Tag Archives: social sin

29 May: On the receiving end.

Christina Rossetti reminded us that we do not always know leaf from leaf; there are often stinging nettles and prickly brambles behind the pretty flowers. A careless hand could be stung or scratched if it reached in to pick a pink campion or a head of Queen Anne’s Lace.

Saint Augustine, as we heard the other day, was insensitive to the dignity of the Welsh bishops who came to visit him. This was hurtful. I imagine this set back Christian unity in these Islands when mutual respect would have healed many rifts. And Augustine was a saint; we lesser mortals need to be vigilant not to be careless in dealing with each other.

Nationality and race are not the only stumbling blocks to the unity of Christians or the unity of all people, but they matter. If they are not respected, especially by those in authority or power, people will feel hurt and insulted and will be disinclined to co-operate. Here is an eloquent example from 19th Century India. Tagore was by no means intemperate, unlike the man he describes.

Let us pray for the grace to see other people as fellow-children of God, brothers and sisters to be respected and loved as equals.

CUTTACK, 10th February 1893. He was a fully developed John Bull of the outrageous type—with a huge beak of a nose, cunning eyes, and a yard-long chin.

The curtailment of our right to be tried by jury is now under consideration by the Government. The fellow dragged in the subject by the ears and insisted on arguing it out with our host, poor B—— Babu. He said the moral standard of the people of this country was low; that they had no real belief in the sacredness of life; so that they were unfit to serve on juries. The utter contempt with which we are regarded by these people was brought home to me when I saw how they can accept a Bengali’s hospitality and talk thus, seated at his table, without a quiver of compunction.

As I sat in a corner of the drawing-room after dinner, everything round me looked blurred to my eyes. I seemed to be seated by the head of my great, insulted Motherland, who lay there in the dust before me, disconsolate, shorn of her glory. I cannot tell what a profound distress overpowered my heart. How incongruous seemed the mem-sahibs there, in their evening-dresses, the hum of English conversation, and the ripples of laughter! How richly true for us is our India of the ages; how cheap and false the hollow courtesies of an English dinner-party!”

From Glimpses of Bengal, Selected from the Letters of Sir Rabindranath Tagore“.

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5 April: Strange refuge

The symbolic Gateway to Britain at Dover, where Channel swimmers’ crossings to France may begin and crossings in the opposite direction may end
So I have a new name, refugee.
Strange that a name should take away from me
My past, personality and hope.
Strange refuge then.
So many seem to share this name, refugee,
Yet we share so many differences.
I find no comfort in my new name.
I long to share my past, restore my pride,
To show I too in time will offer
More than I have borrowed.
For now the comfort that I seek
Resides in the old yet new name 
I would choose, friend.

Written by a twelve year old Afghan Refugee.

Mrs Turnstone spotted this poem in an exhibition at Canterbury Baptist Church.

During my lifetime our country has made room for different groups of refugees: to name a few, exiles from Eastern European Communism, Ugandan Asians, Vietnamese boat people, people oppressed for their sexuality or because of their opposition to dictatorships. They and their descendants are part of our society, offering more than they have borrowed.

So why are our shores so unwelcoming today? And why do people not only flee their homes but also seek to come here to Britain? Welcoming or rejecting the stranger, which is our true self?

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16 March: All ye that enter in at these gates. Gates V.

The word that came to Jeremias from the Lord, saying: Stand in the gate of the house of the Lord, and proclaim there this word, and say: Hear ye the word of the Lord, all ye men of Juda, that enter in at these gates, to adore the Lord.

Thus saith the Lord of hosts the God of Israel: Make your ways and your doings good: and I will dwell with you in this place. Trust not in lying words, saying: The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, it is the temple of the Lord … you put your trust in lying words, which shall not profit you:

To steal, to murder, to commit adultery, to swear falsely, to offer to Baalim, and to go after strange gods, which you know not. And you have come, and stood before me in this house, in which my name is called upon, and have said: We are delivered, because we have done all these abominations. Is this house then, in which my name hath been called upon, in your eyes become a den of robbers? I, I am he: I have seen it, saith the Lord.

Jeremiah 7:1-4;7-11.

If Jeremiah was preaching at a gateway like this, he would get noticed; even if other preachers were getting pushed to the side by impatient passers-by.

Occasionally there are preachers around Canterbury Cathedral’s main Christ Church gate: mostly they seem to be ignored, as the churches themselves are much of the time. People say I’m too nice to them if I stop and chat, or engage with the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Someone Else called the Temple a den of robbers, and drove the moneychangers out of the courtyard. They were no doubt raking in a tidy profit, in effect making Mammon, or money, at home in God’s House; going after strange gods, as we are tempted to do today. We may not be directly sacrificing children to Baal or to Mammon but there are many children whose all-but slave labour contributes to our comfortable lifestyle. Think of clothes and shoes made in Asian countries.

Willy-nilly we are caught in a web of sinfulness and can do little to escape it. At least there are some fair trade products on the market that we can buy, and we can hope that the shops we use do indeed check all the way back along the supply chain to see that workers are treated fairly.

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30 December: must it be so?

Dryburgh Abbey, Scottish Borders

Not long ago, we read John Wesley on the argument that slavers were using to justify procuring and abusing slaves: If it is not quite right, yet it must be so; there is an absolute necessity for it. Something along the same lines seems to be put forward to justify almost any environmentally destructive activity. Sin’s arguments are ages old: the Serpent in Eden had Eve believing that the forbidden fruit was absolutely necessary for her future happiness.

I needed a new phone: poor people dig out the scarce ores that are used for the inner workings; others in the manufacturing process are poorly paid, overworked and live in heavily polluted neighbourhoods. It must be so, or must it be so? I have two old phones that should be recycled to reuse precious metals.

Clothes: cotton production diverts water from growing food: ‘it must be so.’ Synthetic fibres cause pollution at every stage of production, use and disposal, even, apparently, poisoning fish in the open ocean. But ‘it must be so’.

Forests are destroyed, ‘it must be so’. Rivers polluted, flood plains built over: it must be so.

Well, no. Money need not rule. Time for some New Year Resolutions! Use less, discard less, waste less: reuse or recycle more.

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16 September: Skeleton in the cupboard

The society is heavy with unconfessed sins; its mind is sore and silent with painful subjects; it has a constipation of conscience. There are many things it has done and allowed to be done which it does not really dare to think about; it calls them by other names and tries to talk itself into faith in a false past, as men make up the things they would have said in a quarrel. Of these sins one lies buried deepest but most noisome, and though it is stifled, stinks: the true story of the relations of the rich man and the poor in England. The half-starved English proletarian is not only nearly a skeleton but he is a skeleton in a cupboard.

From Eugenics and Other Evils by G. K. Chesterton

GKC was writing a century ago; he would surely have hoped, if not expected, that working – or willing to work – people would not have needed to use food banks to feed their families. One thing that concerns me about the Black Lives Matter campaign is its potential to divide people, poor people especially. When West Indians’ ancestors were slaves, some of mine were nominally free, but ground down by poverty, their land enclosed and stolen by the rich. Far better than being liable to be sold but definitely not to be spoken about in our constipated national condition. Things only changed through pressure and legislation such as the Factories Acts.

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30 May, Tagore XI: No time to destroy.

"There is not time for us to clasp a thing
and crush it and fling it away to the dust."
			from "The Gardener" by Rabindranath Tagore

‘Clasp a thing and crush it and fling it away’ – that is us today. That is exactly what we Turnstones do with supermarket plastic milk bottles. When our milk was delivered in glass bottles to the doorstep, it was often stolen, our children left without milk for breakfast.

So we see sin and the effects of sin: someone clasped our milk bottle, drank the milk and flung the bottle away; we were forced to buy supermarket milk, and crush and fling away the plastic bottle. At least that is recycled nowadays.

Let’s use our time and resources to let the dust bloom, not accumulate our rubbish.

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