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.
All Saints Church has been involved in collecting and delivering aid to refugees in Europe and further afield for several years. Just this year Rowley Surridge, one of our churchwardens and Project Leader for the All Saints European and Syrian aid trips has been to Calais several times in 2017 and again this year, with a further trip planned this June. The refugee situation has not and will not go away and refugees are returning to the Calais and Dunkirk area despite the closure of the “Jungle”.
Why does a small church in Cornwall get involved in an international crisis? As Christians we are called over and over again by the words of the Bible in both Old and New Testaments to help others, particularly those who are victims of injustice.
Deuteronomy 10:18-19 reminds the Israelites:
“For the Lord your God...loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Leviticus 19:33-34; 24:22 instructs them:
“When the foreigner resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the foreigner. The foreigner who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the foreigner as yourself, for you were once foreigners in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
and the gospel of Luke tells us: Luke 3:11
“Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
Matthew 8:20 records the words of Jesus: "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."
Jesus, and therefore Christians too, belong to a people indelibly marked by stories of Exodus and exile. Like the millions of Syrians today, Jesus and his family were forced to flee their home and find refuge. In Jesus’ case the destination was Egypt, the very place that his family’s ancestors fled in the time of Moses. We believe that God will bring justice to the world and right wrongs as part of that he will also ask us to account for our actions:
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Further information on ways to get involved with the Cornish response to the refugee crisis can be found on our website http://www.asht.org.uk/refugee-crisis.html. We also have several initiatives to help local people in need, one of which is Acts 435 http://www.asht.org.uk/acts-435.html.
Revd Jeremy Putnam
All this talk of recycling, protecting the environment, and green energy reminds me of one of my favourite dad jokes. It goes like this: I gave all my dead batteries away today… free of charge!
Since Sunday 1st September the Church of England has been keeping Creationtide, a period in the church calendar that concludes on the feast of St Francis 4th October. At All Saints Truro we’ve been thinking about what a Christian care for God’s creation might look like. We’ve been thinking about the impact of pollution and climate change, and about sustainable living and environmental justice. We’ve been blessed to hear some great speakers and preachers including Dr Tim Taylor (Senior lecturer at Exeter University for Environmental Economics), Luci Isaacson (Diocesan Environmental Officer), Janette Mullett (Director of Epiphany House) and Revd Dr Lucy Larkin (Tutor for SWMTC).
Hearing these people has reminded me of how important it is for Christ’s church to take seriously the instruction to ‘be fruitful, and to care for’ this incredible gift of life. As I’ve reflected on our discussions it has been increasingly clear to me how important this is, and how it’s not so much about the church being ‘green’, although that is important, but more about our walk with Jesus.
I’ve learnt that our relationship with creation is the great leveller, since all of humanity is dependent on God’s gift of life - through His Word and His Spirit in a spiritual sense, and through creation in a physical sense. We all require food, we all require fresh water, warmth and shelter to live. It doesn’t matter if we’re a wealthy oil tycoon, or a struggling unemployed dad of three, we still need the basic elements of life to flourish. Jesus’ ministry was always close to this truth. As he mixed with the rich and the famous and the poor and forgotten, his teaching was never far away from the essentials of human need. It was a grounded ministry, held close to the dirt and earthiness of life.
The more I’ve studied the bible over the course of Creationtide the more I’ve come to realise that Christian discipleship is lived out in our love for Jesus and in our delight for what was created through Him. In essence, how our love for Jesus can be reflected in our love for what was brought about through him. Sadly, much of the developed world has over-consumed and underappreciated God’s creation; and as a result, the poor and forgotten have paid the price.
Christ’s church can take a lead here by making small and simple lifestyle changes, such as recycling our batteries – despite my dad joke. As well as taking the Truro Diocese 10 pledges.
Here’s another dad joke (as they’re called in our household) – Did you hear about the new restaurant on the moon? The food is great, but there’s just no atmosphere!!
I’m really sorry.
Creationtide is about protecting our atmosphere but also about creating a new atmosphere of action in the church to protect God’s creation. And to see this environmental theology as an expression of our walk with Jesus. We don’t need eco-warriors we just need more followers of Jesus who want to keep breaking bread with the world, and want to meet more people at the well.
Revd Jeremy Putnam | All Saints Truro
We will look back on this election as the beginning of a political and democratic paradigm shift. Today represents an existential alteration for the country, a change of heart, a change of character, a change of mood – for the better. And it represents a triumph over fear. Those young people (72% of 18 to 24s - see reference below) who voted yesterday are now participants in a revolution, a revolution over a politic of fear. Their violent (politically speaking) voice of defiance and change, may well have inaugurated an era in which their own voice is finally valued by the political elite; and their democratic freedom will be seen for what it is, a crucial part of the formation of a fairer and more just society.
Young people have for centuries been considered with suspicion. Plato (4th Century BCE) was once heard saying “What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets, inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?” Peter the Hermit in the 13th century said, “The young people think of nothing but themselves!” Such quotes exemplify a culture of fear, a culture that has conditioned young people into silence for a long time. I was told last week that if you have a room of primary school kids and ask them who can dance, thy all put their hand up, ask them who can draw, they all put their hands up, ask them who can sing and they all put their hands up. Ask a room full university students and the number of hands that go up are in single figures, and likely to be by those who have taken classes in those subjects. Ask the same question to room full of grown adults, and no one puts their hand up. What happens in that time? Why do we lose the joy of being free? We become frightened very quickly – or limited by someone or something.
We live in a culture that is quick to socialise children into a particular way of life, frightened of what might happen to them if we don’t incorporate them into social norms and expectations. As they grow older we move from being frightened for them, to being frightened of them. Frightened of what they might say or do if they are given too much power. In this culture of fear, young people are treated as sub-humans, whose thoughts and opinions don’t really count, or have no substance in what real life should look like. If you are a young person that voted in the General Election, let me tell you this... you are no longer seen and not heard. We hear you.
I am currently a priest for the Church of England. Before moving to Cornwall, I was also a Young Vocations Advisor for Bath & Wells diocese, and before being ordained, a Youth Leader for my local church. Since 2010 £387m has been cut from state youth provision (see reference below). In that time, I have seen youth centres come under threat of closure, youth workers lose their jobs because of cuts, and funding pots reduced that have previously gone to develop and sustain youth provision. Too often now, any development in youth provision is at the hands of a well written grant application to the Big Lottery.
And you know, young people shouldn’t care, they are justified in snubbing the system, what is it doing for them? For many years that’s how it was. And society didn’t really want this to change, a quiet population of young people suited a culture of classes and hierarchy. But yesterday, young people in large numbers have shown a counter-cultural politic of hope, dismissing any idea that they don’t care. They do.
What is so revolutionary is that this massive shift is in the context of a well-developed post-modern world, in which humans are largely engaged in the business of exercising power over one another, resulting in a violent world that is obsessed with the preservation of the self. It is a time when truth is a product of the beholder, and the idea of a shared truth is counter to a world where the individual reigns. This is really important in understanding why today’s General Election result could be seen as the indicator of a massive change in political character.
I am proud that my Christian faith stands as testimony to the power of young people, and their revolutionary attitude to justice. Samuel, Jeremiah, Daniel, David, Mary, Ruth and Esther are significant figures in the Bible who stood up for God’s plan for salvation, for justice and freedom. They were all too young to be heard initially, but were empowered and trusted by God to be voices against injustice and oppression, to speak out for the powerless (Jer 7:5-6). Check out Daniel (Daniel 1:3-6) who becomes an interpreter of dreams and visions, and leads an oppressive king to gain a vision of truth and justice. Look at David (1 Sam 17:33) who was dismissed as being too young, too foolish, too brash, but ended up being a symbol of courage and faithfulness to a whole nation. And Mary the mother of Jesus, who sang a song of defiance before a world of injustice and inequality; her revolutionary canticle has been sung in church ever since.
Just in my short time in Cornwall I have seen young people show how passionate they are about matters of justice, equality, fairness and social reform. I’ve spent time with a cohort of student architects and designers from Falmouth Uni who showed me how, as architects they can make the world a better place. I have seen young people come together to make a difference to global issues such as the refugee crisis, volunteer at foodbanks, crowdfund for local projects, and protest for change. Young people are indeed radical changemakers, persistent peacemakers, militant groundbreakers, generous caregivers, and courageous liberators… if we respect their place as such.
This General Election shows a shift in belief in young people. They will no longer go uncounted, or unmentioned. General Election campaigns of the future will incorporate young people more than ever before; because of the power of their voice, because of the power for change that lies in their hands, because of the power of influence. The tables have turned. We will now have a political system where the young will continue to teach us a valuable lesson – that their vote counts as well as ours.
I am proud of our young people. I am particularly proud of my own daughter who was counted in the 72% of 18 to 24 year olds who voted yesterday. They want change, they want a better future, and they will keep on until they get it.
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.
A collection of thoughts and reflections from the people of All Saints.