Tag Archives: exclusion

27 July: St Francis and the Slugs – a modern legend, I

I was working with three year old Abel when I found a particularly big slug and put it on his boot. ‘Here’s a little friend for you.’ ‘He’s too slimy to be my friend, but he can be my friend anyway.’ Something of that spirit seems to have reached Littlehampton where our friends the Franciscan Missionary Sisters have been befriending their local gastropods.

Mt 18:10 ‘Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones’

The slugs were despised far and wide for many reasons. For they were not interesting or attractive. but rather creepy. Yet they drew attention to themselves in an annoying way. They turned up at every garden fete uninvited, spoke to no-one and slowly ate everything. Despite many attempts by concerned citizens to exclude them, they kept coming back, undeterred. The slugs had no apparent usefulness except to amuse the birds, who quite enjoyed picking at them.

FMSL

PS: Saint Francis will appear tomorrow!

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4 February. Brownings XVIII: Rending the garment of Christ.

rembrandt x 1. (2)
Elizabeth writes about her faith, opening herself yet more to her fiancé Robert. The arid, grey Puritanism of her father would force her and Robert to elope, and there was no reconciliation in their earthly life.
“Hating as I do from the roots of my heart all that rending of the garment of Christ, which Christians are so apt to make the daily week-day of this Christianity so called—and caring very little for most dogmas and doxies in themselves—too little, as people say to me sometimes, (when they send me ‘New Testaments’ to learn from, with very kind intentions)—and believing that there is only one church in heaven and earth, with one divine High Priest to it; let exclusive religionists build what walls they please and bring out what chrisms.
But I used to go with my father always, when I was able, to the nearest dissenting chapel of the Congregationalists—from liking the simplicity of that praying and speaking without books—and a little too from disliking the theory of state churches.
There is a narrowness among the dissenters which is wonderful; an arid, grey Puritanism in the clefts of their souls: but it seems to me clear that they know what the ‘liberty of Christ’ means, far better than those do who call themselves ‘churchmen’; and stand altogether, as a body, on higher ground.”
ruined chapel
(from “The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Vol. 1 (of 2) 1845-1846” by Robert Browning)
Rembrandt Crucifixion, out of copyright.
Dissenting Chapel, Bishops Castle, MMB.

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September 27: “It is not just about migrants”.

MESSAGE OF HIS HOLINESS FRANCIS
FOR THE 104th WORLD DAY OF MIGRANTS AND REFUGEES

29 September 2019

“It is not just about migrants”

I’m ashamed to say that the International Day of Migrants almost passed me by, despite its having been held more than 100 times. We now share an extract  from Pope Francis’s message for the day in which he links migration to the misuse of Earth’s bounty that he explored in Laudato si’; the full text can be found here: Migrants’ Day

Faith assures us that in a mysterious way the Kingdom of God is already present here on earth (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 39). Yet in our own time, we are saddened to see the obstacles and opposition it encounters. Violent conflicts and all-out wars continue to tear humanity apart; injustices and discrimination follow one upon the other; economic and social imbalances on a local or global scale prove difficult to overcome. And above all, it is the poorest of the poor and the most disadvantaged who pay the price.

The most economically advanced societies are witnessing a growing trend towards extreme individualism which, combined with a utilitarian mentality and reinforced by the media, is producing a “globalization of indifference”. In this scenario, migrants, refugees, displaced persons and victims of trafficking have become emblems of exclusion. In addition to the hardships that their condition entails, they are often looked down upon and considered the source of all society’s ills. That attitude is an alarm bell warning of the moral decline we will face if we continue to give ground to the throw-away culture. In fact, if it continues, anyone who does not fall within the accepted norms of physical, mental and social well-being is at risk of marginalization and exclusion.

For this reason, the presence of migrants and refugees – and of vulnerable people in general – is an invitation to recover some of those essential dimensions of our Christian existence and our humanity that risk being overlooked in a prosperous society. That is why it is not just about migrants. When we show concern for them, we also show concern for ourselves, for everyone; in taking care of them, we all grow; in listening to them, we also give voice to a part of ourselves that we may keep hidden because it is not well regarded nowadays.

Tomorrow we begin a series of posts leading up to Saint Francis’ day.

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24 June: You’ll never (be allowed to) walk alone.

syrian-gathering

I usually skim read the football writing in the newspaper, but this article was different. The writer was complaining that the fans at a major final were unable to sing their anthems with their usual spontaneity. When they would normally be raising their voices together before the game, there was a pop band playing. There was music during the game too, and after goals were scored: the right tunes, but not fan generated; he felt excluded.

As annoying as canned music in the supermarket, suggested Mrs Turnstone.

Or in churches, I suggested. ‘Even Taizé chants can be annoying at the wrong time’, she said.

I would add plain chant to that list. Please, no piped music in church! If we are representative of anyone other than ourselves, we  feel excluded by it. We don’t find it welcoming, or prayerful, or conducive to inner silence, or even outer silence in terms of visitors being guided towards speaking quietly to each other. Let the church speak for itself!

WT

L’Arche Syria meet to sing and pray

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8 March. Zacchaeus and Jesus II: The Chief Tax Collector.

tagliacozzo

There is seemingly an unimportant phrase at the end of the first sentence of the gospel passage from Luke (19:1-10) given in yesterday’s posting. If you missed it, I recommend scrolling back to it. There are a few words in the beginning that are very easy simply to skim over. The text tells us that Jesus was going through Jericho when ‘…suddenly a man whose name was Zacchaeus made his appearance.’ It’s the words ‘made his appearance’, that are so telling, I believe. They are an English interpretation of the original Greek text, rather than a literal translation of the Greek words, but I believe the translators of the New Jerusalem Bible are using the phrase in order to introduce the reader subtly to the theme of suffering in Zacchaeus’s life. There is a sub-text in these words. Usually when we say So and So “made his appearance” we are smirking. We are putting a negative spin on the words because we are talking about someone who is not very likeable, someone whose actions may have harmed us or a person we love, someone who never enters a public scene without having some ulterior motive. The phrase implies, “Oh no. What’s he doing here?” On this particular occasion a crowd has gathered in order to see Jesus, who was known to be a holy man and a healer. This is an occasion in which a dishonest person and a swindler would not be expected even to be interested.

And, yet, Zacchaeus – a chief tax collector, as the Greek text tells us – was there. Tax collectors were notorious in Jesus’ day for being dishonest, callous, thieving characters, who took more money than they had a right to, in order to line their own pockets. These were Jews who were employed by Rome, the occupying power, and who were therefore considered by devout Jews to be apostates from their own faith, and loyal to ‘the enemy.’ Zacchaeus was no different. If anything, he would have been considered to be worse than many tax collectors, an ‘arch-enemy’, because as chief tax collector, he was in charge of a whole district, and doubtless was responsible for ensuring that those under him did not become too lenient toward those owing tax money. And this man ‘makes his appearance’ – here, of all places.

The people in the crowd probably glance at Zacchaeus warily, then exchange looks with one another. Maybe the only thing that prevents some of the men in the crowd from confronting Zacchaeus is the thought that this, after all, is an event in which a holy man will be present. It would not do to have a brawl. In any case, Zacchaeus had power to ruin anyone who made his life difficult. So, the people in the crowd try to act as though Zacchaeus isn’t there.

That Zacchaeus was ‘blanked’ by the people, that all were complicit in an act of passive aggression against him can be inferred from the text, where it says, He kept trying to see who Jesus was, but he was short and could not see him for the crowd. In other words, the crowd closed ranks against Zacchaeus. They would not let him through. He was a well-known figure not only in Jericho, but in the district. In this setting, had he been a public person of some other profession, with a reputation for kindness and philanthropy, surely he would have been allowed to pass through. A little murmur of recognition would have gone through the crowd, and Zacchaeus would have found a pathway opening up for him, making it possible for him to move forward. But nothing of the kind happens. He is ostracised.

SJC

 

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October 24. What is Theology Saying? XXXVII: Resurrection.

beholdthymother.small,rye

Sin is seen as casting out Jesus. Jesus has no problem with the so-called sin of being blind, nor with the adulteress, only with those who seek to exclude them. He is pointing out that sin is the mechanism of exclusion – sin is not why there is exclusion but the exclusion itself. Blind from birth goes to the original aspect of sin, back to human birth in the very beginning. Jesus is presented as the Light of the world. We are all blind, but blindness is compounded by complicity in the excluding; now blindness becomes culpable. Jesus is forgiveness of sin, holiness and righteousness are love made flesh in the circumstances of being victim. My first awareness of my sin [not just awareness of evil] comes through recognising my complicity. Being wrong is not the issue, being wrong can be put right, it is the insistence that we are right that shackles us in original sin.

In the first eight chapters of Romans, Paul focuses on the righteousness of God. Wrath is not vengeance in God, rather is it the handing over of God, God’s non-resistance to human evil, the handing over of the Son and our killing him. Law provides knowledge of sin, and rather than being salvific is immersed in the world of mutual judgement and recrimination. Law increases sin, is death-dealing, whereas Resurrection means that new life in Grace comes through righteousness.

Sin is forgiven through faith in the God who raised Jesus from the dead. The Law is problematic in presuming that people are just through knowing good and evil. Not only does law not allow us to become just, but it locks us into judgemental attitudes as if we were among those who know themselves to be saved. The death of Jesus shows how sin is compounded by law. Christ is the end of the Law, that everyone might be justified who has faith… Romans 10.4. the Law achieved its purpose in Jesus’ death. Universal sin is linked with death: Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death came to all people, because all sinned… Romans 5.12. Death was not invented by law, because sin was present pre-Law from Adam to Moses.

AMcC

The end of the Law: John welcomes Mary, the Lord’s mother, after the crucifixion. St Mary’s Rye, Sussex

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December 13. Zechariah: an Unlikely Advent Star: I.

pilgrimsindunes (2) (800x342)

The story of John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah, and his encounter with the archangel Gabriel, has been an important one in the Church’s Advent liturgy. Every year we hear St. Luke’s narrative (1:5-25) on December 19th at Mass, one of those privileged days in the final week before the great Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord.

To be honest, I have often felt a bit sorry for Zechariah. First, his outstanding personality and goodness is mostly eclipsed by his extraordinary son, John. We tend to forget about Zechariah. Then, when Zechariah does figure in sermons, he is often portrayed as the perfect example of how not to act when one is vouchsafed an angelic visitation. He is usually contrasted with Our Lady, who also received an angelic visitation, and who is perfect. Now, I have no problem with Our Lady being perfect. She is. But I contend that Zechariah, although not perfect, is a loveable and heroic man, and should be given credit for getting quite a lot of important things right. I have found that he can be a good companion to have during the season of Advent.

Zechariah’s story comes at the beginning of St. Luke’s gospel in chapter one (all biblical texts in these posts are taken from the New Jerusalem Bible).

In the days of King Herod of Judaea there lived a priest called Zechariah who belonged to the Abijah section of the priesthood, and he had a wife, Elizabeth by name, who was a descendant of Aaron. Both were upright in the sight of God and impeccably carried out all the commandments and observances of the Lord. But they were childless. Elizabeth was barren and they were both advanced in years (1:5-7).

The first thing I notice here is that both Zechariah and Elizabeth are ‘upright in the sight of God.’ To my knowledge, it is a rare thing in the bible to be described as upright in the sight of God. As I linger over this phrase and repeat it slowly to myself, a picture begins to form in my mind of a married couple who pray together every day, who are united both spiritually and physically, and who strive to discern God’s will together. Moreover, we learn from St. Luke that Zechariah and his wife ‘impeccably carried out all the commandments and observances of the Lord.’ Impeccably is a strong word. Who among us can be described in this way with regard to all God’s commands? On the contrary, it is so easy to think, ‘Oh, the Lord didn’t mean me to do that all the time. Surely, I can let myself off this or that practice today. He’ll understand.’ Yet, St. Luke implies that neither Zechariah nor his wife thought in such terms. This is made more impressive by the fact that they were “advanced in years.” Their integrity is not, therefore, a case of the neophyte’s fervour: Zechariah and Elizabeth are an example of long-term, day in and day out faithfulness. They are a holy couple.

Yet, they are childless. This, as verse twenty-five will indicate, was a very deep humiliation for both of them. Barrenness was a cause of shame at that time, and was even seen as God’s punishment. But, what had they done? They were upright in the sight of God; they were innocent, faithful and devout. Yet, their prayers for a child had been unanswered and now it was too late. They are too old.

Perhaps many of us can relate to this. We know that we are not perfect, but at the same time, something painful is happening or has happened to us that we know we do not deserve. What do we do? How do we deal with this? It can be helpful to draw near in prayer to this holy couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth, who had been enduring something painful and humiliating for a very long time. They do not turn away from God in anger. They accept their childlessness, and the unanswered questions they surely had, and they continue faithfully in their life with God, day by day, carrying out his will as they understood it. They are upright in the sight of God. Perhaps they became so precisely through their prayerful acceptance of a sorrow they could not understand.

SJC

Walking together through the desert – Zechariah and Elizabeth.

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November 14: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xiv – ‘ A place for everyone at table.’

 

Throughout the parables and miracle stories Jesus is forever flouting rules and tradition; and offers no apology for so doing. He certainly went to the Temple to pray, but often accompanied by outcasts whose presence defiled the holy place. Jesus was committed to fullness of life above and beyond any and every system. He made people search for God not only in holy books, but principally in daily life; he uses everyday language – calling on everyday experiences; he insists we are constantly in God’s presence, not just when we formally pray – he makes care and concern for the other the key factor for kingdom living.

The Twelve certainly expected the messiah to be heroic – and they were disillusioned when he didn’t live up to expectations. Saint Paul’s vision of Church is more in line – centred on the Word in service of the community – but by the Second Century the Church was rapidly becoming institutionalised according to a shape at variance with Jesus’ own vision. This was when ecclesiastical [ritualisation] became more important than ecclesial [community in faith]. However, the original vision was never lost, nor will it ever be lost. Truth always survives, despite efforts to constrain it. What came to be known as the dark ages was when the Church had difficulty in controlling what was happening – whereas from the perspective of the Spirit it was a time of creativity and growth.

Is the real Jesus the middle-class revolutionary we have inherited? Are we true to the prophetic figure from Nazareth? Was the following of Jesus meant to be via a respectable religion? Can the freedom of the oppressed, and the empowering of the powerless happen this way? We surely should be recognised as different – to live for Jesus demands much more of us than to die for him. It means seeking justice, inclusiveness and equality – a place for everyone at table. Kingdom living was not something Jesus inaugurated for others to embrace and follow. He is the Kingdom. The Kingdom is how he lives and relates. What was he seeing that captivated him so much?

We are brought up through co-dependency – some are in charge, most aren’t. Our role is largely passive obedience. God is father, the Church is mother, making our relationship that of children. In such a setting the discipleship of equals has no chance. Adult is reserved for those in charge. Compassion is a fascinating quality in Jesus – it is always a verb, not a noun. Compassion means entering into the suffering of another, not just being there to help; and has nothing to do with pity and mercy.

AMcC

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November 12: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xii – ‘Violence against violence.’

DSC_0691

For Jesus, non-violence is at the heart of his message, in which we are called to love – even our enemies. This was so threatening to the Roman and Jewish authorities that they eliminated Jesus, hoping his way would die with him. But the message was more enduring. However, early catechesis missed out on the dynamic power of life fully lived even to death. Missing the significance of life resulted in death being seen as the primary constituent for redemption. This led to the notion of redemptive violence: salvation coming through the cross, by the one made perfect through suffering even to the last drop of blood in obedience.

My desires are in imitation of the desires of others. My “I” depends entirely on those who surround me. If I recognise my dependence on other for my desiring, I will be at peace with this other. But as soon as I insist my desire is original I am in conflict with the other. Someone appears wearing a new fashion; someone I like and admire: I’d like to be like. I buy the same item – others comment on my doing this in imitation I reply yes I like what he’s wearing. However, by far the majority of us would resent the implication – insisting my desire has nothing to do with him. The world of advertising seeks to seduce us by showing someone/thing attractive – if you buy X you can be like Y!

We all desire through the eyes of another. The promising protégé soon experiences alienation from the teacher when the latter fears his standing is being eclipsed by this brighter student – and wonders what has happened – what have I done wrong to merit this reaction? Friends have become rivals.

In an attempt to patch things up we seek for a common scapegoat – this would never have happened if he’d never come here – get rid of him and all will be well again. Having achieved this, we experience a kind of peace – but not real peace. It is peace based on deceit, and the covered-up rivalry will emerge eventually, leading to an eventual exclusion of somebody else, to restore such peace.

In this scenario we have to establish 3 things to maintain peace: 1. forbid all sorts of behaviour that would disturb the peace and lead to conflict; 2. repeat where possible the original exclusion or expulsion, which led to our peace, which consists of ritual actions ending in the immolation of a victim – originally human, later animal; 3. and tell the story of how we were visited by the gods and founded a people – so giving birth to myth.

So, social exclusion is a violent form of protection against violence, made possible by murder – disguised through being ritualised. This universally accepted way is a blind justification of what we are actually doing – cultivating a belief in the guilt of the innocent victim. Cultivating such blindness is the only way to resolve conflict and to avoid social self-destruction [it is good that one person die…].

There is only one way this can be challenged. When someone with an entirely different perception, one not dependent on such a lie, comes to the group and points it out. The Jewish story is a long, slow discovery of the innocence of the victim. Look to the foundation of human culture – Cain and Abel – so too with Romulus and Remus – the two brothers who fight about who is the founder of Rome. They organise a competition to see who has received the blessing of the gods. Remus sees some birds, Romulus sees some more impressive birds. In the fight that ensues Romulus kills Remus and becomes the founder of Rome. Remus was accused of impiety towards the gods and for that reason Romulus was right to kill him.

So too with Cain and Abel [Genesis] – the same thing happens – Cain kills Abel; but there is a difference of interpretation: God says to Cain – where is your brother? A – His blood cries out to me! This declares that the murder is no more than that; a sordid crime, and God is on the side of the victim.

AMcC

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November 10, Jesus Beyond Dogma II: x – ‘Not reinvention but rediscovery.’

 

Dogma helps hold people together in faith communities – but it does not inspire or animate. Faith is in the heart rather than the head. We grow in faith through relationships with others whose fidelity to Christ is a living experience. If we judge each other by what we believe in, we are setting up in and out groups – responsible for so many -isms; blood has been shed through this, and witch-hunts become inevitable – in no way conducive to Jesus’ stark love your enemies. But if we are to let-go the way of dogma – what do we replace it with? The new Evangelisation that Pope Francis is calling for! To set Jesus and ourselves free from the captivity of absolute dogma.

All over Africa, where Christianity is preached, churches are adorned with a white Christ, bearded and robed like an ancient Roman. Both Jesus and Mary were ethnic Palestinian – dark-skinned, of non-European features. Jesus as white and male became indisputable facts. Biologically no one can dispute the gender of Jesus. This isn’t attempting to create a patchwork quilt making Jesus all things to all people. This is not reinvention but rediscovery. If Jesus is God-incarnate – then Creation tells us that there is something of God in being male and female.

Most of our story as God’s people [6 million years] belongs to Africa; yet the demonising of blackness still feeds cultures of racism. Darkened skin is a powerful symbol of what it means to be human; it is the primary pigmentation that humans have known for most of our time – created, blessed and loved by God. We need to honour Jesus who belongs, not to the land of Israel, and even less to Western Europe, but to the primary soil of East Africa – just as the earthly Jesus belonged to every creed, colour and cultural condition.

The heart of the problem is not that Jesus was a man, but that men are not like Jesus! For thousands of years before Jesus males alone were considered to be fully human. They possessed the seed through which new life would be procreated – a view endorsed by Aristotle, Aquinas and Luther – with male offspring more valued than female. This is why Jesus, to be Messiah, had to be seen as descending through a male line.

But Jesus proclaiming the Kingdom is clearly not male in the conventional sense. He adopts none of the typical male behaviour characteristics: dominance, control… he engages with people, especially with the powerless made so by Church and State. Instead of protecting power he gives it away; instead of reasoned argument he tells stories – he is inclusive in his relationships, especially at table.

AMcC

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