Regarding Cornwall’s response to the growing concerns of rough sleepers and the homeless, here are my 10 conclusions.
1. Each person is a person.
Although terms like ‘the homeless’ are ok to use (within reason), it doesn’t mean that homeless people are a group. One encounter with a homeless person or rough sleeper will be very different from another; and for those people who need support, one solution will be appropriate for one and not another. The most compassionate response to any person in any kind of need is to relate to them as an individual, not as a project, group, label, or even, as a community outside of our own.
2. Out of sight, not out of mind.
Just because a rough sleeper is no longer seen under a blanket in front of Natwest Bank doesn’t mean that the problem for them has gone away. We may not see them, but the pain and the discomfort they experience may still be very present.
3. Don’t be motivated to help because you want an ‘in bloom’ award.
Your desire to help a rough sleeper shouldn’t be motivated by wanting to clean up your City’s image. Cleaning up your city or town starts with attitudes, not with more wheelie bins, and road sweepers. Don’t sweep anything under the carpet, you won’t build trust with anyone unless you engage with the cause of the issue.
4. Grace and compassion transforms lives.
Abuse and intimidation, antisocial and violent behaviour are never justified and should always be confronted; however, judgement without grace is useless, and punishment is never enough without compassion. Looking beyond the person’s actions to see what provokes and motivates is the first step of seeing real change – anything else is just a plaster on a wound.
5. Complexity is your friend.
Each case of homelessness is a complex blend of matters, given that each case is indeed a person, and people are… that’s right, complex! But this is a gift, not a hindrance. It means that we don’t make the mistake of thinking one size fits all, and it forces us to put ourselves in the shoes of the victim in any situation.
6. Listen, and then listen some more.
Remember that the map is not the territory. How you see a problem is not actually how it is – we learn what is needed by listening to those that we seek to help. Even if we have the emotional intelligence of Mother Teresa we still need to place ourselves in the shoes of the other, by really listening.
7. What problem?
It may be true that the problem you perceive, is not the problem that needs fixing, in fact it may not even be a problem. The issue with the word homeless is that it presupposes the idea that these people need homes. They do need homes but not in the way some might think.
8. Home is where the heart is.
Home might simply mean somewhere not wet and not cold, or where the people around them talk to them as human beings, instead of looking down on them, or even worse pity them. Home may well be more to do with the faces they see around them rather than the fabric that protects them.
9. The equivalent of a patronising tilt of the head.
Go beyond the frown or side head tilt, and smile. Instead of buying one copy of the Big Issue, buy 10. Instead of giving coins, buy a meal and sit on a park bench and eat together. Be over generous, rather than tokenistic. When you choose to respond, make it a surprise and a symbol of real generosity. Remember generosity is far more likely to change a situation than correcting, reproving or punishing will.
10. Find out for yourself.
Take everything I have said and then forget it. It may not be true – it is only what I think, and I am no expert. Find out for yourself, and listen to others who have opinions too. Especially those who are committed to resolving the issues you care about i.e. Councillors, Mayors, the Police, your MP, THAG, St Petroc’s, your church leader and anyone else who cares for that matter. These people are the best people to talk to because, like you, they do care.
Advent is here and Christmas is just around the corner. Our shops have been displaying Christmas merchandise and promotions for what seems like ages. Carols and Christmas songs have been playing over the instore Muzak systems, children have been preparing for nativity performances, and parent and grandparents have been stocking up on the perfect Christmas gifts for months. If it weren’t for the accuracy of our calendars, we’d be forgiven for thinking that Christmas had already arrived. The church doesn’t help either – we’re advertising our Christmas services on the next page! We also make the mistake of talking about Advent and Christmas in the same breath – look again for a good example on the next page. But here’s the rub – Advent, although connected, is not actually the lead up to Christmas, Christmas is the lead up to Advent. When Advent is done well the Church invites the world to consider its pain and sorrow – with one finger pointing toward Jesus as the peacemaker and judge. As I’m sure many will know Advent is about when the world is finally put right, when Jesus will come again as Judge to fulfil what he has already begun, to bring justice, fairness, equality, peace and a new life for all.
Advent and Christmas nowadays feels rather marketed. And I’ve found myself getting more and more frustrated that the message is lost in amongst the sentimental and contrived TV ads and well-dressed garden centres. Now before you say – oh come on Jeremy get with the Christmas Spirit! I do.. I really do. Like many of us, I get caught up in the whole wonderful delight of the Christmas season. I love the music, the John Lewis and M&S adverts, I love driving passed houses lit up with a thousand Christmas lights, and seeing the lights come on in Boscawen Street. It is marvellous. But there is always a part of me that keeps in mind what Christmas, and for that matter, what Advent is really about… it is about the broken-hearted, the rejected, the forgotten, the lonely, the refugee, the poor, the homeless, the mourning, and the persecuted – all of these are represented in the person of Jesus. Unfortunately, Christmas has become something that only the privilege celebrate, but the story of Christmas and the promise of Advent is a promise for everyone not just a few.
A grandfather found his grandson, jumping up and down in his playpen, crying at the top of his voice. When Johnnie saw his grandfather, he reached up his little chubby hands and said, “Out, Gramp, out.” It was only natural for the Grandfather to reach down to lift the little fellow out of his predicament; but as he did, the mother of the child stepped up and said, “No, Johnnie, you are being punished, so you must stay in.” The grandfather was at a loss to know what to do. The child’s tears and chubby hands reached deep into his heart, but the mother’s firmness in correcting her son for misbehaviour must not be lightly taken. Here was a problem of love versus law, but love found a way. The grandfather could not take the youngster out of the playpen, so he crawled in with him.
We celebrate Christmas, and the promise of Advent so that we can look back and look forward to the moment when Jesus crawls into the play pen so the world can know the love of God. I pray that your Advent and Christmas will be filled with joy, love and peace, and that you truly know the love of God. Revd Jeremy Putnam
One day a wealthy father took his son on a trip to the country so that the son could see how the poor lived. They spent a day and a night at the farm of a very poor family. When they got back from their trip, the father asked his son, "How was the trip?" "Very good, Dad!" "Did you see how poor people can be?" "Yeah!" "And what did you learn?" The son answered, "I saw that we have a dog at home, and they have four. We have a pool that reaches to the middle of the garden; they have a river that has no end. We have imported lamps in the house; they have the stars. Our patio reaches to the front drive; they have the whole horizon." When the little boy was finished, the father was speechless. His son then added, "Thanks Dad for showing me how poor we are!"
Any conversation about poverty inevitably leads us to talk about wealth too. And both can make us feel deeply uncomfortable as we reflect on our own place. But it's not all about material things. Jesus’ words ‘blessed are the meek… the poor… and the broken-hearted’ were said for a very good reason, since humanity has always been very good at trying to fix the problems in the lives of others, whilst forgetting that all are in need of the riches of Christ’s kingdom. Maybe we should learn to see those in need through the lens of Christ’s own poverty, then we might finally see all people as brothers and sisters in God, instead of treating others as simply needing our generosity.
Realigning our own sense of perspective and seeing poverty as a spiritual issue is one thing, dealing with material poverty and the social injustices of our world is another. At All Saints we try our best to support organisations that directly tackle frontline issues of poverty such as the Cornwall Childrens Clothes Bank founded by Candy Coates; or the Truro Foodbank; Acts 435; or the Kernow Credit Union. Around this time of year we often think about Harvest and what we might offer in the way of gifts to those in need. As with previous years any food donations at our Harvest festival will go to the Foodbank; but maybe this year there is an opportunity to think about one of the other organisations running at the church too.
The Kernow Credit Union is set up primarily to help people avoid the growing number of short-term high interest money lenders, that cause people to end up in a crippling spiral of debt. A credit union is similar to a bank, but unlike a high street bank or payday lender it is run and owned by its members and serves the community rather than working purely for profit. Archbishop Justin Welby says “Our faith in Christ calls us to love the poor and vulnerable with our actions… We must help credit unions to become bigger, better known and easier to access if we want them to compete effectively with high interest lenders.”
Why not open a Credit Union account this Harvest? You can find out more information on their website www.kernowcreditunion.co.uk or come along to the access point at All Saints Church on Tuesday afternoons between 2pm and 4pm.
Blessings and peace to you all.
Written for the Quaker gathering at Friends Meeting House, Truro
How we see the refugee is how we see ourselves.
It seems to me we live in a world full of fear at the moment. Fear that is bred from a misunderstanding of ownership. We are educated and nurtured in this country to understand ownership in a very personal way. There are a number of cultural goals that are set for us from a very early age. Goals such as status i.e what position in society we should achieve, property i.e. what place we should occupy in society, and relevance i.e. what role we should take within society. We are conditioned to believe these are our goals, and that they will in turn give us all that we need to live a healthy and valued existence. In fact, our own identity is formed and given value by these three indicators of status, property and relevance. Our very identity is intrinsically connected to what we own in society, where we are in society and who we relate to in society.
This is where fear creeps in; when we believe that these three pedestals of our existence are deemed to be under threat in some way. The fear comes from knowing that there are some in the world who do not conform to this understanding of value and purpose. It is the case, I think, that those who do not attain these goals are not as valued in society as those who do. In fact, to give people such things as status, property and relevance with no forseen effort on their part, would mean some kind of break down in social order. Why should we give them anything when we have worked so hard to achieve these things ourselves? Rhetoric, such as that of Nigel Farage, the self-proclaimed ambassador for the decent hard working individual, is an example of how fear disregards compassion for the sake of these three pedestals of our modern culture.
The refugee crisis is the tragedy of our modern time, it is a redefining moment for Western Culture. It is redefining because it calls into question the three indicators of value and worth in our society. It threatens to breakdown what has built the culture that we live in.
Our response to the refugee, if compassionate, self-sacrificing and life-giving subverts what has helped establish our own identities, and national identity. But this is critical, since it is indeed reshaping and reforming our identity for the good.
Our identity should not be formed by status, property, or relativity; but instead be formed by mutuality, justice and righteousness.
In our current system - status is a product of capitalism and competition. Neither are inherently bad things, but taken too far they quickly entertain the idea that those who succeed are worth more than those who fail.
Mutuality is a product of compassion, empathy and support. Which assures us that there are some things more valuable about every human being. With mutuality as an indicator of worth, the refugee becomes us – we choose not to be fearful, or under threat but instead see ourselves in the pain and hurt of the refugee, because of mutual love. Mutuality gives no time for ‘us’ and ‘them’ terminology but only entertains the truth that if you are hurting then I am hurting too. In a world of individualism, egoism and self-aggrandisement – the refugee reminds us of our vulnerability, our susceptibility and our weakness, and therefore in mutual love we should look to offer ourselves as they have done. Mutuality breaks down any barriers of status and encourages us to look into the eyes of one another to see who we are really are. When we do so we learn that those who are said to be our enemies are in fact our brothers and sisters.
In our society, property is seen as an indicator of value and worth, a measurement of success. We work hard to obtain the material things in life, and therefore they become icons and trophies of our labour. Working hard is a virtue, the part we play in building up society is important – and there is nothing wrong with being rewarded appropriately. However, we have switched the purpose of our hard labour from the building up of society to the obtaining of possessions. And our identity has switched appropriately. Celebrity is celebrated. Wealth is the goal. Property is the target. Community orientated vocations are way down the pecking order. Refuse collection, primary care staff, education, the health service, farming and fisheries, manufacturing have succumbed to the powers of banking, footballers, and energy company execs.
Instead of property being the target of our existence and the shaper of who we are, maybe justice would form our identity instead. Justice is a word that is so easily misunderstood. The word Justice has been damaged over time by our own society. It is now a product of fear. Justice has become a word associated with judgement, punishment, penal discipline and sentencing. The Ministry of Justice is more to do with law and order than actually to do with justice.
Justice is more to do with fairness, equality, likeness and impartiality. If there was one outstanding theme in the bible, for example, then I would say it is justice. Time and time again the objects of concern for God’s people were the widow, the orphan, the immigrant and the poor. Justice is seen in the bible as the defender of the most vulnerable, irrespective of their status, property or familial relativity. However, it is not because they have no status, property or familial relativity that they are deemed to be in need of justice it is because they are simply in need, and that they are human beings.
For the refugee justice should look the same – their status as human beings and that they are in need is the only excuse we need.
When we share the struggles of our refugee brothers and sisters, we are not giving them status, property or relevance, we are simply treating them as human beings, in mutual love and with justice. If we make status, property and relevance our gifts then we are just creating disharmony and an unhealthy power dynamic (we are the giver, they are the receiver), and we are in danger of making the object of our task our egos, and satisfaction. True justice bypasses any social markers of value and disregards our own ego desires, and challenges us to give all that we have to protect the humanity of the other.
Lastly the word relevance is concerned with how we relate to one another, but its goal is concerned with obtaining prestige and respect. When I am introduced to someone else I am often announced as ‘this is Jeremy and he is a vicar’. What I do is an important part of who I am. How many times have you heard someone say when asked what they do – ‘oh I’m just a house wife.’ Or ‘I’m just bricklayer’ or ‘I’m just this or just that.’
The role we play in society has a level of importance if we are to be concerned with status, property and relevance. In this model the refugee challenges the position we have because the fear we are supposed to feel undermines our own worth. If instead we thought of righteousness as the indicator of worth and value then the way we would see the refugee situation would be very different.
Righteousness is another word that is misunderstood in today’s society. In the past it has been associated with piety, purity, and church going. It has been in the same camp as religiosity, and often, pomposity and self-importance of the church. However, the true meaning of righteousness is about being in a right relationship with one another, and with God. Being in the right kind of relationship with your fellow brothers and sisters means that righteousness is more to do with peace, equity and even-handedness than to do with religious piety. Righteousness is better named as primary justice. Since if we had the right relationship with our brother and sisters in Syria, Eritrea, Sudan, Afghanistan, Palestine then we would have no need for the kind of justice I described just now. The quartet of the vulnerable (orphan, poor, widow and immigrant) would not exist. When a van carries aid to Calais, or you put £10 on justgiving account for homeless of the refugee fund you are living righteously. When you occupy your mind with the sufferings of your brothers and sisters in Greece, Lebanon or Jordan – you are living righteously.
I believe, we need to build a society that is formed and shaped not by our goals for status, property and relativity – but for mutuality, justice and righteousness. The refugee crisis is the greatest tragedy of our generation, it is redefining us – we have to decide in which world we belong. The celebrity, materialistic self-serving world, that is hell bent on protecting and defending our achievements of status, property and relevance. Or, the one that retains a humanity of mutuality, justice and right relationships.
The largest and most prestigious sports competition on the planet is about to get underway. The Olympic & Paralympic Games are the very best example of humanity’s inherent desire to compete and achieve; and this year the games are being hosted in Rio de Janeiro, one of the most beautiful, exotic and religious places in the whole world. I can’t wait.
What inspires me most is the stories that lie behind every athlete’s performance. Stories of overcoming the odds, of failure but finding the strength to try again; and stories of discipline and defeating inner demons.
There is another hidden story. Brazil is facing its worst recession in 100 years. The effects can be seen in the slums of Rio, Sao Paulo and Brasilia. Poverty levels and child mortality rates are high in Brazil, with an estimated 42 percent of children in Brazil living below the poverty line. As well as it being a time of political and economic unrest, the country is also trying to control the Zika virus. During the Games, the division between those who have and those who don’t will be all too evident, and it brings in to question who we understand as the winners and losers. But despite the shadows of Brazil's story there is something very special about Rio which shines oh so brightly. Christo Redentor. Christ the Redeemer.
Completed in 1930 and standing 30m tall a top of Corcovado, the statue is an incredible witness of Brazil’s faith. People speak of it as being a powerful symbol of hope, of compassion and reassurance stemming from the knowledge that the world’s pain is carried by Jesus with open arms on the cross. I wonder what it will mean for the Olympics?
I was delighted to read the prayer of blessing that Dom Sebastiao Leme used when dedicating the ‘Cristo Redentor’ in 1930. His words were:
“Christ wins! Christ reigns! Christ rules! Christ protect your Brazil from all harm!”
At the start of the Olympics Dom Sebastiao’s words seem particularly relevant, especially as we ask the question, ‘who will win?’.
No matter who crosses the finishing line I hope that the message is Jesus’ transforming and life-changing promise conveyed in that amazing statue, and more importantly, in His Gospel. For as Christians we live in the knowledge that the victory was His, is His and will be His.
I finish with one last thought. What would it feel like to have a statue of this size on a hilltop overlooking Truro, Liskeard, St Agnes or wherever you might be? In its absence, where is the great symbol of hope in Christ for our time and for our community? Is it the church? If not, why not?
May you know the victory of Christ in your life today. Jeremy
Before I get on to the question at hand I have to pin my colours to the mast. I think Britain should stay in the EU; and I will be voting that way on the 23rd. I’ve come to that decision not because of any financial, political or economic evidence but because I want to be part of something bigger, not smaller; something that draws people together, not apart. I want this country to be proud of its history of participation, collaboration, membership and unity, rather than seeking virtue in independence, or to defend the notion we are better off on our own. I like the fact that I can call myself English, British and European, and that the latter unites me with 508 million other people.
Our politicians haven’t really been that helpful to be fair. There’s a lot of infighting and negativity at the moment, rather than actual leadership and facts. It feels like the country is trying to keep warm by a fire made with live wood, soggy tea-towels and rotten cabbages. There’s a lot of smoke, it spits a lot and lets off a really bad smell. For every politician saying that the EU is good for us there is another saying the opposite. No matter what the issue is, whether it be immigration, trade, security or sovereignty, the rhetoric is the same. They can’t all be right. If I base my decision on what politicians say then it simply comes down to who I trust more – David Cameron or Boris Johnson, George Osbourne or Michael Gove, Sarah Newton or Derek Thomas. Who wants to be left with that choice?
Instead, I’ve gone with my gut, and I suppose, with a rather idealistic notion of unity. Do I want Britain to be a part of something bigger? – yes I do, even if it means that some of the decision making is done in Brussels instead of London (Westminster feels just as far removed from Cornwall than Brussels does anyway – and I don’t just mean geographically).
So what’s all this got to do with Jesus? Well, over recent weeks I’ve been searching for some wisdom in the words of Jesus that would help me vote in the right way. Don’t get me wrong I am not about to say that I’m voting to stay in the EU because I think Jesus said I should. My thoughts were more like: if Jesus was around today then maybe he would have something to say about the in/out debate. Or maybe he wouldn’t.
I think there are a couple of passages in the New Testament that come into play here (I’m sure there are many more). The first is Matthew 22:15-22, often subtitled as ‘Paying Taxes to Caesar.’ It turns out that in my anxious hope of finding some helpful advice from Jesus, I find I am no better than the Pharisees and Herodians, who came to Jesus with a similar in/out question. ‘Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?’ they ask him, or in other words, are you one of us, or one of them? Do you honour the Romans, or do you honour the law of your ancestors? To the outsider, it was a no win situation. If he’d said he didn’t recognise the authority of Caesar then it would’ve meant a premature arrest and imprisonment, and probably would have led to social and political unrest too. If he said he honoured Caesar, then those he was called to speak to would’ve shunned him, dismissed his shallow pomposity and, even worse, stoned him for blasphemy. So where does he go with this? The tension I’m sure was palpable, the bigwigs had got him cornered. But Jesus, in a flash of wisdom and certainty simply says, ‘give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.’
In many ways Jesus had no time for man-made political ideologies. He didn’t care for empires, structures and bureaucracy – and although he speaks of the temporary nature of all these things (Luke 21:5-7), he doesn’t feel it’s his mission to bring them down just yet. Probably because he knew that when one institution is brought down another would simply come in its place. Instead, he chose to work within and without these structures. He spent his time IN and OUT of political and religious circles, negotiating courts, scribes, scholars, lawyers, the police, the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Herodians, the Sanhedrin, as well as the public. So in some ways Jesus has nothing to say about the EU in/out debate. It looks like Jesus would have bigger concerns. And in fact, we ourselves might say that there are indeed more important things than the EU referendum today!
Take for instance the fact that there are currently 38 million people who have been forcibly uprooted from their home and displaced within their own country. And that there are another 20 million people who have been forcibly uprooted from their home and our now refuges in other countries (UNHCR: Facts and Figures on Refugees).
And the fact there is currently 27 million people in the world today who have been trafficked for sex and slavery, the average cost of a slave in today’s market is $90 (dosomething.org & polarisproject.org - The Facts).
What about the fact that in the UK we waste about 7 million tonnes of food each year, and the world wastes about 1.3 billion tonnes (fao.org), which is a third of what the world produces as a whole, all whilst 795 million people struggle without enough food to be healthy, that’s 1 in 9 people worldwide.
So maybe the question is not whether Jesus was an innie or outie, or whether being in the EU is better for us; maybe the question is whether or not it’ll make any difference to what really matters. And so here is the other passage that helped me – Luke 10:25-37 otherwise known as ‘The Parable of the Good Samaritan,’. The story is well known, and is powerfully punchy, the best stories are those that give you a good hard punch in the gut and get you looking at yourself, rather than just at others. In this story, we learn that the person least likely to help (politically speaking – the Samaritans and Jews didn’t get on) was actually the one who did help. It’s a shame that the UK is being seen more and more as the one country in the EU that is less likely to help with humanitarian matters (despite the figures for foreign aid). So I’d like to think that the Parable of the Good Samaritan is an opportunity waiting for us. That this island just off mainland Europe will be the Samaritan of our time. If being in the EU helps us do that then great. If you think otherwise, then that’s great too. Because what really matters is not whether a man in a grey suit makes decisions from London or from Brussels, it’s not even about whether being in the EU is better for me; it’s more about whether the man at the roadside sees us as the one who walks by on the other side and who does nothing, or the one who stops, attends and cares.
Thanks for reading - Jeremy
God of truth, give us grace to debate the issues in this referendum with honesty and openness. Give generosity to those who seek to form opinion and discernment to those who vote, that our nation may prosper and that with all the peoples of Europe we may work for peace and the common good; for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
There are times when scripture has to linger and loiter in our minds until we learn its timely relevance. Indeed, there are passages that we know well and have been faithful companions for much of our lives, until that is, we receive a divine nudge that provokes a new perspective, and a sudden change of thought. It was therefore my delight to have such a nudge last week as I prepared for our Sunday service. Psalm 1 ‘…those who delight in the Law of the Lord, are like trees planted by streams of water, yielding much fruit and whose leaf does not wither.’
This passage has always had an element of the prosperity gospel about it. If we trust in the Lord then we will be blessed, in health, wealth and faith. It was often thought that Christians who flourished in practical ways, i.e. nice job, big house, and good health, must have a strong faith in God, since scripture says that those who delight in God are like trees planted by streams of water. I have been guilty myself of thinking that faith in God equals good times.
What we forget is that God’s blessing falls on the faithful and unfaithful alike, he pours his grace upon the righteous as well as the un-righteous. And there are many examples of this in the bible.
During morning prayer this week I’ve been reading about the Exodus and the struggle of God’s people in the wilderness. Despite the lack of faith shown by early Israel God provided manna which fell with the dew on everything and everyone. It reminded me that the sun rises for all; the rain covers the rich and poor; and mercy is shown to the just and unjust alike. So what does the passage from Psalm 1 mean?
It seems that today it is blatantly obvious that we live in an unfair world. Too many still live in extreme poverty, too many still persecuted, too many still at the hands of dictators. Nearer to home, too many need foodbanks, need hand-outs and too many are on waiting lists for life saving surgery. Where’s the manna?
I turn back to Psalm 1, and I am also drawn to John 10:10, to Genesis 1 & 2 and Revelation 21, and I am reminded of the nature of God’s abundant and creative blessing. The tree described in Psalm 1 is the tree of life Jesus Christ, that is planted in us. Despite our physical condition, or what the world throws at us, or where life leads us or what our bank statement looks like, faith in Jesus Christ and accepting him as our Saviour, means we are planted – in the strongest terms for all eternity, like a tree by streams of water. Irrespective of our years, of our mistakes, of our successes, in Jesus, we find a place in the new Eden, as Paul puts it, we are a new creation (2 Cor. 5). So look for Jesus in all things and you will be eternally blessed.
Yours in Christ
Not seen much on the news about the refugee situation lately? Probably because the media are waiting for the next sound bite or headline. Sometimes the News is more concerned for what will sell than what is true; which ultimately gets in the way of reporting what is actually happening.
The poem below forces us to think about the comfortable distance we enjoy whilst others navigate checkpoints, borders and UN resolutions. Jesus had no time for political or ethnic distinctions. Nor any time for gender, religious and status divides. Too much importance on headlines and sound bites often causes fraction and fear between God's people. I hope this poem helps.
You have sound bites
extracted from war, heads
and hard hearts. My home,
if you'd like to know,
is somewhere else,
before the water, falls and
dehumanise, and leave cold
statistics and UN resolutions.
They ask for ID but laugh
at my identity
I'm someone else.
"why don't you stay and fight?"
I pause ---
and find the patience,
to smile and say
"for what?" I have nothing left.
Traffic flow is fierce abuse
leaving nothing to the imagination.
Wretched return is-is no answer.
You have sound bites
extracted from war, headlines
I have checkpoints.
How many of you have watched the Channel 4 TV show Gogglebox? For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, Gogglebox is an observational documentary that features couples and families from around the country watching TV. Yes, incredible as it sounds in this TV show you are watching people watching TV! Well, the irony isn’t lost on me, nor is the discomfort that comes from realising, that I too, am contributing to the show’s success.
Christians for a long time have got very hung up on the idea that God is watching them. In fact, it could be said that the ‘Religious Gogglebox’ is the notion that God is watching us watching him… watching us watching the world; I could go on, thankfully I won’t! The idea of a god watching us in this way is not helpful, it makes our God sound like GCHQ waiting to catch the bad guys. Does God really watch us, or does he watch over us? Psalm 121 says “The Lord will protect you from all evil; he will keep your soul. The Lord will watch over your coming in and your going out.” Likewise, the Father in the ‘parable of the Prodigal Son’ didn’t watch his son’s every move, he simply responded, as God does, with an overflowing of grace, and rejoiced at his son’s return.
God is there when we need him, just as the son needed his father. God’s prophets in the Old Testament were often called Watchmen or Sentinels, not because they watched the people but because they watched out for danger on their behalf (Ezekiel 3:17).
God watches out for us, cares for us, loves us, pours his grace upon us, he even stands in for us. Does not the Easter story tell us that very truth? Although this is something to be joyful about it might be that Easter this year has been a difficult time for you. If that’s the case, know that you have a heavenly parent who loves you and will watch over you. In fact, watching is simply not enough for God, he is with you, he shares the sorrow and the hurt. Jesus came so that we might understand the deep personal love that God has for each one of us.
Easter is a time of joy, but it is very easy in our society to think that just watching is enough. There is no Gogglebox for Easter! So I hope that you have been drawn into the whole experience of Easter, the love, the joy, even the pain and the fear, and maybe even the odd chocolate egg too. Be blessed this Easter time and know that God is with you.
I’m not sure who said it originally but it’s true, ‘kindness is just love with her workboots on.’ I saw a lot of kindness today.
Back in January I attended an open meeting at County Hall to discuss the refugee situation and how Cornwall could respond with a warm and kind welcome to our Syrian brothers and sisters being resettled here. At that meeting Manda Brookman shared her vision for a more connected Cornwall, a more collaborative compassion, where those who had a heart for welcoming refugees and those helping to tackle the crisis overseas could work more closely and more efficiently together. The idea also led to the opinion that all that had been achieved (by the many many groups around Cornwall) is really worth celebrating. There have been a lot of workboots, a lot of kindnesses and, dare I say it, a lot of learning too. So, part of this vision was to share all those things with added space for gratitude and thankfulness. Manda’s idea came to its fruition today in the event ‘Cornwall: a million stories of sanctuary’.
There was a host of contributions, filled with extraordinary and very moving accounts of courage, compassion, and sacrifice. The day moved quickly with a gentle efficiency that reflected the care and respect that Manda and others had for the subject matter. There was also a shared commonality that never outweighed the desire to learn more and to keep to a sense of openness - knowing our understanding is always shifting.
If you were there today, I wonder whether there was a particular talk/speaker that stood out for you. For me, there was something precious and valuable to be found in all of them, but I guess there were two or three that were significant for me, they tended to be the ones that encouraged and celebrated but also had an uncomfortableness about it too. Those that had a wake-up call, a punch in the gut; those that had for us - the parable for our time.
Paul Haines spoke about his Peace Walk from Rome to Jerusalem. On his journey he met a number of refugees, as well as the special people who sought to help them. There was a profound irony in his experience of meeting those who were walking away from war and conflict, while he walked the opposite way for peace. I am in awe of Paul’s commitment and dedication to peace, it reminded me of two things; firstly, we can all do something – as Ruby Brookman has said ‘this is everything about everyone’. No one is left out… of either the problem or the solution. Walking is something some of us can do, and what a powerful thing it can be. Secondly, that real change is sometimes a long journey. Even when we want the revolution we sometimes have to wait for the process of evolution to cut its course. Pauls’ journey taught me that we need to be in this for the long game, it’s lifelong.
Baraa Ehassan Kouja, curator of the ‘From Syria with Love’ exhibition (a collection of artwork by Syrian children whilst resident in a Lebanese refugee camp) spoke about what life is like in Syria at the moment. His words still resonate in my mind. His words were intensely provocative, honest and unfiltered. Baraa was able to share stories of individual people caught up in the conflict, the tales were offensive and violent and yet not left without hope. For Baraa had made that all important step that we ourselves hope to make; the step from acknowledging the horror (and even the part we have played in it) to a hope of another world. I was immensely inspired by Baraa and all that he has been able to do, he represents in my mind a future I long to see. Not some pedestalled idyllic future but simply a more compassionate one.
Amina travelled from London to be with us. The best way to describe Amina’s talk is one of testimony and witness. Amina shared her experiences of travelling from Somalia as a child refugee and starting a new life in London. What struck me about Amina was her sheer ability to reflect, on what was an incredibly traumatic time in her life. I can’t begin to imagine how difficult that must be for her. Yet, through what many would naturally want to suppress Amina finds a force for good. Today Amina shares her story to raise awareness of the challenges facing asylum seekers as they seek to resettle and learn a new way of life. A timely lesson for all of us as we seek to welcome Syrian refugee families to Cornwall.
Alongside these three talks we had the awesome enthusiasm of Ruby Ingleheart, and the amazing gumption and initiative of Shelley and Liz as they spoke about their volunteer trip to Lesvos. We heard about the experience and wisdom of Tam whose work overseas continues to inform the work we seek to do here. We heard from Matthew Barton from Cornwall Council about the resettlement program and the Council’s work with START and volunteer groups to ensure that we can provide the best possible welcome we can. We heard from Magda Machlarz who heads up the Cornwall Refugee Resettlement Network and their work in supporting START and Cornwall Council.
Penzance, Wadebridge (Amanda Pennington), Truro (All Saints Church) and Bude (Mary Whibley) as well as the Eden Project were all represented, and shared their updates and thoughts on the situation too.
Someone wrote recently that when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression. There is a lot of fear around at the moment, particularly regarding immigration, and more so for welcoming refugees. Ultimately the fear derives from the human desire to protect and secure our way of life, which isn’t intrinsically bad, it just shouldn’t ever justify the alienation, exclusion, and apathy that we are seeing today. The three words I’ve taken away from today’s event are compassion, comfort and companionship. Compassion (meaning with suffering) because true compassion is not about us being the giver and someone else being the receiver. Compassion requires us to break free of any notion of superiority or inferiority and instead attempt to hold to the truth that to show compassion is to come alongside our brothers and sisters and share in the suffering.
The same is true of the word companionship (meaning with bread). When we act as a companion to our Syrian, Eritrean, Iraqi, or Afghan brothers and sisters, we enter into the act of breaking bread. When we share bread with a friend we acknowledge that we are both in need of that bread. There is a mutuality of need and necessity. It pushes us into a radical space where we are changed too. As I’m sure you know volunteering and charity work when done well is never one way – it shapes us and form us for the better.
Lastly the word comfort (meaning with strength). When we comfort someone you are offering the strength that they need. This is the only word of the three that is one-directional. Comforting is the aid work and help that I know Cornwall has offered and does really well. Cornwall has many strengths to offer, she is a remarkable place with many strong compassionate people that care deeply about life, about the wellbeing of her people, and I am convinced that when our brothers and sisters from Syria settle here they will find Cornwall to be a comforting, compassionate and welcoming place. My prayer is that the Syrian families moving to Cornwall will have a renewed strength, to begin and prosper in this special land; that they will know the kindness of the people of Cornwall and truly live as one of us.
Revd Jeremy Putnam
A collection of thoughts and reflections from the people of All Saints.