the US.

Yet, we are British, white, spoke the language, had correct paperwork and employment. We knew that if the worse came to the worse we had loving family to return home too. I can’t imagine how it must feel if one is escaping war-torn areas; if one is a minority who would not be so welcome; if this was one’s hope for a future (not even a better future).

So, my questions again.  How can I respond? What is my responsibility?

A favorite place to walk our three pugs is at Cornell Plantations. There are some benches there with a Biblical verse on. It is one of my favorite Old Testament quotes and, coincidently, is the lectionary Old Testament reading for today.

“To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly” (Micah 6:8).

(Photo: Grasmere, 2009)

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Supporting a Cause or Following a Dream!

Tomorrow I have a day off school! It is Martin Luther King Jr. day which is an American federal holiday to celebrate King’s birthdate (15 January 1929). It always falls on the third Monday of January.

One of Martin Luther King Jr.’s most famous speeches is “I have a dream” which he gave on 28th August 1963. It is a moving speech where he shares his dream of freedom and equality for all. Yet, it wasn’t just a dream, a hope for the future, something that he would like to see come to pass someday. His dream became a cause, something that he worked for every day of his life. It was a cause he died for.

The lectionary passage today speaks of a similar theme. It is the story of John the baptizer. John, who wanted to see a better future, calling others to change their ways. On this day he was hanging around with two of his disciples. John sees his cousin, Jesus, walking past and pointed him out to his disciples. It is an incredible moment in John’s life, an unselfish moment, when he tells his followers to move on, to follow someone else. Maybe there was a real cost to John in doing that, it is worth thinking about.

The two disciples looked as John directed, and followed.

In that moment, they found a cause, a purpose for their lives, something to follow, something to give their lives too.

It seems to be part of what it is to be human; to have dreams of a better future, to find a purpose in life, to pursue a cause which will ultimately help towards the fulfillment of the dream.

It is a theme often repeated in fiction. I have encountered it twice just this weekend.

My habit is to read a few pages on my kindle before I drop off to sleep at night. I am currently reading a book about women in the French resistance in World War 2. The facts and events are well-researched and the story mirrors what was happening at the time. The two heroines of the book both found their own, very different ways to support their cause of a free France.

Then this weekend Andy and I have watched again Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the two-part conclusion to J.K. Rowling’s epic series. It is another story of those dedicated to a cause, pursuing it whatever the cost.  (Yesterday was the first anniversary of Alan Rickman’s death, the wonderful Professor Snape in the films).

Next weekend many thousands of people will travel to Washington DC to be part of the Million Women March. This is to support their cause, bringing attention to “women’s rights are human rights.” I have friends and colleagues who will be travelling to Washington, others will be supporting the cause in parallel marches in their own localities. Their hope is that supporting their cause will be a small step towards the dream of freedom and equality for all.

Dreams are important. They give aim and direction. They give purpose and hope to the life of the dreamer. Causes help fulfill those dreams, or at least take a step in that direction.

Not everyone is going to be a Martin Luther King Jnr, a disciple of John the Baptizer who forsakes family and career to follow a cause or a Harry Potter. However, everyone can have a voice, everyone can make a difference in a small way, everyone can live their lives in a way that seeks to make life better for others.

So today I would urge each of you to dream. However, hard the circumstances might be dream of a better future, dream of freedom, dream of equality. Then take a small step towards that dream.

“Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.
And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream . . .
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all [people] are created equal." (I Have a Dream, MLK)

(Photo: Birds at Broadkill Beach, Delaware, November 2016)

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year

Today, I have the privilege of writing this on the first day of the new year. The lectionary gives a choice of several texts to consider but after much deliberation I chose to reflect on Galatians 3:23-29.

Last night the world said good-bye to 2016. I have found it mildly disturbing to read many comments and memes on Facebook which have spoken of what an awful year 2016 was. Like everything else on social media if it is written often enough and shared multiple times it becomes a new sort of truth. Such is the power of social media.

Perhaps, it is because I am getting older but I haven’t enough years to dismiss one as “rubbish”. Therefore, I am refusing to believe that 2016 was an awful year. Of course, as with any year there were some hard things happen. That is part of living the human life. Yet, as I think back over 2016 I can also see so many good things. As the old hymn urged people to do I want to “count my blessings, name them one by one.” I encourage everyone reading this to do the same.

My personal good-bye to 2016 was one of thankfulness. It was a time to name and appreciate all the good things that have happened throughout the months. It was another year which I am grateful that I had the privilege of living.

So, today I welcome 2017. Our back garden it is white with snow, largely untrodden. A new year stretches before me in the same way. What footprints will I leave in 2017?  How will I make my mark?

Perhaps, one of the saddest things that happened in 2016 was that there was a rise in racism, patriarchy, xenophobia, homophobia and fear of religions other than one’s own. It was these words in Galatians that caught my attention. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one . . . (28)”

I think these words are a timely reminder at the beginning of a new year that all divisions made between human beings are wrong. All people should be valued, loved and accepted.

As a rule, I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. If I do they are usually trivial little things, rarely fulfilled, quickly forgotten. But 2017 may have to be different. This year more serious resolutions may be needed.

2017 may see a rise in persecution for those who are perceived to be different. I would like to invite all to join me in a resolution that this year we will stand against racism, patriarchy, xenophobia, homophobia and religious persecution wherever and whenever we see it.

May 2017 be a wonderful year for each of you. May it be a year where your footprints make a difference.