The echo of a vision

It was a hard week, last week.  If you haven’t read my various blogs from the General Synod then you can find a link through on the sidebar.  But no doubt you will have heard about the debate on Wednesday in response to the report from the House of Bishops on sexuality and same-sex marriage.  Since then a number of things have happened.  The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have issued a statement – you can read that here – and various bishops have issued Pastoral Letters, including one by the Bishop of Southwark which you can read here.

General Synod - London

A silent vigil at the start of Wednesday

 

Other groups will be preparing their statements, making their assessments of what was said, reflecting on the vote, lauding or criticising the House of Clergy, suggesting its the best outcome or the worst.

One thing that encouraged me, however, was hearing Archbishop Justin’s speech, the last one in the Take Note debate on the report, much of which found its way into the Archbishops’ Pastoral Letter.

The letter says

‘We need a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church …. The way forward needs to be about love, joy and celebration of our common humanity; of our creation in the image of God, of our belonging to Christ – all of us, without exception, without exclusion.’

There was something of an echo of a vision in this.  I know that makes no sense, but bear with me, please.  You may remember that at Southwark Cathedral we’ve been working on new vision and priorities for the next season of our life.  The vision statement that we finally arrived at is this

Southwark Cathedral an inclusive Christian community growing in orthodox faith and radical love.

That is the vision and in what the Archbishop said there were clear echoes of what the community at the Cathedral has pledged itself to be and pledged itself to working together to be more perfectly.  So I was delighted.  It means though that we really have to move forward and to get on with the work and the witness to which we believe God is directing us.

However, that will not be easy because there will be many in the Diocese for whom we have care and concern, for whom we are the Mother Church, who will not agree with us, who will have serious disagreements with us.  At the end of the day this all boils down to how you regard Scripture and what authority it has in the life of the church.  The Archdeacon of Southwark, Dr Jane Steen, in her first speech in Synod, compared the way in which the Church of England coped with the remarriage of those previously married who have a former partner still alive, even though Jesus is very explicit in his teaching on the subject.  Nevertheless, in 1992 the House of Bishops issued guidelines to help the clergy make a decision about whether such a marriage could take place in church and those same clergy were given latitude in their decision on the grounds of their own conscience based on the reading of Scripture.  Why can’t the same apply in deciding whether or not to bless a same-gender relationship?

Well, talking to some who do take a different position they suggest that Scripture envisages and allows for the fact that relationships fail but that the issue of committed relationships is part of the created order, because there it is in Genesis 2

‘Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.’ (Genesis 2.24)

This critical verse is then repeated in Matthew 19.5, Mark 10.7 and Ephesians 5.31.  That really does make this an authoritative text for many.  It’s interesting that the debate has moved on to focus on the issue of marriage rather than the issue of homosexuality.  Perhaps people are beginning to accept that LGBTI people really do exist but cannot accept that they can live in blessed relationships because such a relationship is contrary to scripture, contrary to creation, and thereby is sinful and what is sinful cannot be called holy by blessing it.

Empfang des Eheringes

With this ring …

 

So that is where we seem to be and its going to take some radical love within the church to move that one forward.  But the end point of the discussions seems to have been identified and that is the really good thing that has come out of the Synod debate – that ‘we need a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church.’ That is the task and that is the goal.

I was at Premier Radio’s studios on Friday recording some ‘thoughts for the day’ but also being interviewed for another programme.  That involved, in ‘Desert Island Discs’ style, choosing three favourite pieces of music.  I won’t give it all away but one of them was a hymn written by Fr Faber.  Frederick William Faber was ordained a priest of the Church of England before converting to Roman Catholicism.  He was a Victorian and a friend of John Henry Newman.  But he’s best known for his hymns.  The one that I chose is ‘There’s a wideness in God’s mercy.’

It was written in 1862 but it seems so modern and relevant and its sentiments seem to echo the vision that we have in Southwark and that we now have in the Church of England as a consequence of last week. One verse says

For the love of God is broader
than the measure of man’s mind;
and the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.
But we make His love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we magnify His strictness
With a zeal He will not own.

It’s a fantastic expression of the vision, an echo from another age into ours.  We now need the grace and the guts to get on with the task.

Lord,
direct your church
as we seek to embrace the vision
and sing songs that echo with your love.
Amen.

Putting the pieces together

I have to apologise.  After my last post from Masvingo there’s been the blog equivalent of ‘radio silence’.  The simple explanation for that is that after we left Masvingo on Wednesday there was either no Wi-Fi or no time! So I need to put the final pieces together of the Zimbabwean journey that we’ve now completed through the five Anglican dioceses.

One of the themes of the visit, and indeed of the life of the church in Zimbabwe and I suspect in other parts of the world in which the church has been formed by missionaries, is the presence of ‘missions’.  In both the diocese of Masvingo and the Diocese of Manicaland which we went on to, there are significant missions.

The first we saw was Christ the King, Daramombe, the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the diocese and perhaps the Zimbabwean church.  This was a return visit for me and a very welcome one.  The mission comprises a primary school, residential secondary school, a clinic, a church and, of course, attendant agricultural projects.  The mission is more like a village in itself, providing for the lives of the local people and people from a wider area the things they need, practically and spiritually.  As before we were met at the gates of the mission by a corps of drum majorettes who led us triumphantly into the secondary school and to a very hot hall in which the whole school was assembled awaiting our arrival.

img_0372

Being marched to assembly

 

It was an impressive sight, as was the ‘computer village’ now nearing completion.  USPG are funding this latest development which will provide the students at every level with state of the art computer facilities for learning.  It was wonderful to see.

img_0383

Touring the new ‘computer village’

 

The visits we made in the Diocese of Manicaland were often to a school alongside which something else was happening.  So at the Holy Family School we saw the construction of new blocks to enable the school to expand and provide residential facilities.  At Mary Magdalene’s School we saw a maize project covering 17 hectares of land that will provide for the local schools and communities in an effort to increase food security.

img_0405

Building new blocks

 

But the place I wanted to go to was St Augustine’s Penhalonga.  Again, this is a mission in the diocese, a few miles outside of Mutare. In that mission there is both a primary and secondary school, a convent, and a magnificent church.  It’s a school that achieves excellent results and has a high reputation.  But the reason I wanted to go was because of the association with the Community of the Resurrection, Mirfield.

img_0416

The magnificent St Augustine’s Penhalonga

 

When I was at the College of the Resurrection to be formed for priestly ministry I would often idle away time looking at the college photo albums.  For those now there I feature in the pages that cover the years 1980-83! But earlier in the albums were pictures from the life of the Community in Africa.  CR was present and significant in both South Africa and, what was then, Rhodesia.  The focus of their life in what is now Zimbabwe was at St Augustine’s and I remembered looking at the black and white pictures of the twin towered church so reminiscent of the community church in West Yorkshire.

As we drove down the dirt road that leads to the mission all of a sudden, through the trees, I saw the two towers and it was a really emotional moment.  Drawing into the grounds and before the west end of the church is amazing.  This enormous, brick built, cathedral-like structure, is awe inspiring.  We did the formalities, met the Headmaster and the Chaplain and were then led into the church.  What we found was not just a magnificent basilica in the heart of Africa but a church filling up with students.  The Practice, I suppose begun by CR (it was so reminiscent of life at the College and Community), was for the young people to undertake their private prayers, meditation and devotions in the church before the evening Office.  Two boys were knelt in silent adoration before the domed tabernacle in the side chapel where the Sacrament is reserved.  The nave was full of children praying silently, preparing for Evensong.

img_0419

The Blessed Sacrament altar

 

I wandered around, delighted to be there.  It felt a bit like coming home, coming to a very special place, a very special mission, God’s mission for God’s people – a final piece in the jigsaw.

Alongside the church is the Convent where we met the eight Sisters who are resident there.  I was asked to visit an elderly sister, Sister Hilda, who was ill in bed.  Would I pray with her before I left, I was asked. I was led to her room and there was the elderly sister in bed, in her habit, and it was a privilege to pray for her healing, to lay hands on her and bless her.

img_0448

With the sisters at Penhalonga

 

The Zimbabwean journey ended for us in Harare. That diocese if actually linked with the Diocese of Rochester but we took the opportunity to meet Bishop Chad and some of his clergy, not least the Dean and those who went to Jerusalem with clergy from Southwark and Rochester, to study at St George’s College.  It was fantastic to hear what the church is doing and planning to do in that part of what is a fantastic country.

So, from the ‘Smoke that thunders’ through five dioceses, along miles of roads, many destroyed by the floods that have followed the drought, we’ve seen more maize than I’ve ever seen before, thousands of chickens and hundreds of pigs being reared, even more children being educated, women being empowered through the work of the Mothers’ Union to serve their communities and feed their families, missions making Christ known and a church in very good heart.

Next year the nation engages in fresh elections and people are looking to those and praying for a peaceful expression of their hopes for the future.  It was wonderful for me to meet my five fellow Deans and see the cathedrals in which they serve, to meet the friends I made in Jerusalem and talk about how we can continue to study together and learn from each other, to experience the hospitality of people who’ve very little but from hearts overflowing with love will wash your hands and sit you at their table and feed you richly.

ikea-fresh-water__1364309359785-s4

Overflowing generosity

 

It was that hospitality that reminded me so much of an episode in St Luke’s Gospel.  Jesus has been invited to supper at the home of Simon the Pharisee.  A women turns up, a notorious woman, who ministers to Jesus much to the shock of the other guests at the table.  But it’s the comparison that Jesus draws between Simon and the woman that’s so important.

‘I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment ….. she has shown great love.’ (Luke 7.44-47)

The love that I experienced, the care, the generosity, was Christ-like.  It’s a challenge to me, as was the breadth and reality of their concept of mission, their devotion to the Lord through prayer and praise and the sacraments, their passion for responding to the needs of their society, their deep down optimism that in Christ all will be well. We have so much to learn.  Putting these pieces together has been one lesson for me.

This is the prayer that we pray each day at the map of Zimbabwe in the nave of Southwark Cathedral and that the children pray each day at assembly in Cathedral School.  Pray with us – please – for the great people of Zimbabwe.

God bless Zimbabwe;
protect her children,
transform her leaders,
heal her communities,
and grant her peace,
for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.

What a difference..

.. two years makes!  It’s two years since I was in our link diocese of Masvingo.  This is the youngest of the five Zimbabwean Anglican dioceses.  In fact the diocese is 15 years old this year and we will be celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Cathedral link next year.  This morning we left the Diocese of Central Zimbabwe and drove south to the city of Masvingo.

Bishop Godfrey and his wife, Albertina, met us outside St Michael’s Cathedral.  It was great to see so many friends waiting for us to arrive.  What was planned for the morning were opportunities for Bishop Godfrey and Bishop Christopher to meet, for me to meet Fr Gerald, the Cathedral Rector (the Bishop is acting as Dean at the present time), for Jane Steen, the Archdeacon of Southwark, to meet with the 6 archdeacons from this diocese and, finally, for Wendy Robins, Fr Fungayi and me to meet as we had all been in Jerusalem in November.  These meetings were fantastically useful and especially in learning that we are all facing the same challenges, but to different degrees.

img_0351

Bishop Godfrey at the bore hole

 

In the afternoon we headed out of town to the Transfiguration Centre.  This is a food security project which aims to give skills to villagers in farming and animal husbandry.  There are fields of maize, sheds of chickens, pigs and goats.  We came to this centre two years ago and this is a project that the congregation at Southwark Cathedral has been supporting.  When we were last here the bore hole needed to be sunk to a deeper level to find water, the fields were empty and the project needed to up its game.  There has been a transfiguration! The bore hole with its pump was working; the maize was tall and full of heads of corn; the chicks were healthy, the pigs well looked after and the goats delightful.  A tractor is there to make farming more efficient and in one of the chicken houses a new Anglican congregation gathers for worship in the months when the chickens are not in the shed.  It really is wonderful to see all of this.

img_0355

The chicken shed church

 

What was particularly encouraging was that in addition to growing the maize, healthy and strong, a new congregation is also being grown.  I was reminded of a passage from St Mark’s Gospel

‘The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’ (Mark 4.28-29)

Jesus is not just talking about farming but about building the kingdom, growing the kingdom and seeing a good harvest.  We saw that happening – food security being addressed but also doing what we are called to do, to make Christ known and bring his people to worship.

Lord of the harvest,
for the harvest of the field,
for the harvest of the kingdom,
we thank you.
Amen.

Mazviita

Those who know me will be aware that I’m appalling at speaking languages other than English – and sometimes even that is challenging!  I was therefore a bit surprised when I went home to see my Dad the other day and he presented me with all my school reports that my Mum had carefully kept in the ‘deed box’ and in reading through them I discovered that my highest grade was for French!  How did that happen!

Similarly I was surprised today when I finally learnt a word of Shona, the local language, the first language for many, of the people we are visiting here in Zimbabwe.  I was really grateful to learn that ‘mazviita’ (pronounced mash-vita) is Shona for ‘thank you’.

Cooking sadza in industrial proportions


And it was timely as I wanted to say a big thank you, a big mazvitta for today.  Most of the day involved a visit to St Patrick’s Mission.  It’s a large mission owned and run by the Diocese of Central Zimbabwe that lies about 30 kms outside of Gweru. The first part to be built was a primary school.  But now there’s a secondary school for 800 boys and girls (borders and day pupils) through to the end of the VIth form, a clinic (where we met a mother and her twin boys born this very morning) and a connecting hospital almost ready to open, a convent of the Community of the Holy Fire, a retreat centre and a farm with cows and maize and bees.

What is amazing is the vision and commitment and determination of the people to succeed, sometimes, often, against tremendous odds.  They have new ideas constantly for how to make the place even better.  My caution that often stops me doing things is not something that affects them at all – they simply go for it and, after all, what else can they do.

Bishop Christopher meets the bees


I was thinking about a verse from the book of Proverbs

‘Without vision the people perish.’ (Proverbs 29.18)

If it was simply down to vision then this people would undoubtedly flourish. They were a challenge to my lack of courage, my own lack of vision and often that lack of passion that our church exhibits.  Mazvitta, sisters and brothers of St Patrick’s Mission.  At the end of an almost impassable road, right there where the bush encroaches on otherwise fertile ground you are building the kingdom and it is a blessing for all of us.

Holy Fire,
burn within us
and fill us with vision,
courage
and passion
for your kingdom.
Amen.

Salt and light

It’s now the third day in Zimbabwe and we’ve moved from Victoria Falls, from where I last posted a blog, through Bulawayo and now to Gweru in the Diocese of Central Zimbabwe.  That’s been a long journey along roads damaged as a result of the heavy rainfall that this country has experienced latterly.  From going from a situation of drought they’re now experiencing flooding and I saw the spectacular effects of that at the Victoria Falls, but the evidence is all around.

The high altar at Bulawayo


This morning I had the joy of being at the Cathedral of St John the Baptist in Bulawayo with Dean Fritz who I had the pleasure of meeting when we both in Jerusalem at St George’s College.  Fritz invited me to preach at the Choral Eucharist.  The congregation filled the Cathedral – many young people, many members of the Mothers’ Union in their uniforms seated at the front of the nave and some in the choir.

The gospel for today was Matthew 5:13-16 and so I preached about salt as the gospel begins with that double command of Jesus to us

‘You are the salt of the earth …You are the light of the world.’ (Matthew 5.13, 14)

One of the things that I was really looking forward to on my return to Zimbabwe was to be able to eat sadza again.  This is the staple food in Zimbabwe and, though called by other names, throughout parts of southern Africa.  It’s a stodgy ‘porridge’ made of cornmeal that you eat with your main course, like mashed potato in our context.  You find the members of the Mothers’ Union stirring vast cauldrons of it whenever there’s a feast.  The thing is without anything to give it taste it is tasteless (so it seems to me) but just as with porridge and a sprinkling of salt or sugar it becomes something altogether different.

The wonderful team who cooked for us


Jesus is so brilliant at taking the most ordinary thing and speaking of faith by referring to it – light, a mustard seed, a city set on a hill, a farmer sowing seed, a cloud on the horizon, a lost sheep, a lost coin.  They, like salt, are things that we all understand, whatever our situation.

Driving the long distances and seeing tiny hamlets in the middle of the bush, just a few thatched huts in which people are living a subsistence lifestyle, filling up on their bowl of sadza with a few vegetables and maybe, but only maybe, a chicken, you wonder where the similarity with us and our overblown lifestyle can be.

But it is in the simplicity of salt that we can find some truth.  The challenge I gave to the congregation this morning and to myself is whether, they, we, I, brought the flavour of Christ to the world in which we moved, the savour of Jesus, that heightened experience of faith that makes life flavoursome.  Jesus says if we are not doing that we are as useless as non-salty salt and that the life we are living is bland.

Jesus wants us to live the full flavour life that he brings.  In a testimony in Southwark Cathedral the other week (yes, we do have testimonies from time to time) the member of the congregation being interviewed was asked what word of encouragement she had from the Lord for the congregation.  In answer she told us that the text she was given at Confirmation is the one that she lives by

‘I came that they may have life, and have it in all its fullness.’ (John 10.10)

That is what having the flavour of Jesus in our lives is all about.  That’s what I see around me in faithful people here.  But am I still salty?

Lord,
fill me with the flavour of Jesus
that I may be salt to the earth.
Amen.

The smoke that thunders

It’s hard to describe just how fantastic the Victoria Falls are.  They are massive yet you seem to be able to get so close to the water pouring over the edge as the Zambezi drops a distance of some 355 feet down into the gorge below.  A cloud of water droplets is thrown into the air and rises constantly from the falls.  One ‘factoid’ you may like is that the quantity of water needed by Johannesburg for two days descends over the falls in just one minute.  The real name of the waterfall is Mosi-oa-Tunya which means, ‘The Smoke that Thunders’ and the falls live up to their traditional name – the smoke rising and the thunderous noise sounding.

img_5710

Our first sight of the thunderous smoke

 

At the present time the waters are swollen as a result of much higher rainfall than is usual.  The irony is that Zimbabwe was suffering as a result of drought, now she suffers as a result of the floods.  As we say ‘It never rains but it pours.’

I was reminded of the psalmist, who obviously knew a thing or two about the grandeur of waterfalls,

Deep calls to deep
   at the thunder of your waterfalls.
(Psalm 42.7)

It could have been written of this place. It is said by some to be one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, and standing there, transfixed by the sight of so much water and overawed by the sound it makes you give thanks for the sheer wonder of creation. Deep truly does call to deep – you never escape the sound of the waters in this place.

img_5714

The statue of Livingstone

 

So this is where this journey through Zimbabwe has begun for us.  Victoria Falls lies on the boundary between Zimbabwe and Zambia and the Zambezi Bridge spans the divide, built in 1905 under the direction of Cecil Rhodes. And it was here that David Livingstone came on 17 November 1855, perhaps the first European to see the falls.  His statue still looks out over them.  But we are here not to do sightseeing, though this first day has been wonderful, but to visit the dioceses, their cathedrals, parishes and their many projects with which we in the Diocese of Southwark and at the Cathedral are linked.  So there will be plenty to see and tell you about.

But here where the smoke thunders we glimpsed something of the awesome nature of God.

Creator God,
in a single drop of water,
in a mighty waterfall,
we glimpse the delicacy
and the awesomeness
of all that you have made.
Amen.

Visiting Zimbabwe

Those of you who are familiar with life at Southwark Cathedral will know that one of the joys of our life is our link with the Diocese of Masvingo in Zimbabwe. Bishop Christopher made the suggestion that we should visit all the dioceses in the country and their cathedrals. So that, my friends, is what I’m doing. The Archdeacon of Southwark, Jane Steen and the Communications Director, Wendy Robins make up the rest of the party.

Jane and Wendy struggle connecting to the free wifi


So at the moment we’re in Johannesburg Airport waiting for a transfer flight to Victoria Falls. I’ve only been to Masvingo Diocese so far so this will all be new. It will also give me the opportunity to meet up with the priests who were with us in Jerusalem in November. 

Keep us in your prayers as we keep the people of Zimbabwe in ours. 

God bless Zimbabwe. Amen. 

Step by step

The Chinese proverb, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”, is powerfully true. I thought about that when I was listening to a survivor of the Holocaust speak on Monday to the packed Chamber at City Hall in London, people gathered to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day later in the week. We heard from two people, one a Jewish lady who had miraculously survived a concentration camp as a child and the other, a man from Cambodia, who had survived Pol Pot’s ‘Killing Fields’. It was powerful listening to them, their courage and their apparent lack of bitterness but instead the tremendous courage they had to tell their story, so that we could learn the lessons.

Piles of shoes at Auschwitz where so many journeys ended

Piles of shoes at Auschwitz where so many journeys ended

That was on Monday of last week, in preparation for Holocaust Memorial Day on Friday. But Monday was the first full day ‘at work’ for the new President of the United States, Donald Trump. Now, I apologise. If you follow this blog you don’t want me just moaning on about Trump and Brexit. But after writing hopefully and positively last week about how Trump might be a new Cyrus I have to say that I have been left reeling and feeling deeply disturbed by what we have seen over this last week and by the end of the week I just felt sick. The thing is that there is another ‘proverb’, not Chinese but in fact a quote from the 18th century British parliamentarian, Edmund Burke.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

In 1775 in a debate in the House of Commons on reconciliation with the people of the American colonies, Burke said

‘The people of the colonies are descendants of Englishmen…. They are therefore not only devoted to liberty, but to liberty according to English ideas and on English principles.’

He went on to say that the values and principles by which they lived came from the Christian, protestant roots that we share. This last week however has seen the values and the principles, the liberty which we thought that we shared coming under attack.

The one thing that you can say about President Trump is that he is true to his word. The news footage of him each day, with glee, surrounded by his apparatchiks, signing these Executive Orders, has been shocking. It has coincided with the release of the film ‘La La Land’ (I haven’t seen it yet but can’t wait to) but that, at least the title, seems to describe what sometimes seems to go on in my liberal head. I thought ‘Well…that was all for the campaign, to win the votes; he won’t do it.’ La, la, la. In just a few days we have seen him sign the orders to build a wall, build oil pipelines through First Nation lands, dismantle Obamacare, remove support from NGOs who work with women needing an abortion, from the UN, from development agencies, reintroducing the possibility of torture and finally as the coup de gras closing the  borders of the USA to refugees from Syria and people coming form seven Muslim majority nations. As someone said, there are tears down the face of the statue of Liberty.

Decriminalisation, demonization, repression and worst happen, not usually in a single decisive act but step by step, by the slow chipping away at the values of a society and at human rights. We ignore the first step and then suddenly realise we have travelled a long way into a very frightening place. If we don’t cry out when things are wrong, if we keep silent, do nothing then the consequences of inaction are terrible, if not evil.

In these past days with all these things happening I’ve been praying through something the prophet Micah says

What does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
(Micah 6.8)

This is the journey that we should be on, doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly alongside God who is always journeying.  Step by step, action by action, we reveal more and more of the kingdom. We build bridges and not walls.  We fight fire not with fire but with love. We seek the needs of the other before our own needs and we realise that God’s option is always for the poor and the marginalised and the weakest and those seeking a place of safety.

Walk humbly with your God

Walk humbly with your God

In 1964, during the Sterling crisis, Harold Wilson, the then Prime Minister is remembered as saying

‘A week is a long time in politics’

Let’s see where next week takes us but if we are walking it in humility with God there is a chance it may take us somewhere better.

God,
may I do justice,
love kindness,
walk in humility,
and never
turn a blind eye to
what is going on.
Amen.

God moves in mysterious ways

In the 6th century BC Cyrus, the King of Persia, conquered Babylon.  At that stage the Jews were in captivity in Babylon, their Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and they wept ‘by the rivers of Babylon’ (Psalm 137) to be restored to their homeland. This pagan king enters the scene and instead of becoming another oppressor of the Jews becomes their surprising champion and liberator.  The Prophet Isaiah, or at least the writer of what is commonly known as Deutero-Isaiah (chapters 40-55), is a fan of Cyrus and his name crops up numerous times.

Cyrus the Great

Cyrus the Great

He is celebrated, he is praised in words like this

Thus says the Lord .. who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd,
and he shall carry out all my purpose’;
and who says of Jerusalem, ‘It shall be rebuilt’,
and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid.’
Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus,
whose right hand I have grasped
to subdue nations before him
and strip kings of their robes,
to open doors before him—
and the gates shall not be closed.
(Isaiah 44.28-45.1)

The reason I mention all of this is that I, with lots of other ‘liberals’, have been ringing my hands in anguish as the Obama’s moved out of the White House and the Trumps moved in. But, I have to stop it, well, at least for a moment. The democratic process rolled into action and, with or without the help of Russia, Donald Trump was elected as the 45th President of the United States of America.  People saw in him something that they thought they needed, they heard something from him that they responded to and, in doing so, rejected what had gone before.  That is their democratic right.

But re-reading Deutero-Isaiah has reminded me that God uses for good what is there.  Cyrus is recorded, not just in the Bible but in contemporary records, as the liberator of the Jews and the one who allowed the Temple to be rebuilt.  He also treated other captive peoples in a similar way.  He was a much bigger and wiser man than people might have feared.

We sometimes sing the hymn ‘God moves..’ the first verse of which says

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

The author of the hymn was William Cowper and it was the last hymn he wrote.  There is an unsubstantiated story that goes along with it.  Cow­per oft­en strug­gled with de­press­ion and doubt. One night he de­cid­ed to com­mit su­i­cide by drown­ing him­self. He called a cab and told the driv­er to take him to the River Thames. How­ev­er, thick fog came down and pre­vent­ed them from find­ing the riv­er. After driv­ing around for a while, the cab­by fin­al­ly stopped and let Cow­per out. To Cowper’s sur­prise, he found him­self on his own door­step: God had sent the fog to keep him from kill­ing him­self.

Even the fog can be a blessing

Even the fog can be a blessing

Even in our dark­est mo­ments, God watch­es over us.  Who knows what President Trump will actually do and actually achieve? Who knows what will emerge from the Brexit process that will be positive for us and for Europe? I just can’t wring my hands for the next however many years lie ahead of us.  As a democrat and as a liberal I have to accept that not everything can go the way I would want it to go.  I have to accept that there can be a Cyrus and that the fog can deliver me.  But that is tough to accept.

What we do have to do however is to keep watchful.  Isaiah goes on in Chapter 45 to write this

I have aroused Cyrus in righteousness,
   and I will make all his paths straight;
he shall build my city
   and set my exiles free,
not for price or reward,
   says the Lord of hosts.
(Isaiah 45.13)

We look for the good works that show the hand of God and we look for the one who will act selflessly, ‘not for price or reward’. That will be a hard deal for Trump who knows ‘The Art of the Deal’, but that is the deal God offer’s, in God’s wonderful and mysterious way.

I must have the courage to pray the prayer I have used in this blog before, by former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjöld.

For all that has been,
Thanks.
To all that shall be,
Yes.
Amen.

Frozen

Winter is a time for telling tales, a time for listening to stories. I’ve been playing catch-up recently.  A few months ago I bought the DVD of the Disney film ‘Frozen’. I wanted to know what all the fuss was about.  I’d seen the array of school bags, thermos flasks, games, cards, books, pencil cases, and costumes, plus much, much more that the shops were all selling and people had told me how lovely the film was.  But after putting it into my shopping trolley I hadn’t got round to putting the disc into the player and sitting down and watching it. So I did.

The Snow Queen

The Snow Queen

You know, I thought it was lovely.  But I knew I would.  It’s no secret that I’m an old romantic, that I love a musical and a good cry.  So it had all the ingredients that I like.  But it had something else as well. If you were to do an exegesis on the film you would discover, like ‘Q’ in the background of the gospels, that the Hans Christian Andersen story of ‘The Snow Queen’ was one of the inspirations for ‘Frozen’. Ok, so there’s no talking snowman in Andersen’s story but the hearts are frozen by the touch of the Snow Queen.

 

Like many story tellers, like Dickens who was  writing at a similar time, Andersen reflected on the social issues of the day, examined contemporary morality and through his stories continues to make us think about deeper things. One of my favourite short stories that he tells is of ‘The Little Match Girl’. This week I’m going next door to the Deanery into the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the Globe Theatre to see their production of Match Girl and some happier stories.  The truth is that this little story about this little girl is heart rending on the page and, I’m sure, on the stage.

It’s the story of a poverty stricken family, of a little girl who will be beaten by her father if she goes back home without selling the little bundle of matches she has carried into the winter street in her apron to sell.  Andersen writes

In a corner formed by two houses, of which one advanced more than the other, she seated herself down and cowered together. Her little feet she had drawn close up to her, but she grew colder and colder, and to go home she did not venture, for she had not sold any matches and could not bring a farthing of money.

It’s a tragic story and at the end the child is found

‘frozen to death on the last evening of the old year.’

Andersen was reflecting on the levels of child poverty in his own day in his own society and through this story, aimed at children, will have touched the hearts of the adults reading it to them as they tucked their more middle class and fortunate children in bed beneath a fluffy eiderdown.

This weekend we celebrated at Southwark Cathedral the tenth anniversary of the ROBES Project.  This is a cold weather shelter run by churches of all denominations in the north Southwark and north Lambeth areas.  It aims to reach out to those without a home who with just a little support and security can find their way back into mainstream society, back into accommodation and back into work.  It is a very successful project and over the years many people, men and women, have been helped off the streets and back into a more stable, safer life.  I have been pleased to have played a small part in that by sleeping out each year to raise money for the project.  After the sleep-out last November we have raised almost £100k and the money is still coming in.

But it is a sad indictment of our society that a story published back in 1845 in Denmark is still of relevance today.  There are still people frozen on our streets and there are still hearts frozen to the needs of the homeless.

Jesus identifies himself with those frozen out of home and out of society when he says

‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ (Matthew 8.20)

homeless-jesus

‘Homeless Jesus’

 

Recently Manchester Council agreed to put a statue called ‘Homeless Jesus’ designed by Timothy Schmalz, a Canadian sculptor, into their public space.  It shows Jesus on a bench, asleep.  It’s the Jesus who challenges each of us in Matthew 25 with those arresting words

“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” 

and

“Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”

The truth is it’s not just the homeless who are frozen, it is those of us who simply walk by the little Match Girl and never notice.

Spirit of God,
thaw my cold heart
with your divine flame,
that I may bring your warmth
to those who are frozen.
Amen.

sabbaticalthoughtsblog.wordpress.com/

Canda, Jerusalem, Mucknall

Southwark Diocesan Pilgrimage 2016

Hearts on Fire - Pilgrims in the Holy Land

A good city for all

A good city for all

In the Steps of St Paul

Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage June 2015

LIVING GOD

Reflections from the Dean of Southwark

Passion in real time - a retreat for Holy Week

Led by the Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn

Andrew Nunn's reflections from General Synod

the personal views of the Dean of Southwark