Monday, 26 March 2018

The challenge of prejudice

In recent days with the arrest and arraignment of Officer Noor there has been a social media out cry "because she was white" and I have heard it from others who are outspoken on the issue.  I now am now pondering whether we are actually achieving anything by being as pre-judgemental with our outcries as we are with the perceived pre-judgmentalism of those we rail against.  I have no issues about the fact that there is clear evidence to suggest that law enforcement through out the world does have issues with their ability to step outside issues of perception.  What I find difficult is that every act becomes an act that is to be prejudged against the perceived norm.

Is our first response to fight prejudicial fire with prejudicial fire?

The issue that should be debated is not the perception but the actual justice inherent in each situation as each situation is not the same.  Yes, there has to be some education of law enforcement officers to overcome the petty prejudices of society if they are to act as law enforcement officers.  There also needs to be cultural change in organisations regarding how they perceive the other as all of our organisations are filled with the pre-judgments of our society.  However, an immediate outcry that someone, who is the known person of interest, is arrested and the victim is white does not call for the prejudgment of the outcry.  In looking at every possible case with our prejudicial eyes we actually devalue the outcry that we make.  Even when we look at our own propensities in terms of our theologies and our worship or even, dare I say it, when change or refurbishment is suggested, we respond from our prejudices.  In deed there should be little room for our prejudices in the world today.  Such judgmentalism is our gut level reaction to our perceptions rather then our ability to look at situations through the eyes of love and justice.  There are times when an outcry is warranted, when there is an absolute mockery of justice, irrespective of whether the perpetrator is from a "majority" and the victim is from a "minority" or the other way around.  Our reaction needs to be to the injustice in the case not the personalities involved.

We do not allow ourselves the gift of discernment when it comes to our response to situations that inflame our sensibilities.  Even at the simple level of our response to the assumptions of the Medical profession to our health or dietary habits.  We have a tendency to rush into our judgments rather than allowing ourselves the time to make judgments that are based more on the justice that the situation warrants rather than what we perceive to be the injustice. Perhaps by letting our emotional response cool we may be able to react appropriately to situations. it is not that we do not need or should not protest injustice, it is just that we need to actually discern our response to injustice.  That response would best be one that is effective rather than emotional. Discerned rather than gut level.  By acting on our prejudices we align ourselves with those we are protesting against and not the side of justice. In these days of instant communication we are losing, and perhaps have already lost, our ability to ensure and discern the right.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Dying to change

Passion Sunday, the Sunday prior to the celebration of the Paschal mystery, serves as a reminder to us that change in our lives is inevitable and often leads to discomfort, to say the least.  This Sunday in modern times has become overwhelmed with the politicisation of the Sunday parade / march for justice. I have no issues with protest but protest without the consequences of change becomes a yawn, a nice thing to do to show that we are still highlighting injustices in the world. Yet, this Sunday is more than protest. It is so much more than the highlighting of injustice and furthering the political debate. These may well be filled with passion but the passion that we celebrate or should celebrate is the passion that comes with change.  If things do not change we loose our passion as the initial impetus fades into mundaneity.

Christ enters Jerusalem in order to bring about change.  The ultimate change that is involved with death, dying and eventually re-birth into something new. If we are unable to accept this change in our lives and in the lives of those around us we are unable to protest efficiently and effectively. The sacrifice that Christ agonises over in the Garden of Gethsemane is this ultimate change. Not the mundane limited effects of protest on our lives but the change that brings about a death to our old way of thinking to bear the fruits of new life. We need to re-look and re-imagine our stances on what it means to be a follower of Christ's way, if we are to look at any form of change in our own private lives, let alone the lives of the public. At the start of this week, during which we celebrate the final hours of Christ in Jerusalem leading up to the cross and beyond, we need to undergo our own agonising decision. Our response to these momentous events needs to re-imagined each time as each time the events are re-set for us in our time. We do not experience these first hand, we do not see and smell the sights that drove the crowds in their passion or the doubts and resignation in Christ's. Each year is different and needs to be witnessed differently to reflect our changed circumstances.  The world is not the same place it was a year ago let alone three years ago or two thousand.

The palm cross asks us to make a decision - to change or to stay the same?

So if our celebration of the passions of this week are to be changed how are we to do this resetting? In coming to this point in our Lenten journey we need to enter with passion the changes that the journey has opened our eyes to. There is no point to entering into a journey unless you wish to achieve the journey's end. Christ's journey is one that leads to death and resurrection. That means that our journey should also be leading to the same place in our own lives and the lives of our community in which we interact. If the ultimate change is to be rejected at the end of our journey then we have turned our hearts away from Christ's transition to which we are called.  This week is where we make our decision to change, as Christ did. To die to our old self, to die to the sameness of our repetitive lives so that we can stand with Christ and transition into a new reality for the community that we serve and for our own benefit.

If we find ourselves continuing with the same protests, the same gatherings with the same purpose then we have not achieved the change in our lives or those around us. Then the question must arise; why repeat the process? Why continue in the same manner? Christ's passion changed the world, Christ's death introduced new life, Christ's presence in our hearts should also make changes to our communities and selves. We do not celebrate stasis, we celebrate passionate change, we celebrate the idea that we can re-imagine the world as our old thinking dies and new thinking takes on a different aspect. This week let us die to the old, readjust our perspective and re-create the new from the death of the old.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

God changes his pedagogy

In looking at the covenant that God makes with the Israelites we can see that it is one that is dependant on a command situation.  In this case we are looking at God laying down commandments that need to be obeyed. In a somewhat similar view to a government laying down the law.  The instruction comes from above and if there is any disobedience then you are punished for such disobedience.  The command structure, like the armed forces, must be obeyed. It is open to interpretation and human intervention. This changes with Jeremiah (31.31-34) as God now suggests that  his commandments will no longer be imposed from without but will reside within. This means that the struggle to be more like God is not a question of following the rules but rather one of interpreting them for ourselves and living into them. The legal beagles no longer have to interpret the jargon of God but we ourselves have to live as if God was with us.  The gap between interpreter and the intepreted no longer exists as we become the responsible party.

This view is emphasised as Christ becomes the incarnated one and the word becomes flesh. In John's Gospel, a voice his heard from heaven, as a sign to those present (Jn 12.28-30) misheard as thunder or mistaken for angelic voices.  It is as if the people were not used to hearing directly from God as in the days of Moses.  Direct intervention into our lives is something of the past but with God's pedagogic change from direct instruction to a more subliminal instruction of the heart this is to be expected.  This change from an authority figure that directs instruction to one that coaxes our hearts towards obedience is not one that we have totally accepted within our faith lives. We are often still reliant on the authority figure to pass on their perceptions rather than allow the gentle instruction of God's presence to take root in our hearts and soften them into love of those around us.  Even our education systems struggle with these concepts and on how best to have students learn so that they can move forward into their lives expanding their own knowledge and abilities whilst encouraging others.

Do we follow our hearts to God or do we have to be ordered?

The change that God encompasses is from an almost authoritarian stance to one that encourages our own encompassing of love within our own hearts. A move from a junior school scenario where what the teacher says is true to a more adult understanding of exploration of our own hearts to find God's ultimate presence expressed in our love for others.  This move is likened by the writer of the Hebrew's letter explaining that babies are fed milk while more substantial food is reserved for adults (Heb.5.13-14).  In our own ways we occasionally need the direction as a child needs boundaries set but it must eventually give way to our own growth and exploration.  Should we transgress the boundaries in adulthood then we must suffer the consequences of our transgression.  Such consequences are found in our falling away from community and the love of a community around us that supports us through our lives.

By building on the love of God and the acceptance of the other into our lives we begin to re-orientate ourselves in terms of our communal responsibilities and the presence of God in our lives.  This may mean that we step back towards childhood and require re-direction and the sustenance of milk and authority figures, but God is forever changing and guiding us in our own need to change.  It is when we become stuck in the ruts of our own imaginations that we begin to fall away from relationship and God's presence.  Let us perceive ourselves more as adults that enjoy God's lure into a changing future that evolves with our growing community and love.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Retain our idols or change our view

This Sunday marks the traditional Mothering Sunday which is perhaps fortunate as it follows International Women's Day (IWD).  This traditional celebration of the Church is always celebrated on the fourth Sunday in Lent.  It was originally the day servants were allowed to go back to their family homes and parishes.  It is another day to celebrate those things that are remarkable about women in our society but also to remind ourselves of the idols that we create rather than celebrating God's goodness and presence in all our lives.  In order to save the Israelites from the bite of the serpent a bronze snake was crafted, a symbol of healing and forgiveness for those that had been bitten (Num. 21.6-9).  This was not to be seen as an idol to be worshipped but rather as a symbol of healing.  In Christ crucified this process is repeated and becomes a symbol of our healing and not an idol for worship (John 3.14-15).

In making symbols in the world today we are often making idols for us to worship and often we do this with our use of tradition.  We establish a tradition to initiate and celebrate change in the world, IWD, but when we continue with the symbolism it becomes idolatrous when no change is forthcoming.  It becomes a celebration for the celebrations sake with little meaning in the lives of people. In the Numbers passage the symbol achieved almost instant change and was not needed to be retained.  If we are to celebrate change and initiate that with a symbol then we need to ensure that the symbol is effective else it reverts to a passing idolisation of an ideal.  In looking at our own faith tradition we have passed through a variety of traditions around our use of the cross and the crucifix.  In contemplating the cross and Christ's lifting up are we seeing it as an idol or are we seeing it as a symbol of our redemption?

Beautiful idolatry choking us or worshipful symbol releasing us?

In looking around at the use of the cross in our modern lives it is seen more as an item of jewellery rather than as an item of religious symbolism.  In asking someone the reason for wearing a cross or a crucifix I wonder what the response will be, even from priests, bishops and religious?  Will it be because it is tradition or maybe its beauty or perhaps a symbol (but of what and for whom?).  We so often follow the "ways of this present world" (Eph. 2.2) rather than seeing the pointer towards God.  In sporting a cross / crucifix are we seeing it as an idolisation of Christ rather than acknowledging God's presence?  Too often we resort to the words of idolisation rather than the words of worship and acknowledgement of God when we celebrate our Christianity.  In doing so we often depart from what Christ and God asks of us and so become one of many who pay lip service to God rather than living the fullness of Christian life; a life based in the worship of God and the presence of Christ.

Our change should come when we understand the idols that we have made in our lives and begin to see symbols of Christ's outreach in to the world that changes the perspective of our lives.  Living in today's world is a vast change from 1909 when IWD was first discussed or thought about but the fact that it has become entrenched in an almost idolatrous manner suggests that we are not changing our lives into the life of Christ.  Even within our own religiosity there are many who cling to an idolatrous vision of man rather than a celebration of God in the whole of creation.  We are still ruled by our "physical desires" (Eph. 2.3) rather than channeling our desires to God.  We fear to change and so create the world that we desire rather than the world that God desires, resisting and living in the past in preference to the new life that God offers.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

The violence of change

We have seen in recent years that repression and stagnation lead to change that can turn and often is violent.  Just looking back at the Arab spring we can recognise the inherent violence in change.  Indeed when change is resisted the violence persists in the daily lives of those that are involved.  Syria is a prime example on the world stage but such violence can take root within communities and institutions without the obvious violence of Syria.  Just looking at Christ's reaction to the desecration of the temple precinct (Jn. 2.13-22) and the need to change back to the originality of God's requirements is sufficient to give us an idea of the violence that such change can bring.  The criteria for a living relationship with the other is laid down succinctly within the scriptures ( Ex. 20.1-17) but as we know they can be interpreted to allow our own living conditions.

It is not as if we do not agree with the outline of the commandments but rather that we want our own way rather than live, what we perceive to be a restrictive life, that leaves us victimised when others do not agree with our standards.  Christ in upsetting the temple precinct signals to those around him a need to re-turn to the specifics and not to the human inspired interpretation.  This metanoia is preceded by violence to those involved as much as to ourselves.  It reminds us that we are prone to the same violence in order to retain that which we believe is right.  In resisting our own need to change we operate with subversive violence rather than in the righteous violence of righting a wrong.  It is not that the violence is the correct way to go but rather that sometimes we need the violence to up root the wrong values that have been embedded in our own hearts.  Trauma such as this is akin to the surgeon cutting out the melanoma.  Resistant violence is more akin to the Syrian situation and can be likened to us beating up the surgeon as they attempt to excise the melanoma.

Do we use the violence of healing or the violence of condemnation?

This loss of something from ourselves is resisted even when it means turning back to the things that we are called to in community that we have neglected. It is that resistance in our understanding of ourselves that leads to violence as a protective mechanism.  This is why it so hard to love those who are doing violence to the community because it means that we have to loose something of ourselves when we deny them the privilege of forgiveness.  Instead of remitting to God we seek our own recompense and enter into the cycle of violence, so destroying the peace that God brings.  We should be seeking the grace that comes from God and allows us to fulfill the commandments that God has given to us.  In doing so we seek the good of the community and excise (violence) those things that are not of the community that God cares for.

Like St David before us we do the little things that are forgotten so that we do not become tied down in debates as to the goodness of our world.  In doing this we fulfill God's will for community as we care for each other.  The things that need to be excised are those thoughts that remove us from the daily life into the grandeur of our wants rather than the needs of the community.  By participating in the violence of excision and repentance we negate the violence of power and resistance.  By cutting something away we allow for the new growth to come through rather than removing the community through our power seeking.  Destruction of what is inherently good, a community of love, because we require control of our lives leads to the selfish world of isolation.  Excision of what contributes to our lack of empathy and understanding leads to revitalisation and the community in new life.