As a self-confessed gadget geek who left my software career to spend a couple of years in a monastery, I was once asked to help create a retreat workshop on the benefits of giving up technology. Who are we when we’re disconnected from Google, Twitter and the rest? Leave your smartphones behind and experience life first hand!
Sadly, I knew I was a fraud. During my time as a novice nun, the internet had only reached as far as an antiquated PC in the bursar’s office, and a tentative proposal to permit the sisters to use the internet during a one hour window on a Sunday afternoon was soundly defeated.
But I had come prepared.
Knowing that I was supposed to live in poverty with no access to money, I prepaid for a year’s data on my phone and hid it in my luggage when I came to stay. Since the sisters’ rooms are private and sacrosanct, I could lie in bed checking the news after lights-out with no fear of discovery… that is, until the week the whole community went sick with a vicious stomach bug and the infirmarian came into my room to treat me and discovered the gadget I was too sick to hide.
Once I recovered I was summoned by Mother Abbess who told me with a wry smile that I had “committed a grievous sin, sister”. I dutifully handed over my phone, promising repentance and conversion of heart. Of course, as a true addict I had a backup plan – my old Kindle with the always-free 3G connection and basic internet browser. What aging nun would suspect my innocent book-reader was also a window onto the outside world?
What compelled this need to be connected? I went to the abbey seeking silence in which to pray and learn to be a better person, and I’d really begun to appreciate how mental knots unravel and relax when there’s nothing to be done except the job at hand. When you’re spending the next hour ironing veils in silence, and there’s no benefit at all to getting it done any sooner, your senses open up and simple things like the smooth texture of the fabric and the smell of the steam iron and the light slanting through the laundry window and the clanking of the ancient pipework, all become elements of perfect satisfaction in the moment.
But as soon as you start wanting your task to end so you can do something more entertaining or more important, time gets slower, frustration increases, people seem more irritating, and life is something that gets in the way, rather than a source of joy and wonder.
My own fear was being left behind by the zeitgeist. In the summer of 2012, hidden in the abbey, I completely missed the London Olympics, and I felt like I was losing my identity. Everyone else had this profound shared experience and I stepped out of the room and missed it. I came to understand why the sisters were only allowed to read newspapers a week old: we can really get addicted to being ‘up to date’.
It all comes down to our sense of identity. Where is our treasure? The rich young man couldn’t give up his wealth to follow Jesus, but it’s not just wealth that gets in the way. It’s anything that’s so central to who we are that to let it go would be like tearing off our own limb. Jesus is ruthless. Just cut it off, he says, pluck it out. I’ve seen from the monastery that he’s right. But…
This month's blog was written by Tess Lowe. Tess is training as an Ordinand for ministry in the Church of England.
Les Reed, once manager of Charlton Athletic FC has held an extraordinary record ever since his time in office in 2006. Mr Reed lasted only 7 games in charge, and still to this day holds the shortest reign in Premier League history. I’d like to think this is an exceptional example, but unfortunately there are plenty of managers that over the years have lasted less than ten games. The game of football has often been accused of being very short-sighted. Heroes reduced to zeros in a matter of days, messiahs to mess-ups in a month, kings to criminals in a season.
I can’t help but think that the culture of our time all too often reflects the same short-sighted attitude as that of the premier league. Celebrities come and go, politicians rise and fall, major government policies are often accused of being vote winners instead of really investing in the future of our country. The ‘quick fix’ seems to be a slogan of honour for a new generation of movers and shakers, rather than taking time to consider the future as well as the present.
For those of you who lived in the 1950s, you’ll likely remember how the country felt at the time. Still rebuilding from the devastation of the war, there was a strong sense of unity, both in recovery, as well as hope for the future; and unemployment was low too. The welfare state and the introduction of the NHS meant that people were eating better, working more safely, and living healthier than before. The spirit of Britain at the time was to bless the next generation, and leave their children with a healed and prosperous country. Have we lost this desire to invest in the future? In the midst of a world that is obsessed with instant gratification making the most of life now, have we lost the culture of ‘paying it forward’, of legacy and gift; handing on a better world to our children?
This week the Church marks the beginning of Holy Week with our Palm Sunday celebrations in which we are reminded of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. On that day in Jerusalem palm leaves were waved by the hundreds; praises sung with loud voices rejoicing at the sight of the one who would reclaim Israel, and begin the liberation of God’s people.
Six days later they were calling for him to be crucified.
Hero to zero, messiah to mess-up, king to criminal in a matter of days. How fickle were the crowds? It is easy for us to look back and say they were too impulsive and quick tempered, but are we any different?
Despite the short-sightedness of the world, the Easter story reminds us that God is not. His plan is for eternity. He cares for the here and now, but he also cares just as much for the tomorrow and forever too. Jesus championed a way of life that was exemplified by his cross and passion. His sacrifice and resurrection ensured that we have life; a life for the here and now, but also a life for all eternity. Choose His way and you choose life; for today, for tomorrow and for ever.
May you have a blessed and life filled Easter season. Jeremy
The following article was written by Jennifer Herrera, Executive Director for Acts435. You can read the original article here.
I imagine All Saint's Church, Truro, didn't know what had hit it when their new vicar Jeremy Putnam came into town. He moved with his wife to take up the post, and after a short time his wife Ruth found there was an abundant need in the city. She then found Acts 435, and has effectively catapulted All Saint's into being a huge resource for people in need throughout the county; making a big difference to a region where there is poverty, and little resources to help.
After Ruth did the initial research she pulled in two other amazing ladies to help with the project alongside her. Jean got involved in March, and Avril in August 2016. Since then they have worked together to serve their community through Acts 435, all with different skills and experiences.
Ruth has felt very humbled by seeing needs met through Acts 435. The team of advocates work alongside the foodbank at the church, as well as Inclusion Cornwall, which acts as a point of contact for many agencies all over Cornwall. They also work with the Christians Against Poverty Centre, based in Truro. Ruth has said that "we see people in real need who struggle on in silence and many who I meet will tell me that other people need the help more".
Jean has really enjoyed being involved as an Acts 435 Advocate, especially as she describes the church as a 'poor church', who wouldn't have the resources on hand to help many people in crisis. However, they can now provide a drop-in for people who may need help through the church and Acts 435. She describes it as "pure joy" meeting and helping people, and she feels "so uplifted by their response when we fulfil their requests". Jean goes on to describe that using Acts 435 as a resource is "easy to do and not time consuming", and enables her to effectively help those in need.
One of Jean's favourite stories from partnering with Acts 435 is about a middle-aged man with hearing problems and learning difficulties. He works seasonally at a caravan site, but after a mix up with his benefits he had very little to live on. The Job Centre referred him to All Saints, knowing that they could help. Jean and the team got him referred to the foodbank at their church, and also posted two Acts 435 requests for electricity and rent. Jean said, "he didn't have the words to thank us enough, and his friend told us that he was a changed man with the stress lifted from him. It was very rewarding for the whole team to see."
Avril, who joined Ruth and Jean as an Advocate at All Saints, thought it looked like a "wonderful, straightforward and caring response to help others", and signed up to help straight away! She remarks that not only does having Acts 435 as a church ministry enable them to bless the community, it also blesses the church congregation and enables them to give week by week generously to direct needs in the community.
Avril remembers "an elderly gentleman who had no heating except a small electric fire. His cottage was damp and he was struggling financially, so didn't turn the fire on very often. Through Acts 435 we were able to give him money for his electric key meter, and when I went to see him to give him the donation he was suffering from bronchitis. He was so cold and damp, it had made him ill. He cried with relief and gratitude for the donor and for himself".
All three of these All Saints Advocates would tell anyone thinking about partnering with Acts 435 to just sign up! Avril comments;
"It's such a small thing to do but with a huge impact on those in need. Acts 435 blesses those in need. We ourselves are blessed by seeing God at work through the wonderful generosity of donors, making such an impact on people's lives, giving hope and respect".
If you would like to see the impact Acts 435 could have in your church by partnering as an Advocate, or a team of Advocates like this Cornwall team, have a look at our website to see what's involved: www.acts435.org.uk/join
On 9th January this year the Prime Minister, Theresa May, launched her ambitious plan to create a ‘Shared Society’. She spoke of ‘fairness and solidarity’, ‘overcoming division’ and creating a ‘society that works for everyone.’ This isn’t a new concept however, back in 2010 David Cameron put forward the idea of a ‘Big Society’ and in 1997 Tony Blair spoke of wanting to create a ‘classless society.’ So why are we, seemingly constantly, struggling for a society which works better for the sake of it citizens but failing to bring it to fruition? As Theresa May so pointedly said in her speech on 9th January “There is more to life than individual self-interest.”
We live in a paradoxical time where many want the world to work for them, yet are not seemingly willing to work for the world. Society around us tells us we are worth it, we can have it now, or we can be whoever we want to be, not to mention the rhetoric which says ‘if it feels good do it’. With this being pushed at us every day shared society, a big society, a classless society might all seem to be pie in the sky thinking, but if we look back to how the early Christians came together to live we have an amazing example of how we can live to work for each other.
The book of Acts shows how a ‘shared society’ can work, “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common … There was not a needy person among them.” Acts 4:32-34 (look up the All Saints Acts 435 initiative)
This is a bold approach to life, and I am not suggesting such a drastic move in property ownership should be rolled out in 21st century Britain, but we need to switch our thinking from ‘What can I get out of it?’ to ‘What can I put into it?’ When we live in a world of ‘individual self-interest’, asking how society is going to work for us without considering how we are going to work for society, we run the risk of elevating oneself to more important than the next person.
Yet if we are to believe the words of Jesus, he came to save the world. Jesus loves you, whether you realise that yet or not, but he also loves the whole world too. He loves you and wants you to prosper (in the fullness that can be) but he also loves the person down the street, the person in the big house with the ‘important big job’ and the lady on the street asking for food.
As Paul the Apostle wrote “There is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, for all are one in Christ Jesus.” Jesus came to level the playing field, to create the ‘Shared Society’, ‘Big Society’, ‘Classless Society’ yet 2000 years on we have still not got it right. There is still division, there is still injustice, there are still poor on our streets and people fleeing from war, because still we look at what we can get from life, society, the world rather than what we can give to it.
Adapting the words of 35th President of the United States of America I would encourage you,
“My fellow citizens of this world, ask not what your country/society/world can do for you, but what you can do for your country/society/world.”
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.
A collection of thoughts and reflections from the people of All Saints.