Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Home - where we live

Last year I took my son to the cinema to see the Dreamworks movie Home. I found it really enjoyable, and also deeply moving. It's about prejudice, ignorance and fear, told through the animated medium of amusing aliens and the near destruction of earth. In recent months my thoughts have turned again to that word 'home'. And, actually, the same themes from the film have been all too evident.
I think most of this came home to me when watching Paul O'Grady's excellent TV series The Sally Army and Me on the BBC. It was one of the later episodes, where Paul was sent on a special mission with The Salvation Army to Athens, a major hub for refugees arriving in Europe from North Africa and the Middle East. I cried as I saw the horror, hundreds of people, including very small children, sleeping in a town square, relying on sandwiches and tea provided by The Salvation Army. And then along comes a local resident, who starts shouting the odds, that the refugees are not welcome, and so on. Paul O'Grady then tells the woman to go home and leave them alone.
People who just want to live. And someone wants rid of them.
During that same show, Paul O'Grady (who is both openly gay, and a huge fan of The Salvation Army) asked about The Army's stance on LGBTQI, and was told that any homosexual would have to swear to celibacy to become a member. This upset Paul (understandably, I think), as he knew many people who would join but would not be allowed...
People who simply want to be included, to express their faith and serve.
Immigration continues to be a hot topic. Attitudes towards our LGBTQI brothers and sisters come under scrutiny.
But it seems to me that home is where we live. Not a place, not bricks and mortar, but a state of affairs where everyone can live - can participate and express themselves freely, can contribute and benefit. Home is where we live, as a human race, welcoming every member of the human family, all God's children.
Just a final note on prejudice. I was brought up disliking gherkins. I was told I wouldn't like them, and always removed them from burgers. And then, one day, I tried one. And it turns out, they're not so bad...

Monday, 20 June 2016


I was inspired a while ago to kind of update 1 Corinthians 13 a little bit...

Now let's talk about love...

Love is central, essential, our first fundamental. Gentle, not judgemental.
Love's not elective, not selective. It's protective. Effective.
Love isn't rude, doesn't exclude. Love includes, exudes good.
Love isn't prejudiced. It's an edifice across the precipice. You getting this?
Love isn't based on your face, or your race, or your birthplace. It's an embrace, all grace.
Love doesn't hate, or segregate, small or great, gay or straight, of high or low estate - all can participate. Love won't discriminate.
Love cares. Love shares. Love dares. Love repairs, never despairs.
Love meets us in our shame, greets us by our name, defeats every false claim, acquits from blame, entreaty us do the same. Love completes us, that's the aim.
Love inspires. Love aspires, takes us higher. Love doesn't tire. Love never expires.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Not all problems are first-world problems

You may have come across the term 'first-world problems'. It is a way of relativising our difficulties, to say that what might seem terrible to us is probably nothing compared to the problems faced by people living in the third-world.
I've been reminded a lot recently that not all problems are first-world problems. I look at the horror of the refugee crisis (or perhaps more correctly, crises, as the people movements in question have different points of departure, although often similar root causes), and to compound the problem I see the responses of many of us. Reactions to it all vary, from genuine concern, wanting to help but feeling helpless, to a type of xenophobia that would not be alien to ethnic cleansing regimes.
When many of us look at problems like this, we are unable to truly sympathise. Put it in perspective: according to the UN, 700 migrants may have died last month.
When one celebrity dies, the Internet breaks. 700 unknowns, and what? Few headlines. Few photographs. We have allowed so many people to become non-persons, as the Liberation theologians would say.
And that's not entirely our fault. It's largely down to the fact that we are worlds apart. We are so (relatively) safe, well-fed, well-educated, free, comfortable (I could go on) in 'the West' that we cannot imagine or begin to comprehend the experience of so many in the world. We don't know what it is to walk miles every day for water that's probably not safe to drink, but what's the alternative...? We don't know what it is to live in almost constant fear of violence, rape, torture, death. We don't know what it is to spend everything we have to get crammed in to a boat with no toilet, at risk of sinking. we don't know what it is to be penned up in a camp indefinitely, awaiting permission to enter a new county that might represent safety and offer some hope for a new life.
We don't know these things. We can't.
And I don't want to trivialise our own many and varied problems. But most of them are first-world problems. And that can lead us to believe that all problems are first-world problems. That no one is worse off than we are. That all problems can be overcome by pulling oneself together, a good old-fashioned British stiff upper lip, or whatever it may be.
Until we all learn that not all problems are first-world problems, we'll continue to have this problem of a divided world, even as our worlds collide.