Tag Archives: exclusion

10 October: Prisoners’ Sunday 2021

For forty years now, Prisons Week has encouraged Christian individuals and churches to pray for the needs of all those affected by prisons: prisoners and their families, victims of crime and their communities, those working in the criminal justice system and the many people caring for those affected by crime inside and outside our prisons.

Prisons Week raises awareness and generates prayer. It motivates volunteers to step forward and give their time and gifts, in prisons and in their own communities. It provides an annual focus and reason for Christians to work together, building capacity and motivation to make a difference for people who are out of sight and often out of mind.

Today is Prisons Sunday – the second Sunday in October – marking the beginning of the week of prayer, which runs until Saturday.

Here’s a reflection from our friend Eddie Gilmore of the London Irish Chaplaincy, which supports Irish prisoners in England. It shows how effective this ministry can be, in God’s good time.

The Power of Kindness

By Eddie Gilmore

“We never know, at the time, the ripple of consequences set in motion by the slightest act of kindness.” Those words of the late Jonathan Sacks seem especially apt in the case of a man helped recently by the Irish Chaplaincy.

One of our team, Fiona, had, before the pandemic, begun to visit a Traveller man in one of the big London prisons. He was in segregation, ‘seg’, due to making threats to prison staff and having a weapon smuggled into the prison via a corrupt officer. His original sentence had been four years but he had served sixteen due to poor compliance and aggressive behaviour. Like many of those we meet in prison he had lived a chaotic lifestyle. His childhood included his father committing suicide when he was ten and his mother becoming a drug addict shortly afterwards. I can imagine that he had not received a great deal of kindness growing up. Tragically several of his sons are also in the criminal justice system. Fiona took an interest in him and she would often tell me in supervision about the hilarious comments he would make about various things. He was clearly responding to someone simply giving him a bit of positive attention and treating him in a different way to how he was probably used to being treated.

With prison visiting not possible through the lockdown the contact continued via phone. His aggressive behaviour diminished. He also heard that Fiona had managed to get two other Traveller men from the same prison into a rehab. facility following their release and he began to see this as a possible future option for himself. Eventually Fiona managed to get him considered for parole, and supported him closely through the process. And then one morning we all received an e-mail from Fiona with the incredible news that the parole outcome had been successful. He has just been released and has gone voluntarily into the rehab facility. It’s very early days and there is a lot of anxiety on his part but for him to have got to this point from where he was is nothing short of miraculous.

My background will have been very different to that of the man mentioned above: a stable home with a loving family and lots of opportunities. And yet, there have particular times in my own life when a simple act of kindness has been transformative, and has almost certainly inspired in me the wish to do likewise to others. When I eat my pre- big cycle bowl of porridge I’m often reminded of an act of kindness that was shown to me over twenty years ago. When spending a year in Seoul with Yim Soon and our three then young children I used to go once a month to spend twenty-four hours with the Columbans, a bunch of very welcoming and very entertaining Irish missionary priests (and it was the Columbans who founded the Irish Chaplaincy back in 1957). It was a little oasis for me: a chance to rest, relax, speak English, hear some funny stories, drink ‘real’ tea. One time at breakfast one of the guys, Pat Muldoon, was served with a big bowl of porridge which had been made specially for him. A usual Korean breakfast is much like lunch or dinner: rice together with various side dishes, some of them very spicy, a bowl of soup, meat, maybe even some raw fish for a special treat! He must have seen my eyes light up at the sight of the porridge because he put the bowl in front of me and walked off. True enough, after months of Korean style breakfasts, delicious as they were, all I wanted that morning was a bowl of simple, plain porridge served with a little sprinkling of sugar and a little bit of milk. I’ll never ever forget that gesture of Pat that meant the world to me at the time, nor the words he said to me on every visit, “Be nice to yourself.”

Sacks goes on to say that every day gives each of us an opportunity to change a life and by so doing to change the world, and he concludes that, “We mend the world one life at a time, one act at a time, one day at a time,” and that, “Every good act, every healing gesture, lights a candle of hope in a dark world.”

(Quotes taken from: ‘To heal a Fractured World: The Ethics of Responsibility’ by Jonathan Sacks)

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24 September, Season of Creation XXV: Global inequality; Laudato Si’ IX.

Coble_SH105_1_(Nigel_Coates)

A modern Northumbrian coble fishing boat, captured by Nigel Coates

48. The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; the deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet: “Both everyday experience and scientific research show that the gravest effects of all attacks on the environment are suffered by the poorest” For example, the depletion of fishing reserves especially hurts small fishing communities without the means to replace those resources; water pollution particularly affects the poor who cannot buy bottled water; and rises in the sea level mainly affect impoverished coastal populations who have nowhere else to go. The impact of present imbalances is also seen in the premature death of many of the poor, in conflicts sparked by the shortage of resources, and in any number of other problems which are insufficiently represented on global agendas.

49. The excluded are the majority of the planet’s population, billions of people. These days, they are mentioned in international political and economic discussions, but one often has the impression that their problems are brought up as an afterthought, when all is said and done, they frequently remain at the bottom of the pile. This is due partly to the fact that many professionals, opinion makers, communications media and centres of power, being located in affluent urban areas, are far removed from the poor, with little direct contact with their problems. They live and reason from the comfortable position of a high level of development and a quality of life well beyond the reach of the majority of the world’s population. This lack of physical contact and encounter, encouraged at times by the disintegration of our cities, can lead to a numbing of conscience and to tendentious analyses which neglect parts of reality. At times this attitude exists side by side with a “green” rhetoric. Today, however, we have to realise that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.

50. Instead of resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate. At times, developing countries face forms of international pressure which make economic assistance contingent on certain policies of “reproductive health”. Yet demographic growth is fully compatible with an integral and shared development”. To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues. It is an attempt to legitimise the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalised, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption. Besides, we know that approximately a third of all food produced is discarded, and “whenever food is thrown out it is as if it were stolen from the table of the poor”.

The photograph introducing this post we first used for a piece about Holy Island, which showed how depletion of fish stocks was taking place before the Great War. How much have we learnt in the century since then? Stocks are still being extracted to the point where their survival is threatened, and livelihoods demolished.

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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.

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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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