Brexit: Leave and Remain build hope

After giving both Leave and Remain supporters the chance to speak and listen to each other (see the 2 previous posts), I invited supporters of both options to say “What are you (personally) doing to build hope where you are? Give us examples of little steps you are taking that can inspire others to do the same.” Answers below, edited only for typos, without identifying the authors.

  1. Good question! I want to talk the country up, not down. I want to challenge lies – let’s stick what we said. And I want to pray for truth, integrity, wisdom in our leaders. But would love to hear from others. I’m not sure I’m very developed in my thinking yet.

2. As Chaplain in an Academy, I have plenty of opportunity to build hope (indeed, it’s kind of in my JD).
Today I spent an hour talking to some of the most ‘difficult ‘ about the immediate and long term affects of racism, and how they can identify and deal with it in others and themselves.
I get to remind staff almost every day that hope is real, and worth pursuing – and to (hopefully) help them see glimpses of light shining through even on the darkest of days.
Outside of work, i help my daughters look for the good in situations and people.
Inside my head, especially at the moment, all of the above is quite hard sometimes…

3. Showing friendship to those from other EU countries who face an uncertain future.

4. I am actively taking time to talk and encourage the people I meet every day around the school and the town and on here to maintain balance, to ignore the constant barrage of negative fear mongering that is everywhere at the moment, particularly on social media. Words are powerful things, they bring life or death to both the speaker and the hearer. I choose to bring life where I can.

I am meeting lots of people who are scared but who have a lot of misconceptions and have been unable to distinguish between the truth and the lies out there, often being terribly afraid of something that actually isn’t true. I don’t have answers. I just believe that what you keep feeding will grow so it is important to counterbalance the negative stuff out there and unpick the untruths where possible, so I tell them not to give up hope, not to focus on only the negatives they hear but to seek out the alternative viewpoint. I tell them I believe there is hope and will hold on to that regardless.

I am telling my 15 year old son that his future is not destroyed as the media are busy telling him. That there are turbulent times to get through first but the potential for new things to come is enormous. That he still has a future to aim for and take hold of. To quote a poster on his dad’s wall that “those who say it can’t be done shouldn’t get in the way of those who are doing it.”

I don’t need to tell him to continue to accept the people at his school who are immigrants because he does anyway. He has never distinguished them by skin colour, only by their behaviour. I continue to cheer him on for that attitude.

5. Personally, checking my rights to Irish citizenship & starting to investigate life in Ireland.
Looking out some safety pins (can’t put them on waterproof jackets though).

6. Sharing the idea and offering pins to our members at St Stephen’s E17 this coming Sunday.

7.  Intentionally talking to Eastern European neighbours (previously: neighbours) and people we meet checking they are ok.

8. Continuing to try & teach myself some polish, checking in with school to make sure kids and parents are safe and happy, wearing a safety pin, challenging dickishness.

9. Using FB – Posting a sermon following the referendum results from All Saints Church, St Margarets, Nr. Twickenham. Sending it in messages to FB friends who have commented about referendum.
Trying my best to gently calm the angry responses closer to home – family!

10. My heart is raw, heavy and deeply unsettled so forgive me but Im trying to engage with your question. I have decided that I’d rather be beaten up than allow abuse of other foreigners. I’m actively sitting near people speaking foreign languages so that I can defend them if needed. Sadly in my current emotional state I’d probably not be averse to physically confronting such racism. Probably not exactly what you were hoping for but it is honestly where I am at present. Apologies to my vicar and parents who may choose to have read something more grace filled.

11. I tread carefully until I know which way a person voted, I reign in my comments when talking to friends who voted the other way. I am struggling with this current situation.

12. I have to say that I am at quite a loss here, Rev. The whole process dragged so many memories of the divisions after Indy Ref to the forefront… which is where a substantial part of my discomfort comes from. At least, this time, Scotland seemed to be speaking with (more or less) a united voice. But the in-fighting; lying through statistical propaganda; leaders with faces I would never tire of slapping… it was all too reminiscent.

I teach my children tolerance (acceptance of another’s viewpoint, but not necessarily agreement with – )and a firm belief that God loves everyone – no matter what – but in a country where I can be arrested at a football match for singing sectarian songs, but have to wait in a traffic jam in the middle of my own town whilst the Unionists march down the high street, waving orange banners and playing those tunes on flutes, it often seems pointless. If we can’t sort this type of stuff out, what hope of getting the bigger picture?

I don’t see the benefits of leaving – sadly, all too many people don’t accept the reality that the free movement of people goes both ways. UK citizens can go and work in mainland Europe; the barrier is often language. Other countries are willing to learn English, our shouty people who don’t like immigrants don’t want to go to Italy and learn Italian. In order to continue being successful, we are going to have to accept some kind of free movement: which is going to upset people all over again. Yet, maybe there is hope for our farmers (if they don’t rely on those evil immigrants to work for them – doing jobs the British kids don’t want). If we are not putting into the Euro Food Mountain, then maybe we will stop growing so much oil-seed rape and start growing real food again which can be exported.

There will be Indy Ref 2 – although Nicola is taking her time about it: she’s far more canny than Pie-Face Salmond, and her biggest issue during the next Referendum (other than proving the economic case – which may involve loss of the pound) is to keep Alex Salmond out of it. I am convinced he lost it for them last time – insincere and smug as he was. I don’t want to go back to that bitterness. Yet, if there is hope, it is maybe there. We might be poor, we might have sky-high mortgages, but at least our kids will have access to a free Europe.

I don’t want to imagine another war in Ireland – although with a solid, militarised border that will (almost certainly) have to be put in place to protect the UK (!), there will be many who think that will be something that can happen. We were in Belfast a few years ago – and the divisions are deep and hurting (kerb stones painted red/white/blue or green/white/orange depending on the flavour of Christianity practiced in the town). A united Ireland may not appeal to all, but it will be a debate to come…and maybe that’s the hope – that Ireland will go through a long process of debate and talk, and come out more peaceful than ever before.

Gosh, I sound so fed up – and maybe I am. Political leadership is at a premium, and we’re floundering into the dark. I don’t think the Lord has a political side: he lets us choose our path, and meets us along the road. My prayer is that we find him, and walk with him; hearing his voice and living to full the situation we have cooked for ourselves.

13. It’s a bit like my best mate being an Arsenal fan whilst I’m a Spurs fan. Friendly banter whilst respecting the other’s view.

A Guidebook For A Tricky Journey, Chapter 4: Waiting … and asking (Psalm 123)

This post is adapted from a sermon I preached on Sunday June 30th at St Peter’s Church, Mowbray, Cape Town. This focuses on the fourth of the Psalms of Ascents, Psalm 123. It’s best to read that first, and have it open next to you as you read the rest of the post.

For links to the previous posts in this series, scroll to the end of this post.

Everybody waits for something. A childhood Christmas when the days pass slower the younger you are; a wedding day; healing; Madiba’s long years in a prison cell; release from suffering; a relationship … we all wait. How do we do it, and how do we do it well?

If it’s taking too long we often find ourselves adopting a coping strategy: hurry things along or engaging in distraction activity. Sometimes that might help; often it might not.

Christians, like everyone else, wait. For all the normal things for which everyone waits, and this: for the world that we know is not as it should be to be made right, for ourselves to be know even as we are known. What do we do as we wait? Psalm 123 tells us.

We wait, first, with an upwards glance:

1 I lift up my eyes to you,
to you who sit enthroned in heaven.

Looking up. We’re not talking geography here. We don’t think of God as ‘up there’ somewhere. We may have inherited that idea that He is, but of course He isn’t. Where is He? We don’t know. Of course we don’t. Where does an omnipotent creator dwell? How could we even begin to know? Jesus ascended to give us picture language – to show us what we can’t wrap our minds around: that He, seated at the right hand of the Father, is over us in the way we say a King is over us. He reigns. We look up to Him in the way we might look up to someone whom we admire for their skill in a given field. They are ahead of us, beyond us, inspiring us, calling us on. Except, of course, this One is more than skilled. He is everything. So we look up.

This is fleshed out in verse 2. Language of slavery and servanthood which doesn’t sit well with liberated 21st-century ears and eyes. But that is what we are. If we believe that the One we look up to is the One we say He is, then what else could we be? Servants, slaves. Lest we fear, lest we think that this is a master who will abuse us and take us for granted, verse 2 throws us a line. We might be waiting in the hope of mercy; in the possibility of it; with the wish for deliverance. There’s no certainty in the sort of waiting to which most of us are accustomed. But this is different. Not in the hope  of mercy; it’s until. Until is certain. Until is dependable. Until is the Christmas Day that will always come; excruciating to wait for it may be, with time seeming to stretch the closer it gets; but it will come. There is no doubt. Until. Martin Luther King said that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”. Certainty. It’s coming. So we can wait.

Waiting is so passive though, isn’t it? Doesn’t a servant, even one knowing that Master will be good, have to wait silently and obediently, unquestioningly,  uncomplainingly for action?

Not a bit of it. We are not those voiceless before an omnipotent power whom will not budge. We are those who wait patiently. But loudly and honestly. Have you read the short second half of this psalm?

3 Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy on us,
for we have endured no end of contempt.
4 We have endured no end
of ridicule from the arrogant,
of contempt from the proud.

We know mercy is coming … so we pour out our hearts and complain to Master about the suffering and the pain and ridicule. We might expect servants to buzz about unseen and unheard doing Master’s bidding. And we should certainly do that last part. But Master has paid an unimaginable price to have us in His presence, and He doesn’t want us to be silent. He wants to hear us. He wants to hear how bad it is to wait, how much we need Him to act, how much we long for the mercy He promises.

The Psalms are full of this sort of thing. Untidy endings, anguished cries, the hurt of hurt people. None of the feel-good here. True Christian spirituality knows nothing of the easy coping of a perma-Instagramed prayer life. No. We know mercy is coming, so we can be joyful, happy, celebrate. We must do that. We must also rant irrationally and tell Master how bad it is and tell Him we need Him to act.

The arc of the universe is bending towards justice. Certainly it is. It is also long. So Master expects us to tell Him to shorten it.

This post is adapted from the notes of a sermon I preached at St Peter’s, Mowbray, Cape Town on Sunday 30th June 2013. It’s not an exact text of the sermon as I don’t preach from a full text.

Also in this series:

A Guidebook For A Tricky Journey (An Introduction)

A Guidebook For A Tricky Journey, Chapter 1: All Is Not Well (Psalm 120)

A Guidebook For A Tricky Journey, Chapter 2: Looking For Help (Psalm 121)

A Guidebook For A Tricky Journey, Chapter 3: Worship … or life as it should be (Psalm 122)

 

Finding Hope and Meaning In Suffering by Trystan Owain Hughes

It’s often said that it’s easier to be creative about sadness and suffering than it is about joy and happiness. It’s also often said that for those who follow Jesus, the fact and presence of suffering in the world presents the most significant philosophical, ethical and practical challenges. Those two statements may be cliches, but they are cliches with a weight of truth and experience behind them; tragedies are considered higher art than comedies, and Christians have spilt a lot of theological ink confronting the issue of suffering.

Trying to explain or understand suffering, whilst it may be valuable, can obscure something important. How do we live in it and through it? How do we it do it ‘well’ as people who call themselves Christians? We may accept that it poses us theological and other types of questions, but that doesn’t necessarily help us deal with tragedy and pain when it hits home. Understanding can get us so far – but what we need alongside that are tools to help us live well through it all. That’s where a book like this one, Finding Hope And Meaning In Suffering by Trystan Owain Hughes comes in. It’s a short book, clocking in at 101 pages which seeks to do just that.

As for us all, the author has experienced his own measure of suffering and it’s from that space which he writes – he’s the Anglican Chaplain at Cardiff University who was diagnosed with a degenerative spinal condition at the age of 34. Those two realities – exercising a pastoral ministry and his own experiences of suffering – have caused him to reflect deeply on what God gives us that may enable us to flourish and grow in even the most hostile of environments. It’s a short – and brilliant  – book, which really should be required reading for anyone who suffers, cares for someone suffering or desiring to grow as an effective disciple of Jesus. I’m not sure that anyone’s left out by that. This book is a prime example of how depth and weight can go hand in hand with readability and brevity.

The structure is simple. There’s an introductory chapter on the fact of suffering itself. He then, in two chapters lays two simple but profound foundations for living well in suffering. First comes awareness: living in the present moment in such a way that we are alive to the presence of God around us. Second comes acceptance: not resignation to suffering, but the radical acceptance of God’s goodness in even the darkest of places. There then follow a series of ‘building blocks’ – chapter by chapter reflections on aspects of life which create the space for life to grow in tough contexts: an awareness of and interaction with nature, the gift of laughter, the place of memory,  the significance of art, the call to keep on helping others.

Every chapter engages with a variety of sources: these may be Biblical, more generally Christian, other faiths, or a variety of artistic expressions – from Jewish Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl to the TV show Heroes and onwards to Kylie Minogue. That’s one of the book’s real strengths – that even in such a well and concisely written book, there’s enough different perspectives for all of us to find something we ‘get’; this book may be the result of much thought, prayer and study – but it’s there to be read on the commute to work or lying lazily on the couch on a Sunday afternoon. This is a book which actively invites you in with its breadth of sources, the author’s own experience and the fact that it doesn’t so much try to explain as to give you something to go away and work into your own pattern of life and discipleship. One point on that – there’s a few spoilers in here about books and films. Place the reading of this book on hold, for example, if you’re are reading or planning to read Ian McEwen’s book Atonement or you’re saving up the DVD for a Christmas treat. You don’t want that surprise ruined.

That’s a minor quibble, really. Here’s another one, of a very different type. There’s so much richness here that to limit the book to the topic of suffering may be selling it short, limiting the impact. The suggestions – the foundations and building blocks – are valuable for living through suffering precisely because they are valuable for all of life. In other words they  (along with other practices) help us live life as God intended it to be lived – to the full. This isn’t just a book about how to live well in experiences of suffering – it’s a book about how to live life well for God in the world to which He calls us.

So this is a book to read, re-read, practice and digest, to buy and to give. Even if – or perhaps especially – you’re not really suffering. Because, as a book like this shows us, it’s worth living life well, whatever the scenery.

I rated this book 5/5 on goodreads.com

The Church of England and women Bishops: hope’s terrible beauty

Hope should be a beautiful, simple word. Hope, the Bible tells us, does not disappoint. The Shawshank Redemption told us ‘Fear can hold you prisoner, hope can set you free’. That resonated with a lot of people.

There’s another side to hope, though. One that’s also true, and altogether more painful. It’s encapsulated in a saying that springs from British football culture. ‘It’s the hope that kills you’. It’s a way of saying that when you feel your team finally has a chance of achieving something unlikely or long dreamed of, it’s all the more painful and frustrating to have that hope dashed. That fits well today.

Yesterday the Church of England’s governing body, General Synod, voted down some legislation which if passed would have paved the way for women to become Bishops. Although Synod actually agreed to women Bishops some time ago, what was up for debate was how that would work legally – how to allow it to happen, but still allow space and provision for those English Anglicans who feel that in all conscience they cannot accept the ministry of a woman Bishop. There are 3 ‘houses’ at Synod; the House of Bishops, the House of Clergy and the House of Laity (people who aren’t ordained). To pass, legislation needs a two-thirds majority in each house. This was achieved easily in the Houses of Bishops and Clergy. In the laity it fell short. If 5 laypeople had changed their votes, it would have gone through,

Pain was inevitable. If it had gone through, there would have been men and women feeling deep pain and anguish today about their future in the Church of England. This morning that pain is for those who long to see women allowed to be Bishops. There is hope, but it’s a hope that today hurts. Hope that women Bishops are effectively agreed to in theory, but the pain that this is not so in practice. Hope that this legislation was approved by most of the individual dioceses (a diocese is a Bishop’s geographical area of responsibility), hope that so many yesterday voted in favour, but pain that because of five the answer is still ‘not yet’. Hope that women are priests, but are not yet legally allowed to be Bishops.

Today it feels like never. I feel heart sore for those denied the possibility of what I and they believe is their God-given calling and right. There’s lots of hope, but this morning it’s precisely that hope which hurts. It’s the same hope which spurs us on and inspires as we wait for Jesus to return and remake creation to a place of no more pain, giving us glimpses now of what that will look like. It’s the same pain too – that causes us to carry on now, aware that pain and apparently unanswered prayer is also a reality.

I and many others are Anglicans partly because being one calls me to be part of something bigger, to challenge me to live in family and in relationship with those with whom I disagree. This morning some of us were always going to wrestle. Wrestle with what God is saying. Are we who advocate for women Bishops wrong? Was this the wrong legislation in the wrong way? Is it the right thing at the wrong time? What is the the Spirit saying to the church?

I don’t know, yet. I was born and raised in the Church of England. It frustrates me, but I also believe God has called me to serve from and within it. Currently I serve many miles away, in another expression of Anglicanism where women can be Bishops, where one was consecrated last week and another will be next year. But still I ache and cry and fear and pray for the Church of the England.

There is hope, but today it hurts, and threatens to kill.The time for discernment will come. It starts, though, with sitting in the dust awhile and feeling hope’s terrible beauty.