People on both sides of the Atlantic are revisiting their history and discovering that much has been omitted. One area that has come under scrutiny is slavery down to the 19th Century and its after effects in terms of poverty and social attitudes.
It was slaves that built the University of Virginia originally, a fact unacknowledged until now. The link is to the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers now erected close to the centre of the site. It explores the memorial and its symbolism and how the design came about.
On March 3rd in 1865 Union Troops emancipated the local slaves.
I was waiting at the seaside bus stop when a handsome young lad arrived, a smile on his face. He was dancing on the spot, though his headphones were off his ears and indeed switched off. He looked crazily happy, but not crazy!
One of his mates got on a couple of stops later, and so we heard just why the firstcomer was so happy. He’d just got accepted at university. ‘I can’t wait to get out of here, man, and get to university. This place is dead, there’s nothing to do.’
I got off at our local university, to walk home in the Spring sunshine across the green of the campus. Two students alighted in front of me; quite a few prefer to live in the peaceful resort rather than the city.
No doubt there will be young people coming to Canterbury from the town where my fellow-traveller is going, glad to get away from somewhere that has grown too small for them. Many come from London, glad to get off their patch and out from under their parents’ eye.
Perhaps that feeling was part of the initial attraction for the Disciples, determined to follow Jesus wherever he went. Not that James and John escaped from their mother!
And after Easter and Pentecost – James stayed in Jerusalem, but John ended up in Greece, Peter in Rome, Mark in Alexandria, Thomas in India, Joseph of Arimathea, so they say, in Somerset. Fired up they were – with a Pentecostal fire that was life-long.
I trust and pray the fire that made the seasider dance will burn within him all the days of his life.
Just before our travels we attended NAIB’s doctoral graduation in Manchester, where we were addressed by the Chancellor, the poet Lemn Sissay. Eloquently, he urged the graduands to remember those who had made their higher education possible: their parents, their parents’ parents, and their parents before them.
He brought a tear to my eye. In my own family, my generation were the first to have that opportunity, though my mother completed her BA in her sixties. Both my parents left school at fourteen; poverty and ill-health limited life chances for them and many more.
I noticed, as the graduands stepped forward, the great diversity of backgrounds they must have come from. Some were overseas students, attracted to Manchester’s engineering expertise, but many were home grown, including some Muslims. Although the ceremonial expects the graduand to shake the Chancellor’s hand as token of receiving the degree, this gesture would have been an embarrassment for some; but Mr Sissay gracefully received and sent each one into the world with a bow, a smile, a gesture of total acceptance and goodwill.
What kind of world will a Muslim woman engineer be building? What understanding of classical civilisation will her veiled fellow graduate share with her own students?
Let us trust that God is working in strange and wondrous ways among the people (Psalm 96:3) and let us heed the call to make his paths straight (Isaiah 40:3; Matthew 3:3). Meeting the graduands half-way was the University and Lemn Sissay’s response to that challenge.
Even if we have little or no opportunity to foster interreligious dialogue, we can each of us rejoice in a neighbour’s accomplishment, or make even a couple of seconds of their lives more wondrous. That is part of our calling as children of God.
Our lives are short. When they end, does a door simply close, or do our gifts, lovingly shared, also leave a trace of our passing? The name ’Swanston’ above this tutor’s office in Eliot College, of the University of Kent, quietly commemorates Hamish Swanston, a previous staff lecturer. He was the first Roman Catholic professor in an English university since the Reformation.
A number of Franciscan and Redemptorist students from the Franciscan Study Centre, who took degrees at the university, also took his classes. He was a splendidly energising lecturer, always keen to celebrate life’s varied potential. His approach to theology embraced poetry, music, drama and all sorts of story-telling.
Acts of the Apostles played a key role in his understanding of the mission-minded character of Christianity’s liturgical communities. Those willing to be launched on a transforming path in their lives can take a great deal of encouragement from his books, even long after his death in 2013. Titles such as The Kings and the Covenant, A Language for Madness and Handel provide a sparkling adventure for believers, inner journeys whereby they may learn to achieve far more creative uses of the gifts of the Spirit of God in their relationships.
And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness; He who was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the spirit, Seen of angels, Preached among the nations, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory. 1 Timothy 3:16
He saw the early creeds, which were hymns such as 1 Timothy 3:16, as intended to stir the heart, to make people plunge into God. Mercy could then reach them in their many shocks and terrors. A community of friendships could lead them back from their insanity.