Voices of Disagreement

Being a child of the 70s and 80s the ‘reign’ of Margaret Thatcher was the political backdrop while I was growing up. I admire her for being our first and only female Prime Ministers, and for her willingness to do what she thought was the right thing to do, even if it wasn’t necessarily the popular thing to do. Like many of my generation I wasn’t a great fan of her politics, although that may well be down to the tendency of children to rebel against the views of their parents and institutions of their youth –I am not sure that as a youngster I had enough of a grasp of politics to assess them fairly. I think, however, that I was right to be suspicious of the growth in individualism and materialism during that time.

There was much talk in the lead up to Wednesday’s funeral about protests about her politics and the expense of her funeral. In the end the funeral passed peacefully, whatever my thoughts about her views and leadership I am glad about that.

Two responses by those who disagreed with her caught my attention this week. The first was an article in the Guardian by the former canon chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, Giles Fraser. He wrote, ‘Traditional funerals are great levellers, not political rallies. That’s why I won’t turn my back today… I have buried some extraordinary wrong ‘uns in my time: crooks, murderers, wife-beaters and swindlers. But these funerals were never lies, because unlike a secular send-off, where the past virtues of the deceased necessarily take centre stage, the Christian funeral can leave all that stuff to God. It is not, first and foremost, the celebration of a life or the retelling of achievement. It is an unsentimental acknowledgement that death is the ultimate democracy. It comes to us all – the good and the bad, the rich and the poor, the powerful and the weak. And with death in a Christian context also comes a recognition that we are all subject to the mercy of God for our failings… Today is the one day that I will not be demonstrating or turning my back. For Thatcher and I share that final description: both of us failed, both in need of forgiveness. It’s the ultimate human solidarity.’

Billy Bragg, singer and political campaigner, believer in ‘compassionate socialism’ rather than ‘Thatcherite capitalism’ also refused to use the funeral as an opportunity to express hate. Instead he tweated, ‘If you wish to express your feelings about the divisive nature of the Thatcher legacy today, do something positive, DontHateDonate.com’ encouraging those who disagreed with her policies to mark the day by giving to causes that care for the vulnerable and promote community.

To me both these examples reflect something of Jesus’ teaching and example, of not judging others whilst remaining blind to our own failings, and being constructive rather than destructive in our dealings with others. One of the great challenges of living as Christians in a fallen world is how we respond to those whom we disagree with. Perhaps there’s something here we can learn from?

Fallen Heroes

This has been a week of conflicting emotions for me as two of my heroes have been all over the news for the wrong reasons: Jimmy Savile and Lance Armstrong. Their fall from grace has been dramatic.

Like so many children of my generation, I grew up watching Jimmy Savile’s ‘Jim’ll Fix It’. Each week we’d enjoy his surprises and the dreams he made come true for those who wrote in. I’ll never forget the belly rippling boy who was awarded a fur backed medal so it wasn’t cold on his tummy and the sight of the cub scout pack who asked to be allowed to eat their lunch on a roller coaster! We also marvelled at his charity work, especially his marathon running as he grew older.

As a keen cyclist and follower of the Tour de France, to me Lance Armstrong stood on his own. Maybe his cycling wasn’t as exciting as some of his predecessors to watch, but his achievement in winning the Tour 7 times was phenomenal; unmatched before and after. This was all the more remarkable when you take into account his overcoming life-threatening cancer just as his career was taking off. Like Savile, he also raised significant amounts of money for charity.

Sadly, these ‘greats’ have been accused of abuse and organised doping respectively. No longer are they heroes to be celebrated, but villains to be distanced from.

In no way do I want to condone what they are alleged to have done. These are serious matters and are not to be hidden away or dismissed, but I do wonder, do these actions that have come to light mean that we should discard the good that their fund raising achieved, or the entertainment that their work brought us? When we are children, we see people as being either goodies or baddies. It is only as we grow up that we learn to be more discerning and realise that we are all both; there is good and bad in each of us. In the language of the Bible we are made in God’s image, but tainted by sin. However, when it comes to public figures we forget this; we build people up, and then at the first sign of weakness or wrong, tear them down.

If we are honest, we have all fallen from grace although maybe not as publicly as these two men. Maybe that should make us think twice about how we respond? It also highlights how wonderful today is. As L… climbs into the baptismal tank, he is admitting that he, like all of us, is far from perfect, but at the same time he is celebrating the amazing truth that God, the only pure ‘goodie’, has not rejected him, but in Jesus and his Cross has accepted him and given him the opportunity for a fresh start. Could we ever dare to have the same honesty and yet the capacity to show such mercy and love?

Church newsletter article 14.10.12

God has a Cunning Plan

Church newsletter article for 23.10.11

Found this picture on Facebook this week. Made me smile and I thought it was worth sharing… (would love to attribute it to its creator, but I’m not sure where it came from)

I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships of all sorts this week in connection with the mini-course on Wednesday nights looking at Ephesians. Preparing this two-week overview has made me appreciate this letter in a new way. I’ve always been fond of it as a book, it has a number of cracking verses in it, but I’ve never really looked at it as a single piece of work and tried to grasp why Paul wrote it – what was it he was trying to get across through it.

At its heart is a simple message. God has a plan for this world, always has had, and this plan is reconciliation. On one level as Christians we know this. We know that through Jesus, God is reaching out in grace to us, inviting us back into relationship with him. It’s so much more than this though. He’s not just seeking to fix the relationship between us and him, but all relationships; Jew and Gentile, husband and wife, parent and child, master and slave. These are just the examples Paul uses in his letter. I have no doubt the list could go on to include black and white, rich and poor, East and West, employer and employee, working class, middle class and upper class, educated and uneducated, town and country and so on.

Why is it that relationships are so hard? Why are there so many divisions in our families, in our country and in our world? Many of our relationships are built on power and hierarchy – the dominant controls the other. Employers control employees. The rich control the poor. Historically whites were seen as superior to black, husbands superior to wives, parents superior to their children. The problem is that this so easily turns into abuse. In ‘more equal’ relationships, there is still tension as we seek to ‘look after number one’ and to save face, protecting ourselves from what others might say about us if they really knew us. We are pulled apart rather than together.

Into this world of broken relationships came Jesus; the one with true power and authority. Yet, unlike us, he didn’t use it to abuse or to look good, but to serve. The story of his wrapping a towel around his waist and washing the disciples’ feet is not just a nice tale, but is at the core of this gospel of reconciliation. Through this act he made himself vulnerable, a risky act of grace. Through this he turned upside-down the usual hierarchy of power, abuse and self seeking, flattening it, declaring all equal, all important and to be cared for. This is our calling of the church. Where we are in power, we are to use it to serve the other as Christ did the church. Where the other has the power, we are to serve them as we serve Christ. This is the Gospel and it can only be understood through demonstration. Are we ready to make ourselves vulnerable in this way and follow Jesus?