Too much time spent watching or reading the news can easily bring a sense of hopelessness, for people of faith as well as those of none. Whilst I have been enjoying David Attenborough’s latest series “Seven Worlds, One Planet”, the evidence of the destruction humans are wreaking on God’s planet is heart-breaking. The torturous politics of Brexit can also induce a nihilism and cynicism about those governing or seeking to govern the country. Meanwhile those who need justice, hope and comfort are left just as abandoned as ever.
What does the bible have to say about our situation today-written thousands of years ago by people who couldn’t imagine our world, just as we struggle to relate to relate to theirs? It so happens that the bible has plenty to say and God’s voice can be discerned quite clearly through all the layers of history and culture. It speaks of justice and hope and tells us how these things can be made real in the lives of ordinary humans. It’s not easy and certainly isn’t a matter of us sitting back and waiting for God to act in some miraculous way or shutting ourselves away in private prayer without acting on that prayer.
Justice in the bible is about looking after the vulnerable, restorative not just retributive justice. God’s justice is even what some would see as unnecessarily generous, “God’s preferential option for the poor”. The Hebrew term for this restorative justice is mishpat but the bible also calls us to primary justice-a way of treating each other that is God’s template for economic, ecological and social relationships- tzadeqah in Hebrew. In other words, living in a way that all can have enough, treasuring and respecting God’s earth, treating each other without prejudice and enabling those who are disadvantaged to have what they need to be on a level playing field for jobs, housing, education and health.
Deuteronomy 10:17-19 tells us: “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Justice in the bible is equated with righteousness, it is not an optional extra for those of a trendy lefty tendency or who like “charity work”, it is the necessary expression of our faith in a just God.
This is the way that the spark of hope can be rekindled and nurtured until God’s justice is seen in the world. As Teresa of Avila said “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
This week's blog has been written by Kirsty, Parish Administrator for All Saints and also an ordinand in training.
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.
A collection of thoughts and reflections from the people of All Saints.