Sticks and stones

Children call out in the playground (well, they used to, I’m not sure if they still do)

‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.’

In one sense of course it’s true. Physical abuse hurts physically, name calling and the use of words and language may cause more psychological, emotional damage but the pain can be just as real. I’ve been interested, not really surprised, but interested to see the kind of response that the events of last weekend provoked. Certainly this ‘Living God’ blog has never had such a high readership, my email box was full of messages and the majority of these were very supportive. The number of my ‘followers’ on Twitter increased rapidly and other messages expressing things like ‘we are so proud of what happened’, ‘you did the right thing’ were wonderful to receive. Yet there were the other kind of messages, the emails and Tweets from those for whom a Muslim mayor in a Christian cathedral was not good news, those who see that kind of thing as undermining of national character and even undermining of the holiness of God.

Mayor Sadiq Khan in the Cathedral

Mayor Sadiq Khan in the Cathedral

Of course, for me it will have been a few days in a kind of spotlight and then very quickly it is yesterday’s news and something much more interesting is going on. This blog will get its usual number of hits and some of my more recent Twitter followers will discover that the news about the Cathedral cat, my views on Eurovision and my daily prayer is not really what they want to follow!

But it has given me an insight into what it must be like to be the victim of more constant abuse and unwanted attention, what it must be like to be the focus of other people’s hatred just for being who you are and daring to come out of the box that they would like to keep you in. The letter that I signed with others and which was printed in the last edition of the Church Times criticising the language that ‘Christian Concern’ used in relation to Mayor Sadiq Khan and not just the language but the erroneous ‘facts’ used to attempt to discredit him shows that groups of Christians are as willing to engage in name calling as any other part of society.

Making Mayors seems to be a weekly occurrence just at the moment in Southwark Cathedral. Yesterday we played host to the London Borough of Southwark, in which the Cathedral is set, who each year bring their Mayor-Making and Civic Awards to the Cathedral. In the very place in which Sadiq Kahn signed-in as Mayor of London a week ago, the new Mayor of Southwark was elected in a special council meeting and her mayoral year inaugurated.

Before that happened the Civic Awards were granted. Sixteen individuals and groups from across the Borough were recognised for their work on behalf of the community. The awards were given by the outgoing Mayor and her three predecessors. I sat there with them watching it and was struck by the fact that of those four mayors one was a Hindu, one was a Muslim and two were Christians. Each had served the borough and its citizens with real distinction and I remembered that we had recently celebrated Sam King MBE who was the first black mayor of the borough. Jamaican born, Sam arrived in the UK in 1948 on the Empire Windrush, and settled in Southwark. He was a tireless campaigner for the community and went on to help set up the first Notting Hill Carnival, and was also a driving force behind the first black newspaper, the West Indian Gazette. After six months serving as a local councillor in Southwark, he was elected as Mayor of Southwark in 1983, aged 57. What he began has continued and we are better for it.

The awards were given and then the outgoing Mayor, Councillor Dora Dixon-Fyle MBE, gave a special award to Shaun Dellenty for his wonderful work in setting up ‘Inclusion for All’ a programme tacking homophobic bullying in our schools. Shaun is an openly gay deputy head in the neighbourhood who was himself the victim of homophobic bullying and doesn’t want future generations of children to suffer in the same way. His local work has gone national and it was wonderful to see that honoured in this special award in the Cathedral.

Shaun Dellenty is honoured in the Cathedral

Shaun Dellenty is honoured in the Cathedral

Plenty of things were said about Jesus, to his face, behind his back and things that would end up crucifying him. In Matthew 11 we read this
Jesus said ‘To what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market-places and calling to one another,
“We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not mourn.”
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon”; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.’
( Matthew 11.16-19)

Sticks and stones and words. We fling so much about. But Jesus has a better word to say and a word that gives life, for he is that Word.

Lord,
may my words this week
seek to build and not destroy
affirm not undermine
celebrate not denigrate
and be words
that speak of you.
Amen.

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