Tag Archives: respect

18 December. The ruined chapel, II: in the nearby church and in Uganda.

richards castle pew

On November 16th we visited an abandoned Methodist chapel. Albert’s comment on that post brought to mind the nearby Anglican church of which this is a feature. To make a sweeping generalisation, in the 18th and 19th Centuries, the Anglicans had churches, while Dissenters – Protestants who for various reasons did not accept all the traditions of Anglicanism – worshipped in buildings called chapels; that was the case here at the 12th Century church of Saint Bartholomew, right on the Shropshire-Hereford boundary.

This wooden cabin inside the church is actually a family pew for local gentry. There would have been cushions and footwarmers provided for their comfort at this time of year. Small wonder that the poor people of the parish went elsewhere, especially if they heard proclaimed these words of James Chapter 2.

ruined chapel

My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?

Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called? If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.

It need not be that way. During the 1930s in Uganda, there was a great deal of unexamined racism with Europeans holding themselves aloof from the locals. They would even expect to go to Communion first in Rubaga Cathedral. One man who stood out against this was Sir Joseph Sheridan, Chief Justice of East Africa. Not only did he mix with the Africans at Communion, unlike other Europeans, he also processed barefoot at the Veneration of the Cross on Good Friday.

It is not just at Church that we are challenged to choose the ‘option for the poor’, though that is a good place to start. Catholics were not invited to share the sign of peace at Mass until the 1960s, but we should assert our membership of Jesus’ family by sharing it with whomsoever we are near, and maybe exchanging a word with them after Mass. People who feel cold-shouldered by congregations today may well just fade away, and not go looking for a congregation that welcomes and suits them.

But a conversation with a lonely person, a few cheerful or sympathetic words with the person on the checkout or in front of us in a queue. There are many people poor in ways other than financial.

 

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11 December: the impenetrable accent

During the 1930s the British Colonial Office was beginning to grasp its duty to provide education for the young people of Uganda. The overwhelming majority of schools were provided by the Anglican and Catholic churches, but they were receiving some government finance and so  subject to inspection by British inspectors working for the Ugandan civil service.

One of these was a Scotswoman that the Anglican Bishop Stuart, who was based at Kampala, complained of. In retirement  he recalled how she had turned up to inspect one of his schools, and gave it poor marks and a bad report.

This surprised him, since he knew his schools, and this was a good one. However, on enquiring, he was told that nobody responded to her questions because nobody understood a word she said.

We can reflect in the words of Scotland’s National Poet:

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion.

Robert Burns, To a Louse.

In particular, as parents or teachers, to see ourselves as children see us. We won’t find out by asking them, but by watching them in our presence.

Bishop Cyril Stuart was often at odds with his Christians, but when he retired to Worcester, he and his wife Mary were presented with a ceremonial scroll, on which they were portrayed with dark skin, because they were seen as one with their Ugandan Christian brothers and sisters. His memoirs are in Lambeth Palace Library. (see p 17).

MMB.

 

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11 November: Deliver me from men of blood, O God.

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Good Pope John XXIII 

Remembrance Day, and there are wars still on God’s earth.

During most of the Second World War, Archbishop Angelo Roncalli,  the future Pope John XXIII was the pope’s representative in Istanbul, serving the Church in Turkey and Greece from a city where representatives of both sides could meet in secret. He had many diplomatic contacts and helped save many Jewish people from the death camps. He deplored the conflict and the currents of thought that engendered it and fed off it.

In his Journal of a Soul1 he reflects: 

The world is poisoned with morbid nationalism, built up on the basis of race and blood, in contradiction to the Gospel. In this matter especially, which is of burning topical interest, ‘deliver me from men of blood, O God.’ … Jesus our Saviour died for all nations, without distinction of race or blood, and became the first brother of the new human family, built on him and his Gospel…

The Holy Church which I represent is the mother of nations, all nations. Everyone with whom I come into contact must admire in the Pope’s representative that respect for the nationality of others, expressed with graciousness and mild judgements, which inspires universal trust. Great caution then, respectful silence, and courtesy on all occasions. It will be wise for me to insist on this line of conduct being followed by all my entourage, at home and outside. We are all more or less tainted with nationalism. The Apostolic Delegate must be, and must be seen to be, free from this contagion. May God help me.

May God help us to show respect and courtesy to all those we meet, and encourage others to do likewise. May he give us the peace the world cannot give!

1 John Paul XXIII (1965), Journal of a Soul, London Geoffrey Chapman.

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6 October: praying with Pope Francis: Come Holy Spirit.

 

We have just celebrated St Francis’ day, so here is Pope Francis’s mission prayer for October. This is shared with us by Mission Today Magazine.

The poor man of Assisi brought about a new missionary dawn in his day; let us take courage from his example in today’s needy world.

May the breath of the Holy Spirit bring about a new missionary ‘dawn’ in the Church.

We have to remember that the first missionaries were not academically trained professionals as we would expect today. They had, however, been trained in the peripatetic school of Jesus, wandering Palestine and beyond in his company. And they were given, at least on this day, the gift of tongues, so no slog trying to learn African tonal languages (or even more difficult, one English missionary confided in me, Polish!)

We are all called to be missionaries, like all the 120 men and women – it was not just the apostles – in the upper room. What that means in practice depends on where we are, who we are with. To begin with, the outside observer ought to be able to say, Look how those Christians love one another. That’s a challenge in the wake of the scandals of recent years, but one we should always be up for, regardless – we should not be putting on a show, but just loving each other.

The rest flows from there. Our neighbours are our sisters and brothers and should be treated with respect; in over-simplified terms, if I respect someone then they themselves and others around them will feel that they are worthy of respect. Whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren, you do unto me.

The new missionary dawn must shine on you and me, and show us our part in the work of the Spirit.

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May 14. What is Theology Saying? LI: Jesus did not compete with others.

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austinWhen we are aware that our meagre resources seem ill suited to the enormous responsibility of mission, we are not in an unfortunate situation, rather are we not best suited for what is being asked of us? Jesus had none of the attributes proper to power in his own day. He was not outstanding by his technical competence, he did not shine because of his education or cultural training. He did not try to present logical arguments, to compete with others engaged in similar processes.

Jesus walked around unarmed and defenceless, and that is how he wanted to be. He wanted to reach people at the level of common humanity, to be relevant to the lowliest. The fact that so many responded to him suggests his success. Unarmed, with nothing to defend allowed him complete openness to truth. But it is clear that to be at the complete service of truth involves weakness and vulnerability. This also reveals the real nature of sin. Without this pre-eminence of truth being shown to us such things as lying, manipulation and the like would remain hidden under various degrees of respectability: “It is better to have one man die than to have the whole nation destroyed” – John.11.50.The helplessness of the victim is all too apparent.

But without such vulnerability Jesus could not have spoken to the hearts of ordinary folk. If his words were undercut by fear and by respect for the “strong”, playing it safe, then his work and his preaching would have been no more than an aid to help people integrate into the prevailing culture. This would have been true even if he had preached rebellion, since rebellion is little more than the last step in trying to integrate people.

AMcC

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30 December: The Holy Family

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Before Amsterdam had numbers for houses, people used plaques on their walls to identify their home or business premises. Perhaps this one belonged to one of the many exiles living in what was then a small city on a marshy riverside. Here is Joseph taking a watchful Mary and Baby away to Egypt; He has his tools with him, including one very long saw. Perhaps he cut his own planks from the tree, or maybe it pleased the artist’s eye to show it at the pinnacle of the picture. Joseph may have given up his business but he was not giving up work.

Exile was a serious business, true enough, but Joseph was able to start work in Cairo and support his family. (The Franciscan church there that bears his name is said to be near the Holy Family’s home.)

Here is a prayer from USPG.

O God, who made your home among us in Jesus of Nazareth, we pray for those who have been forced from their homes and now live as migrants and refugees. Bless them and all who work to bring them relief, comfort and a new home.

Amen.

We could pray, too, that refugees may be allowed to find work and education in their exile, that they may be better equipped to help restore their homeland when they are able to return.

 

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28 October: Challenges can be productive.

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Challenges can be productive. When I was working with 17 year olds with emotional and learning disabilities we introduced a sticker and reward system, tied to an end of week assembly. Stickers earned chocolate bars, for staff as well as students.

Keith was away when we started the scheme, and stood out against it for a fortnight after his return, branding it ‘babyish’.

His participation followed a number of episodes when we had to challenge his behaviour, while his colleagues were being rewarded for theirs. We said that we expected him to be setting an example of adult behaviour to the others. We reminded him of the loyalty cards and rewards offered by shops and restaurants around the town, which plenty of adults were prepared to accept.

Keith challenged us to think the scheme through and justify it to him as something for adults, not simply childish patronising. We challenged him to stand back and look at his own behaviour and how he wanted to be seen – as one of the group or a perpetual outsider? On many levels he was justified in feeling angry at being sent to a boarding school, miles from home, but every other student was in the same boat. School was not forever. Could he live the rest of his life in perpetual conflict? I hope he has found a way not to!

MMB

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6 October: The Beggar by the station: what would you do?

Usually the only people wanting to stop passers-by on Station Road are Jehovah’s Witnesses, and they do not sit in the middle of the pavement (sidewalk) with a hat on the flagstone beside them.

Often these beggars mumble a few words, asking for change. They may look at the floor, but they do not turn away their heads. This young woman did. She looked like Ruby, but with more flesh on her bones than when I taught her; I wasn’t sure.

Deliberately, I slowed down. She twisted herself even further away from any eye contact. She did not want to speak to me. A few metres on, and I turned about. Again she was turned away from me, deliberately, in the opposite direction this time.

I felt obliged to respect this decision, whether or not it was Ruby there. But if it happens again …

Other ex-pupils have crossed the street to avoid me; some have even crossed the street to  say hello. But such friendliness is a precious gift that they can withhold or offer as they see fit. I felt obliged to respect Ruby’s decision. If it was Ruby. Or even someone else.

I shared this story with Christina, who commented: 

In my encounter with the poor man on the street, I don’t believe that I chose wisely because I made my decision based on all of the wrong reasons. I was thinking of myself more than of him. In your encounter with Ruby, however, you made your decision based on all of the right reasons, thinking of her and of what she wanted, whether she was Ruby or not. There is that saying, “Beggars can’t be choosers,” but you gave her the dignity of choice. You may have wished very much that she had chosen differently, so that you could help her in some way… I wonder if this is like God in his relationship with us. So many times, He wishes that we would look over to Him, to let Him into our lives. But sometimes we sense our nakedness too sharply and would rather hide our faces from Him. In His love, He allows us this choice, though it breaks His heart.
Pax Christi

 

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18 May: Power Corrupts

snowgapa

Do you ever, probably unconsciously, feel that a teaching of Jesus is not aimed personally? Recently I had a reminder to think again. I’m thinking of this little story from the Lord’s final journey to Jerusalem. Mrs Zebedee has just tried to get top jobs for James and John.

Jesus called the apostles to him, and said: You know that the princes of the Gentiles lord it over them; and they that are the greater, exercise power upon them. It shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be the greater among you, let him be your minister: And he that will be first among you, shall be your servant. Even as the Son of man is not come to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a redemption for many.

Matthew 20:25-28

I’m no Prince of the Gentiles, and indeed the royal princes in the United Kingdom seem to have taken this text to heart. But still, ‘It shall not be so among you’ suggests that Jesus expected that it often would be. The various scandals in the Church are to do with exercising power over other people.

But a more mundane instance hit me during the cold spell we had in March. I had to go to a place where dedicated people care for others, and to reach the area where the  hands-on care actually actually happens, walked past the administration offices. The path as far as that door had been treated with grit, so that all the snow had melted and walking was easy. For the last fifteen metres the grit had not been applied.

If you asked the admin staff straight out, are you more important than the carers, they could hardly say yes. But the pathway tells another story.

So perhaps a little examination of conscience on where I might be lording it over people? Even though I never thought I was?

When Peter’s mother-in-law was cured, she at once ministered to Jesus and his companions. With all the gifts I have received, I should be ministering to his friends too.

PS: spare a thought and prayer for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle as they prepare to marry tomorrow. The timing of this post was co-incidental; I only noticed on rereading it today.

WT.

Different town, different winter, deeper snow…

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February 4, 2018: There’s Helping and Helping, I

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When I was young and my beard was russet, I was trained to work effectively with people with disabilities. Openness and respect for other persons are fundamental, but so are analytical skills; skills that have to be learnt. As we read on June 19th, Maria Montessori saw a child as wanting to help himself, to co-operate with his parents in growing up, and ‘When he has satisfied the need to help himself he will let the adult help.’ I had to learn to be a parent, too.

There’s something of that determined resilience in all of us, very healthy too. Here is an occasion when the desire to help was channelled to success through disciplined reflection.

A blind man was walking with his long white stick outside the railway station as I went to buy a newspaper; he was still there, walking in the opposite direction, when I came out. He told the two of us who stopped to help that he wanted to ‘find his way into the station. No, don’t take me in. I’ll get there.’

But he accepted directions. With his back to the traffic he was facing the building but some distance from it. ‘Turn right, walk 4 yards, feel the gravel … find the paving stones with the raised bumps … straight ahead …’ Then something I’d not noticed before, the dull echo of our voices from the station building. Now he knew where he was, helped but not over-helped.

That dull echo might help me one day …

Let’s pray for the humility to ask for and accept help when we needed, and for the wisdom to know when not to overwhelm someone with our help. One blind acquaintance told about being helped across the road, ‘And now, please help me back across the road. I didn’t want to cross over at all!’

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