We all seem to love a farmers’ market nowadays, the place where we have the chance to buy some really fresh food, to meet the person who grew it, raised the livestock, made the cheese, bottled the milk. That’s one of the reasons that the Borough Market that surrounds Southwark Cathedral and that’s constantly full of people is so popular. That’s also why go to any Church Fete or any sale run by the Women’s Institute or any Mothers’ Union cake stall and you’ll find people queuing up to buy the home-made produce. It was lovely to read this week, for instance, about the woman from Scotland who has just won the best marmalade award. It must taste home made at its very best, because it is home made.
But when we are using that phrase ‘home grown’ in relation to terrorism it evokes another reaction completely.
The events of last Wednesday were shocking, just as every terrorist act shocks and sickens us to the core. For those of us who have been around London for a while we’ve experienced a number of such incidents, fortunately few in number, but each one stays imprinted on our memory – the Baltic Exchange, Canary Wharf, 7/7 – we will remember how each of them affected us, even if we weren’t any where near what happened. The senseless and depraved attack on innocent pedestrians crossing one of the best known bridges in the world – Westminster Bridge – packed with visitors to London trying to get that precious selfie with Big Ben – and then the attack on the very heart of our democracy, the Mother of Parliaments and the murder of PC Keith Palmer, an officer doing his duty on our behalf, has left us all stunned.
Then we learnt that this wasn’t done by someone who’d arrived in this country from elsewhere, not a refugee from some notorious and dangerous country, not an immigrant who’d recently arrived here but someone born and raised not far from London, someone who’d been living in the Garden of England, the real ‘home grown area’, living in Birmingham, a convert to Islam, not a young man, headstrong, but slightly older than we would expect in acts like this. Like so many of the perpetrators of atrocities in the USA this was a ‘home grown terrorist’. The question we need to ask ourselves is how are these terrorists grown?
What I do know is that all the travel banns that President Trump and others want to impose, all the suspicion directed towards refugees who others imagine are like Trojan Horses waiting to be rolled into our communities is meaningless. No travel ban, no ring of steel round a country, no walls built to exclude are effective when we grow people inclined to think the unthinkable and commit acts that are against the standards of basic humanity.
The seedbed for growing people with these attitudes and desires is much more subtle, much more dangerous and much more familiar. It has to be around the ability we now have to do as I am doing now, sharing my thoughts and putting them out there for the world to read. And this platform, like any platform, can be used for good or evil. But regulating it when the very place that the attacker was directing his hatred towards, the Palace of Westminster, stands for, is built on, the concept of free speech that is at the heart, the core of our democratic values, is very difficult.
During these days leading up to Holy Week we will at some stage hear read these words of Jesus from St John
‘Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.’ (John 12.24)
It’s true for the farmer, its true for the martyr, it true in the secular and in the sacred worlds. In the musical ‘Les Miserables’ the students, manning the barricades, sing a rousing song which includes the lines
Will you give all you can give
So that our banner may advance
Some will fall and some will live
Will you stand up and take your chance?
The blood of the martyrs
Will water the meadows of France!
It picks up on the words of Jesus to us but it also reflects something that must go on in the heads of those who choose to commit horrendous acts of terrifying violence against their neighbours, against, as in this instance, their fellow countrymen.
I have no answers, only thoughts. All I do know is that, though shocked, London and Londoners are always defiant. The slogan ‘We are not afraid’ is a powerful one. Once we are afraid then those who would terrorise us have won. And Jesus, the planted seed, bears much fruit in the resurrection and to his startled friends, as he walks across the stormy waters, says
‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’ (Matthew 14.27)
We have to say the same to each other.
Since the attack a candle has been burning in Southwark Cathedral and this prayer has been offered to people to pray. please pray it with us.
God of peace,
God of healing,
on all caught up in the incident in Westminster
send both peace and healing.
Give to those who protect us
courage and commitment;
to those who govern us
wisdom and insight;
to those who are afraid
peace and assurance;
and to those who died
life eternal in your presence.
We ask this in the name
of Jesus Christ our Lord.