image: Gerard van Honthorst - Adoration of the Shepherds (1622)
Beginnings and Endings
Cesare Pavese: “The only joy in the world is to begin”
Life is full of beginnings. There is our own personal beginning, our birth but there are also many other life events that we see as beginnings in their own right. Such as our first day at school, the start of a new job, the first day in a new house, or the first day of retirement. There are also of course the faith orientated life events such as Baptism, receiving Communion, and for some, confirmation to the Church of England. But what about the new beginnings we miss without taking a second thought, the kind of event that we skip past because we don’t see its importance at the time; but only see its real importance later in our lives. It might be a passing chat with a stranger in a coffee shop, a moment in time that marks the start of a lasting relationship. It might even be something like a missed train or a wrong bus, which begins a cycle of events that in turn brings about a new beginning of sorts. Life is jammed packed full of new beginnings.
Although life is full of beginnings we also face at various times many endings. Or at least what we might experience as endings. The most vivid and emotional of these of course is seeing someone we love pass away. And although it is often said that in every ending there is a new beginning, when we experience profound loss we have no idea what that new beginning looks like.
One of the many amazing things about Christmas is that we celebrate the birth of Jesus already knowing how it ends, or at least how we think it ends. What I mean is Jesus came to earth as one of us, and he came to earth with a particular mission and part of that mission was that he should die, at a particular time in history. So in many ways when we celebrate Christmas we cannot do so in isolation from the rest of God’s story of salvation, we must in fact remember his birth and his death and his resurrection. And therefore tonight is really Christmas morning, Good Friday and Easter day, remembered explicitly as we come together tonight to break bread in the presence of God. The experience of communion in this way reminds us that beginnings and endings are often rolled into one - that celebration and suffering are frequently intertwined, that sometimes mourning accompanies merriment and fear with festival.
In the passage at the start of John’s Gospel - John describes God’s plan of salvation as an act of creation through the Word - Jesus Christ, an act of salvation that encompasses pain and suffering as well as the joy and celebration. It is the cosmic life event, God’s word made flesh to bring God’s plan into existence. It mysteriously embraces every beginning and ending we can think of. God’s word came to bring life, in sense to be the beginning of beginnings and the ending of endings
In deliberate parallel to the opening words of Genesis, John presents God as speaking salvation into existence. God’s word takes on human form and enters history in the person of Jesus. Just in the same way God called creation into being with his voice so in his ministry Jesus speaks the word and it happens: forgiveness and judgment, healing and illumination, mercy and grace, joy and love, freedom and resurrection. Everything broken and fallen, sinful and diseased, called into salvation by God’s spoken word. It is this that we celebrate tonight. We celebrate the knowledge that through the incarnation - God coming into our world in the form of Jesus - we are brought into the same space that God occupies. God has moved in to our neighbourhood.
I said at the start life is full of beginnings, those that stand as major milestones in life, but also those beginnings that slip by unnoticed. Surprisingly it is the beginnings that go unnoticed that often lead to the most amazing events in our lives. A missed bus can lead to a divine encounter, a surprise meeting could lead to a deep and meaningful relationship, a casual remark from a friend could awaken a spiritual calling. All of which could easily go unnoticed if we aren’t attentive to God’s activity in the world.
In the same way God’s saving plan, his act of creation through Jesus Christ, began as an ordinary event in a small backwater town in Palestine. A lowly, humble, seemingly unwelcome place was the birth place of God’s Chosen One. And Mary - an unassuming woman, in faith became the divine portal for the outworking of God’s redeeming light. You see the Incarnation was never intended to impose salvation on God’s people. In the beginning was meekness, humility, humbleness and vulnerability not triumphalism or conquest. Jesus throughout his ministry narrates salvation into being through leisurely conversation, intimate personal relationships, compassionate responses, and passionate prayer. Never imposing his divinity over the freewill of God’s people. Just simply coming into our neighbourhood to be flesh and blood, to be one of us. But do we notice his arrival?
I wonder how many people passed by that modest dwelling place in Bethlehem without noticing, I wonder how many people the shepherds spoke to on their way to see the babe – and if they had spoken to others – I wonder how many believed what they said, I wonder how many carried on without taking notice of that new beginning.
I wonder whether the magi shared the purpose of their pilgrimage to others – and again I wonder what the reaction would have been.
What is our reaction on this Christmas morn? Will we pass by this day, this new beginning without noticing the profound difference it could make in our lives?
And what will be our reaction to those other small beginnings in our lives, the ones that can go so easily unnoticed, but where God is possibly working out his plan for us. Because what the Incarnation teaches us is that God actually wants us to miss the train once in a while; he wants us to get on the wrong bus. He wants us to step outside of our normal routine just for a moment so we can take notice of what’s going on. He is asking us to stop and seek out Christ among us, to hear his call like the shepherds did, to look for the signs like the magi did, to step out in faith and trust God like Mary and Joseph did. To praise the babe in our midst as the angels did.
May the Incarnation mark for us the beginning of beginnings, the ending of endings, may the Alpha and the Omega, the word made flesh enter our lives – and may we respond, may we welcome the babe and allow Jesus to make a difference in our lives - not just today but in every new beginning to come.
In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God, and the word became flesh and blood. Amen.
Pastoral Statement to the Parish Church of All Saints Highertown and Baldhu in all services from the Priest in Charge, Revd Jeremy Putnam to be read out on Sunday 15th December 2019.
Today, as we worship Almighty God in prayer and praise, as we gather around Our Lord and Saviour found in word and sacrament, as we pray for the salvation of the nations and as we prepare to receive Jesus Christ in Holy Communion we must remember that we are called to pray for the High Court of Parliament.
A majority have spoken and a government has been democratically elected.
Every one of us has been enabled to express our democratic right and enact our communal responsibility this week. Whatever anyone’s party political affiliation, it has been my prayer that we will have approached voting with good intention, careful thought and with honour.
Honour is a much- needed value within our society. As is truth.
We as the church are called to seek the grace and truth embodied perfect in our Saviour, Jesus Christ, and for all Christian people to model the harmony that comes through the power of the Holy Spirit. Harmony and unity are different to uniformity. It is not for me to tell you whether you should or should not share how you voted; nor is it for me to pass judgment on how anyone voted.
It is however, for me to remind us all that Almighty God is our loving and merciful judge. We will be judged not by how we voted but by how we as a community love one another, how we love our neighbour and how we welcome the stranger in our midst. Mary sang that her Saviour would bring down the powerful from their thrones, and lift up the humble; to fill the hungry with good things, and send the greedy away empty.
And therefore, my daily prayer for us all is that we seek always to stand united around God’s table; that we manage difference of opinion between us with our eyes kept firmly on Jesus Christ; that we attempt in some small way to be the hands of Christ and feet of Christ, breaking bread and sharing it with the poor and hungry; that we clothe the naked; care for the orphan, support the widow, visit the sick; tend the dying and with missional hearts, that we pray fervently for the conversion of those who do not yet know our Lord.
Churches are rooted in communities right across the country. It is the task of the church to emphasize, from its experience, issues which must be seen as key priorities for our time, and for our government, whichever party is in power.
Our new parliament has a great task ahead of it. In its desire to address the severity of deprivation in our communities, the impact of austerity, the pressures on our NHS, schools, and public sector services, it will need the help of everyone, irrespective of political persuasion. My prayer is that we find a common cause, inspired by our common faith and our common humanity to bring about healing in this nation. By word, prayer and deed I hope that we as the church will support our parliament and politicians so that they can better keep to their promises of working for the common good and for the wellbeing of all people.
Priority 1: Creation does not belong to us. Our task is to nurture and recognise our place within it. It is now widely understood that climate change and environmental degradation is the most pressing issue of our day, and it must be addressed. It cannot wait until it affects our own home and community, we must act now for the sake of those whose lives are threatened today.
Priority 2: This church hosts a foodbank, has a small team of advocates supporting people in financial crisis, partners with Christian’s against Poverty, and supports the Cornwall Childrens Clothes Bank. Over the course of the last few years demand on these services have risen. Foodbanks should not exist –and therefore our MP and government need our support now more than ever to put an end to the need by helping them tackle the cause.
Priority 3:We live in a world that is diverse in culture, varied in beauty and colour, and wide-ranging in language, religion and spirituality. Even in the Christian faith alone there is much diversity and expression. This is the intention of God that we live in freedom and love, in the knowledge that all people bear the image of God. Our country is the same; it is an inter-generational, multi-ethnic, socially diverse collection of communities. Sadly, in recent times there has been an increase in reported racism and hate crime in our country, with growing forms of hostility, divisiveness and hatred. The church here seeks to support people who have experienced such discord, welcoming all people in the spirit of our faith which sees no discrimination of honour between man or woman, irrespective of race, nationality, or language.
John the Baptist pointed to Jesus. No earthly leader will ever be as Jesus is. No earthly kingdom will ever be as God’s Kingdom is. There is only one Kingdom that truly matters, the eternal kingdom of God, all human kingdoms will fade away.
And so, we pray for the High Court of Parliament using the prayer issued by the Church of England in the run up to the General Election, for we must remember that as the established church we have a responsibility to pray for those who lead, whether we agree with their political affiliation or not:
God of hope,
in these times of change,
unite our nation
and guide our leaders with your wisdom.
Give us courage to overcome our fears,
and help us to build a future
in which all may prosper and share;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
*Letter was inspired by a similar letter written by Father Simon Robinson, Vicar of the Parish of Minehead.
*Priorities were inspired by the open letter to the Prime Minister by the Methodist President. https://www.methodist.org.uk/about-us/news/latest-news/all-news/an-open-letter-to-the-prime-minister/
Way before Christianity became a tradition, before it was associated with buildings, budgets, and missions, even before it was associated with such things as crusades, colonisation, and televangelism, it was a radical nonviolent movement promoting a way of life that enlivened people and brought a new kind of hope to the margins of society. Before Christianity was an institution it was a movement, before it was a movement it was a dream, before it was a dream it was a Word.
During Advent we are reminded of our own movement toward Christmas, our travelling toward the Word of God, who is Jesus Christ, God incarnate. God in the flesh. And in Advent we are reminded that in the greater story of humanity we keep moving toward that time when he will come again. Christianity has always been the ‘Way’, the road on which we travel, and therefore it is a movement to see the world differently, and not just to dream that things could be different but to live as though they can be different, and will be different.
Many of you will have heard that the Truro Lifehouse, a project to radically redevelop the community facilities at All Saints Highertown, has received support and funding through Cornwall Council’s Langarth Investment Fund. This support means we can now press on with the work to redevelop the facilities so we can open in early 2021. As you can imagine the team behind the project is thrilled. It has been 3 years in the making and has involved many people. Residents of Highertown, Malabar, Threemilestone, Gloweth and Truro have been involved, many community support groups and organisations such as Truro Foodbank, Cornwall Childrens Clothes Bank, Alcoholics Anonymous, Acts 435, and Truro Memory Café have all helped with the design work. It has also seen support from students at Exeter University Business School and the Design and Architecture students at Falmouth University.
The vision for the building is to support the existing and growing communities around us, to support people who live beyond Highertown, right out to the new residents moving in to Langarth. And more specifically, to have a building that attends to the needs of the most vulnerable people in our communities by offering a space to meet. Whether it be for a cuppa in the community café, care in the changing places facilities, a moment of quiet in the sensory garden space or through the welcome people receive from a purposefully designed dementia friendly environment, we hope those that find life most difficult will feel truly welcomed.
Along with the funding from Cornwall Council we have also secured funding from the Church Commissioners to appoint a new Children and Families Leader, a new Youth Leader, and a Social Justice Missioner who will all work hard to extend the benefits of the new facility to our neighbouring communities such as Threemilestone and Truro. The team at the Truro Lifehouse will be keen to work with the local schools, other churches and other community facilities like Threemilestone Community Centre to help reach the people we all care about.
For those that aren’t aware All Saints Highertown is the parish church for Malabar, Copperfields, Bissoe, Baldhu, Gloweth, Threemilestone, Greenbottom and Langarth. And therefore, we expect to support and serve the people of these communities.
The Truro Lifehouse has never just been about the building it has always been about people and life, hence its name. Before it was a building, it was a design, before it was design it was a collection of ideas, before it was an idea it was a movement; a movement to reach the people who are too often forgotten and unheard. Have a look for yourself www.trurolifehouse.uk and let us know what you think. We would love to hear from you.
Along with the Truro Lifehouse, Threemilestone Primary School are also set to receive funding to help establish a new hall facility, which is fantastic news for everyone connected with the school. And because of the passionate commitment to her community, Cllr Tudor has also secured further support for the development of community infrastructure for the village centre of Threemilestone. This has been the result of a great deal of hard work on her part and will ensure Threemilestone continues to get support through the Langarth Master Planning process.
Lastly, we are still fundraising for the Lifehouse Project. In June 2020 we will be running the Coast to Coast Half Marathon. Why not join our team and run for your Lifehouse! We need runners who are willing to help raise £100 each, so get in touch.
May you all have a blessed and joy-filled Christmas season, and may you know blessing of Jesus, who came to bring life, life in all its fullness.
Revd Jeremy Putnam.
We are thrilled to announce that the Lifehouse Project www.trurolifehouse.uk is set to receive £612k as part of Cornwall Council’s strategy to invest in existing community provision along the A390 in Truro. This is to help better serve the existing communities on the west side of Truro, and provide early community provision for the new residents of the proposed Langarth Development.
The Lifehouse Project is a radical plan to redevelop the community facilities in Highertown to better serve the local community.
Revd Jeremy Putnam, Priest in Charge at All Saints Highertown and Baldhu, said: “I really am over the moon that the councillors have voted to invest in the community in this way. In human terms this will make a tangible difference to the lives of many thousands of people over the coming years.
“The community centre is already used by between 600 and 800 people a week, and the new community hub will see that more than double.”
The reach of All Saints Highertown extends far beyond those who attend the church itself. It supports groups helping those who struggle with food poverty, financial insecurity, social justice, addiction, dementia, mental health and other isolating circumstances.
“This endorsement and the investment will go a long way towards helping this project become a reality, and that means we will be able to serve the community far better. There is no doubt that this will enhance the lives of many people,” said Jeremy.
The Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, said: “This is a fantastic example of the church and the community working together for the common good. Some will see this as an investment in some of that community’s most vulnerable individuals, while for those within the church community there will be the extra dimension of living their lives in the footsteps of Jesus. The net result will be a community that is strengthened and able to attend to the needs of some of its most vulnerable members, and for that we can surely all be thankful.”
The Cabinet of Cornwall Council today (Weds, November 13, 2019) voted to approve a £612,000 towards the £1.9 million project. The council’s funding will match funds from Europe, the Diocese of Truro, the parish itself, private funding secured by the parish, and some Section 106 monies from developers.
In addition, the Church Commissioners have committed £827,000 over six years, much of which will go towards the funding of posts to staff the community hub.
Some of the regular hirers that use the current facilities are:
Trefoil Guiding Guild
Parent and Toddle Group
Singing for the Brain
Truro Memory Café
Cornwall Faith Forum
Cornwall Fairtrade Hub
Cornwall Childrens Clothes Bank
Cornwall Refugee Resource Network
Friends of Face to Face
Breastfeeding support group
Cornwall Community Choir
All Saints Youth Club
City of Truro Male Choir
Acts 435 Crisis Support
Penn an Dre Residents Association
Cornwall Council Childrens Services
Cornwall Health Promotion
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.
Ok, so most of you will probably know that the origin of Halloween has two stories. The old Gaelic tradition of marking the end of the light half of the year and the start of the dark half of the year (only relevant in the Northern Hemisphere for October of course). The other story of Halloween is embedded in Christianity and the tradition of All Saints Day, or All Hallows Day as it used to be called. All Hallows, since the time of Pope Gregory III is kept each year on the 1st November, the day before All Hallows is All Hallows Eve. Say it quickly and you can work out that's how we get to Halloween. Sadly Halloween has been commercialised beyond all recognition, but that's for another time.
Just like Halloween we live our lives by two stories. There is the story we present most of the time. The strong story. The story that is told to move, to convince and to entertain those we share it with. It’s the kind of story we present at an interview, when we want to impress people, the facebook story. Then there is the other story. The story that we tell only those closest to us, a partner or trusted friend. The story we tell those trained to hear such stories, a counsellor, or confessor for example.
The world has two such stories, it has story of progress, invention, community, battles won, peace achieved and disaster relieved. But it also has the other story of pain, war, injustice and shame.
The church has two stories too. There’s the story of faith, courage, sacrifice and perfect love. That’s the story of All Saints. And then there’s the story of fragility, forgiveness, fear and foolishness. The story of All Souls.
Now here’s the interesting thing. We all make the same mistake, in thinking that God wants just the posh story. The strong story. of success, achievement, faithfulness, and battles won. The story of the cancer victory, or the healing miracle, the prayers answered, the champion of our ailments. And of course God does want that story, he delights in that story. He sent his son to tell that story. But it wasn’t the only story that Jesus told. It’s not the whole story for us.
You see God wants us to tell the real story. The All Souls story.
In this story we acknowledge and honour the intensity of loss, the pain of sorrow. On All Souls Day we trace the tracks of Jesus’ own tears at the grave of Lazarus, and remember that its ok to mourn, to grieve and to weep. We remember that the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. We remember that before new life there is death, before we rise we fall, and before true peace there is always tumult and pain. The real story is the story where we acknowledge both.
Eleven years ago my father died. He was 63 years old. Out of the blue he was taken in to hospital shortly after Christmas and finally returned in the May to die at home. I cannot tell you the number of times I prayed that he might be well. I don’t think I had accepted at any point during his illness that my father would actually die. Although my prayers were for my father’s recovery, God answered them in a different way. My father was always going to die. There was nothing I could do about that. But God’s care was not just for him but for me too.
You may be expecting me to say that in our grief God is closer to us than at any other time, that when we call to him, he responds, but I don’t see it like that. I think that sometimes there is a distance between us and God that is so tangible it cannot be ignored. There are times when we feel so far from God it hurts deep inside. When you feel your prayers are falling on deaf ears.
But there is a gift.
It’s strange. I see now that in the darkest moments when you feel most disconnected from God there is a gift. It might sound odd, it might even sound hardhearted on God’s part but God creates for us a space so we can grow closer to those we love. It was when I felt furthest from God that I actually felt closest to my father. In the void and the abyss of doubt and grief, and even anger at why it was happening I was closer to my father than I had ever been.
Let me give you another example. Mother Theresa had a crisis of faith. For many years, whilst working in that hospital and community in Calcutta Mother Theresa felt separated from God, she could not hear him or feel him. However, it did not stop her praying, reading, or loving. In fact during that time her ministry in Calcutta was exemplary, and has been considered a model of devotion and Christian living. In the detachment from God she found a renewed compassion for the world.
Here is another example. Jesus’ death on the cross. At the moment when the world’s pain and sin were on the shoulders of the Christ, when he had been rejected by his own people, cast out of the city, bearing the sins of the world, his most darkest hour, Jesus cried out the words “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Yet in that moment, when he felt the dark abyss opening and the profound sense of disconnection from his father he redeemed the world. He was glorified, and opened his arms wide to reconcile the world to God.
I know that this won’t be the case for everyone, but at the time I felt furthest from God, I felt closer to my father than at any other time. It was God’s gift to me and was the answer to my prayers. My God reduced so that the love between my father and me would be enlarged. And I thank God for that. I thank Him each time I remember my father.
As I have thanked God over the years I have begun to realise the lesson learnt, that in actual fact God was never absent. God was in the gift. He was closer than I could ever have imagined. I was blinded by the grief, but have now woken up to his presence in every moment of my life, even in the darkest moments. He was at the bedside of father, he was in our hands held together, he was in the cloth that wiped his brow. He was in the hands of those who cared for him. God was always in the gift, the gift of love that my father and I shared in his last days.
One of the great problems of faith is how we reconcile our belief in a loving God with the reality of a suffering world. I learnt that God was in my father’s suffering, he was there bearing the pain, taking each breath with him, in every blood cell lost, in every tear shed. This is the God of the cross, of the wilderness. He is the one who comforts and is close to the brokenhearted. He will comfort you, and strengthen you and care for you. And even when he feels far from us, his gift of love is not.
This reflection is based on Luke 12:49-53
“I have not come to bring peace but cause division”
All throughout Jesus' ministry we find tough passages which seem to sit in contrast with what we would like to hear and what we think of as Jesus message.
All too often we skate over them but we shouldn’t.
Jesus came to earth with a two-part mission; to bring God’s message of love for his creation and that he desires for us to love and to love one another; and to give ultimate act of love in his sacrifice of himself on the cross.
However, this message of love does not come without disclaimers which can feel very contrary to this. Here Jesus’ disclaimer is warning us to expect division.
This is not ‘Gentle Jesus Meek and Mild’, this is the Jesus who turned the tables in the temple.
Today we see division all around us.
Our country is deeply divided, the wounds of Brexit alone are far from healed and I fear they will continue to carve deep for generations to come.
We are not alone, America is similarly divided by President Trump, gun laws, abortion laws, immigration policies. India’s Hindu leadership seems intent on discriminating against their Muslim citizens, and in South Sudan, two sides claiming to be Christians continue to battle against each other.
Why are we surrounded by such division? Because we are being asked to make a choice. As the old hymn goes; “Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide, in the strife of truth with falsehood for the good or evil side.”
When tough choices have to be made there will be division.
This isn’t a case of do you like tomato ketchup or brown sauce, this is more vital than Remain or Leave. This is whether we have faith in God or not.
When we make the decision to follow Jesus we set ourselves apart and that will inevitably cause division. It is how to deal with that division which is important. We are called to love one another, love our neighbour, our enemy, even though division.
There are ways in which we can express our many differences, in love. With patience, listening, trying to understand, why people think the way they do, even if you don’t agree. Some of the best discussions can come from two people who are certain of why they think the way they do, and actually talk to each other about it, not shout at each other or put each other down. Not by picking holes or calling them names but in respectful conversation.
You only need to spend 10 minutes online reading the comments on any hot topic to see how quickly and easily it falls into a dark nasty place of name calling, condescension, and even people calling each other evil. So, I come to wonder if because Jesus tells us these divisions will be there, is it in these divisions we need to place ourselves and show love and react with love.
There is a famous saying my Martin Niemöller, a Lutheran pastor from the last century;
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Division is often where injustice is found and we know we are called to act against injustice. So yes, I think where division lies is where we need to take ourselves and to ask ourselves what side would Jesus be on? Where would he sit on immigration, gun control, a fair wage for all, fair access to health care, discrimination, those demonized and those attacked just for being who they are?
Rabbi Michael Adam Latz gives an alternative to Niemöller’s poem.
First they came for the African Americans and I spoke up--
Because I am my sisters’ and my brothers’ keeper.
And then they came for the women and I spoke up--
Because women hold up half the sky.
And then they came for the immigrants and I spoke up--
Because I remember the ideals of our democracy.
And then they came for the Muslims and I spoke up--
Because they are my cousins and we are one human family.
And then they came for the Native Americans and Mother Earth and I spoke up--
Because the blood-soaked land cries and the mountains weep.
They keep coming.
We keep rising up.
Because we Jews know the cost of silence.
We remember where we came from.
And we will link arms, because when you come for our neighbours, you come for us— and THAT just won’t stand.
I think is how it should go.
This is where our mission should be, discerning well what side of the division we should be, easing the pain, showing the love, reacting with patience and grace wanting to find understanding.
We shouldn’t be scared of division, it is to be expected, and we are to love through it, not avoid it.
Mrs Lydia Remick LLM
A dear friend of mine describes the early years with babies and small children as “the parched desert of early parenting”. It’s a rich, beautiful time, to be sure, but those are also years where reading The Jesus Storybook Bible may be as close as a parent gets to a devotional.
When getting up before the kids is impossible and bedtime signals the expiry of self-discipline, many of us find ourselves clinging to illustrations and words about a “never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love”. They’re all we have that just about convince us of the prayers we say over the tiny people we’re tucking in. This isn’t a post about improving your quiet time routine.
The idea of finding ourselves in the wilderness (and the wilderness has many ways of finding us - the baby haze is just one of them) denotes a stripping away of the familiar and safe. We may feel disoriented, anxious and alone. We may grieve a time when we didn’t feel this way. And we may discover that God is still here.
God is here when the things we thought we needed in order to assure God’s presence are stripped away. Laid bare, we may discover that we no longer have the time and energy to put up with religious nonsense.
That can propel us to make decisions that are a bit radical. Maybe we decide that we’re no longer happy to remain silent in the face of injustice when it calls itself love. We might accept that we don’t “do” small talk anymore when what we really want is to communally connect with a God willing to touch every part of us and to put us in touch with every part of ourselves.
When I became a mother, I spent a long time beating myself up for not reading the Bible more, praying more, going to small group more and generally serving the church more. The truth was, I was tired and my baby needed me so much, and I needed to melt into that for a while. I thought the doubts that were starting to surface were because I wasn’t doing the things I “should” rather than because a major life change was gifting me the space to question. I regarded doubt with alarm. She was an unwelcome visitor, best banished with repentance.
Gradually, I began to realise that I was afraid of asking too many questions of The Church because of the way I imagined God. The God I saw didn’t have time for my uncertainty. He was impatient, authoritarian and, above all, emotionally distant. I knew what we read and sang about Him but I couldn’t shake this image. However many times I heard that He loved me, it couldn’t touch me.
Then, in the parched desert of early parenting, something in me cracked and allowed love to rush in. Surely God was a mother nursing me at Her breast, allowing me to latch on in ways lay Her vulnerable, that brought me close enough that we could feel each other’s hearts, skin to skin. If I loved my children by listening to them, surely She did the same. Feeling nurtured by God, and therefore newly safe with God, made me realise that the questions were there because I needed to have better conversations about God.
So many of us find this in the desert, whatever takes us out there. We reach a point where we’re no longer satisfied with exhortations to forgive that go ahead of acknowledging trauma. We lose patience with talk of God’s healing in communities that aren’t equipped or interested in spending time with suffering. The idea of prayer feels shaky without the tools for discovering where the noise is and for taking apart our addictive reliance on people, roles and possessions.
In short, we yearn for conversations about God that go deeper and wider - to together touch something real. And that’s because God is so willing. The Divine heart is pressed against our battered little hearts, explaining gently but firmly that if that’s what we want, we’ll only get there if our conversations include everyone.
This blog was written by Adele Jarrett-Kerr. Adele and her family attend All Saints, she is a writer, home educator, breastfeeding counsellor, feminist, and Christian. Her frequently updated blog is a great source of support to families thinking about home-schooling, and also a place where ideas are shared for simply encouraging family well-being. You may also like to take a look at soulfarm.co.uk which is Adele and Lawrence's community supported farm that helps growers and the community work in partnership to develop sustainable local agriculture.
Pilgrimage – still relevant?
Over the last eighteenth months, I have been walking the Cornish Celtic Way as a pilgrimage, in 22 stages. The ‘Way’ is a walk of about 128 miles starting in St Germans and finishing on St Michael’s Mount, wrapping its way around Cornwall and taking in much of the Celtic heritage of Cornwall. I walked the ‘Way’ in sections accompanied by two very close friends, and it was a really special experience.
Special because walking in this way – an outward journey with an inner purpose – somehow connects us with something ‘other’.
Pilgrimages first came to the fore in the Middle Ages when they were a widespread and accepted part of spiritual life, be it for seeking healing, deepening relationship with God, or as a penitential journey. The impulse to go on a pilgrimage has never really gone away but it is definitely enjoying a resurgence at this time in Britain and Europe. Record numbers are visiting Walsingham in Norfolk and undertaking the ‘Camino’ – a long pilgrimage route to the shrine of St James in Santiago de Compostela. The ‘Camino’ has many routes to the same destination, with one starting in Cornwall!
Today people walk for many different reasons. Perhaps a change in their life direction or relationships; or perhaps to mark a special birthday, retirement, or other occasion for giving thanks. It provides the opportunity to step aside of the busyness of our lives, to seek a time of quiet and reflection. It gives us the chance to ‘walk through’ those issues that we have on our minds, whatever they might be.
Along the Cornish Celtic Way, the scenery is stunning, the going sometimes easy and sometimes strenuous, but the impact of doing this walk is somehow more than the sum of its constituent parts. Perhaps of particular significance on the Cornish Celtic Way is that it allows us to reconnect with our cultural heritage and the natural world. The beauty of the ever-changing landscapes throughout the walk is breath-taking and certainly feeds the soul. But equally the reminders of, and encounters with, some 90 Celtic Saints, in the form Celtic crosses, chapels, holy wells, and the names of very many villages make their impact too. Reflecting on how much we owe to those who brought Christianity to this beautiful part of the world helps us connect with the long Christian history here in Cornwall.
Walking with others adds a different dimension to pilgrimage. Of course, there are times – particularly when struggling one of the many ‘ascents and descents’ one encounters – when the walker is living in their own head, with their own thoughts and reflections. However, at other times when the going is easier or when one stops to catch breath or for refreshment then conversations and sharing can happen. Sharing such an experience can deepen friendship, and it also always adds to one’s own pleasure to share those breath-taking views or the beauty and peace of a chapel.
Another really special part of this walk is the experiencing of hospitality and welcome offered by many of the churches and chapels along the route. On a really hot day with many fairly arduous miles behind us there is nothing better than to enter a cool church to be welcomed by the offer of cool water or squash and a biscuit; or, to be provided with a place to shelter from the rain for a while. We met so many interesting people along the way, shared experiences and tips, were helped when we had inadvertently strayed from the correct path, and given encouragement. I found parts of Cornwall that I didn’t know at all and probably would have never found had I not been doing this walk.
As I walked, I reflected on the fact that Jesus and his disciples walked everywhere they went. They too would have experienced the pleasure of sharing a journey, of being offered hospitality, of having time to think, reflect and talk together. They too perhaps struggled when the way was arduous, or when the heat became intense. They too would have known the joy of a cool drink of water from a well. Their journeys always had a purpose, they were driven by a desire to bring a message to God’s people but I believe these journeys were probably essential times, times of preparation and teaching, of working things out and time to think. And, of course, we know the significance of the walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus for two of Jesus’ disciples who encountered the risen Jesus on that walk (Luke 24:13- 35).
Defining pilgrimage as an outward journey with an inner purpose seems to exactly how I have experienced my own experience of walking the Cornish Celtic Way. Stepping away from daily life intentionally and taking myself away into some beautiful but sometimes isolated places, combined with exercise and exploring Celtic Christianity strengthened my faith and inspired me. It felt a special, set-aside time for God during a time of transition as I reflected on my journey towards ordination. For me, the psalmists sum up the essence of walking this pilgrimage – “You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11), and, “Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me” (Psalm 25:4).
The news of the last few weeks has been full of examples of different public opinions clashing. We have been reminded of the protests in Tiananmen Square with the haunting images of that sole protestor walking defiantly in front of the rolling tanks, something now silenced and erased from China’s history and its’ people’s memory, but still very much remembered across the rest of the world. A brave yet costly stand against communism and a fight for the rights of ordinary people brutally crushed! Here at home, we have seen antisemitism raise its ugly head once again with careless words going global because the person who said them thought it was off the record! Views on Brexit remain as polarised as ever, and party politics remain personal often reflecting behaviour of the school playground. The visit by Donald Trump has sparked very diverse responses to both the individual and the office that he holds and there are challenges over differences on China and climate change which are counterbalanced by the role of the allies in the D Day Landings. And now we have entered a leadership contest where respect and dignity are in short supply.
Everywhere we look, whether on the global stage, in domestic politics, in our pluralistic society with all its diverse heritages and cultures, religion, we find a spectrum of opinion which creates a rich tapestry of what it means to be human. However, what we appear to be in danger of losing is the valuing and embracing of such a wealth of conflicting ideas, beliefs, traditions and voices which can be the seed bed for real creativity. We only need to watch Question Time to see how people talk over one another, take delight in putting down others, project their view as the only possibility, get their point across by being the loudest voice and become personal and belittling in their comments.
Some-how we seem to have lost sight of the fact that there is a great nobility in accepting and respecting that which is different. Statesmanship appears to be a dying art. Being able to freely express points of view courteously, to listen attentively as well as to speak passionately, to consider that the other may, in fact, be right and have something of real value to add to the debate or discussion, to have sufficient humility to concede that our own views may be flawed or that there is a better way of doing something takes far more skill and discernment and affords far more respect than entrenchment that must win out at all costs. Focussing on what is right and true should take precedence over partisan lines but above all honouring the other as a fellow human being no matter what their opinion, might just make way for mutual consensus and accountability and it may just ease the road to compromise and the greater good. The deeper we regard one another as fellow human beings, and dare I say it, even friends, and the greater the respect we foster for one another the higher the expectations we have of each other become. We learn to see beyond the opposing opinion, to the story that informs it, and the experience that shapes it. The more we see, learn and understand others’ opinions, the more we grow and the greater and more encompassing our vision becomes.
Jesus spoke a lot about what it means to be a good neighbour, about caring for the weak, the marginalised, the foreigner and he gave a us a pretty challenging commandment to love each other as He loves us. In this Easter resurrection and ascension tide we think about His kingdom and its values where the ultimate outcome and agenda is already set by Christ Himself, and where all have an equal standing. In this kingdom childlike squabbling has no place and diversity in all its wonder is cherished. Whilst paramount to this kingdom is social justice, in the acceptance of difference comes unity. Perhaps it is only when we accept that we are all different, and that we truly begin to value and appreciate our uniqueness and treasure our diversity that we will begin to discover the wonder of unity, the strength of wholeness and the creativity of completeness.
A collection of thoughts and reflections from the people of All Saints.