Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Manchester: 'defiant acts of kindness'.

My first feeling this morning on hearing the news was one of deep deep sadness for those young and teenage girls with their mums and friends enjoying a night out at a concert. For those who have been so cruelly and killed and injured; for those whose daughters, wives and girlfriends have been torn from them..

I have a family connection with Manchester: my father was born and brought up there, and our daughter was at the University and the Royal Northern College of Music.  It's a proud city built on the wealth of the cotton industry and liberal values - there is a statue of William Gladstone in the Town Hall.  It withstood the bombs of the Second World War, the IRA (in 1996), and, no doubt, will bounce back defiantly after this latest terrorist outrage.

On Radio 4's  Thought for the Day  (at 1:48:00) Andrew Graystone talked about 'defiant acts of kindness' that stand in stark contrast to the evil horror of the attack. There is something very British about horrific events bringing out the best in people; but it's not just British - it's human. At its best, the human response to evil is one of good - kindness, bravery, help, hospitality.  Whatever provoked the killer to do this terrible act - perhaps some extreme interpretation of Islam - it was not human; it can only be described as evil and dark.   

Events like this force us to confront evil in all its horror. And this form of evil seems to glory in death, which is described in the bible as 'the final enemy'. 

Way back in history as the Israelites were preparing to cross into the promised land, Moses spoke these words from God to them: "This day I call on heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live..." (Deuteronomy 30:19).  

The Gospel - the Good News - is that hope triumphs over despair, love triumphs over fear and life triumphs over death.  Jesus said, "I have come that they may have life in all its fullness... I am the resurrection and the life." 

Today, let us choose life.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Helping to save child refugees

On Saturday the Bishop of Croydon sent an urgent email to all clergy in his area asking for our support at the House of Commons today when the Children and Social Work Bill was debated. Amongst a mixture of items including sex education and safeguarding issues was an amendment to a clause which would have allowed the continuation of the so-called 'Dubs Scheme' introduced last year, with some difficulty, allowing unaccompanied child refugees safe have in the UK. Much to its shame, the government has closed the scheme less than 6 months after it started. The amendment tabled today would have made local councils declare if they could take more child refugees, rather than central government imposing a cap. The evidence is that several local authorities have spaces and are willing to take more child refugees than they have been offered.

Lord Dubs addressing the group

With Bishop Jonathan, clergy from the Croydon area, several Jewish leaders from London and representatives of  Safe Passage UK visited the Palace of Westminster to let our MPs know we were here, and to listen to the debate. We were joined by two well-known actors - Toby Jones and Juliet Stevenson. The groups was addressed by Lord Alf Dubs who was himself a child of the 'kindertransport' in the 1930s, which brought Jewish child refugees fleeing the Nazis - hence the support from many Jewish groups.

The amendment was tabled by the Tory MP for Cambridgeshire South, Heidi Allen, and supported by several London MPs, but sadly not by our MP Chris Philp. Yvette Cooper (Labour) spoke passionately and cogently in its favour, reminding the government benches that the government-appointed expert on modern-day slavery had advocated allowing greater numbers of child refugees safe haven as a way of combating the evils of human trafficking.
Disappointment at the vote

The opposition parties and several brave Tory MPs supported the amendment but, to our great disappointment, it was defeated by 287 to 267 votes. Reactions from our group afterwards were 'shock', 'shame', 'gutted'. But Alf Dubs and Yvette Cooper met with us and urged us not to give up hope. Only by changing public opinion in favour of child refugees will things change.

The UK has done much to help refugees in the past, and the government should be applauded in maintaining its level of international aid - significantly higher than any other EU country, I believe. But to block the number of unaccompanied refugee children entering at 350 is a stain on our national pride and needs to be cleared. Jesus said, "Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."

BBC coverage of the story: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-39187290

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

The Blessings of Lent

This is the text of my article in the Parish Magazine: 

Now is a good time to think about how we might observe Lent. This is a season in the church’s year which we can use to simplify our lives and consider our priorities in relation to God and neighbour.

In relation to God: we might want to develop our experience of prayer, in which case I commend the Prayer Course that has just started on Thursdays; or you might join one of our existing small groups that will be entering into the stories of people who met Jesus, through bible study and meditative prayer. You might want to read the bible more, in which case you may need to give up some time you spend on social media or watching the TV… or just get up a bit earlier.

In relation to your neighbour: you might consider helping one person every day during Lent. Look around and ask God to show you where and who you could help. But try to resist the temptation to tell everyone about it on Facebook or Twitter – it’s enough that God knows.

Traditionally, the forty days of Lent is related to the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness before starting his ministry. That time of testing reminds us that Jesus has shared our common experience of temptation and suffering, but he overcame our enemy the devil. We may find that by giving something up during Lent – time, comfort or a luxury food – that we enter, in some small way, into that suffering that Jesus experienced – we share with him as he shares with us.

Let Lent be a blessing and a means by which we can draw closer to God and the people he loves.