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.
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?
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.
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.
may I do justice,
walk in humility,
turn a blind eye to
what is going on.