Pondering “the Bump” of Posada

by the Rt Revd David Walker, Bishop of Manchester

david-walker

I’ve had a couple of visitors staying with me for the start of Advent. I met them at a hotel near Crewe. I’d been there to give a guest lecture to around 80 women and men, candidates studying part time for ordination, or as Readers, with the All Saints Training Centre. The pair I picked up needed somewhere to stay just until the middle of the week. After that one of the students had space for them for the next few nights. I was informed that they had no special dietary needs, and would be happy for me to take them along to anything I was attending that felt appropriate. If I add that one of them was quite visibly well on in pregnancy, that they are both about 8 inches high, and fashioned from some sort of unglazed material you may guess that these were no normal guests.

Possada - David Walker

What I’ve been doing is taking part in the Advent tradition known as ‘Posada‘. It has become quite popular in many schools in recent years. The central ritual is that figures of Mary and Joseph are passed on each day from one person to the next, symbolising the journey towards Bethlehem. In an age of social media, it’s no problem to circulate photographs of the couple, so that others can join in the journey. It also brings a clear reminder of what this season is about into homes that may otherwise be decorated with entirely secular symbols.

It was unusual to have such an obviously expectant mother-to-be.

Most Posada couples are simply extracted from nativity sets, and only feature Mary after the birth of her son, her gaze directed to the one she has brought into the world. As the infant is not part of the Posada journey, the connection to the child is quite lost.

Being accompanied through my round of engagements always helps me look at what I do in a fresh light. Can I explain what I’m up to and why to my observer? Do my words and actions make any sense from where they are sitting?

Most often, I’m being shadowed by a talented cleric who has been invited to spend time discerning whether they have any sort of call to being a bishop. I can safely assume a level of understanding of Anglican lore and Church of England culture. But this couple were very different.

What does the life of a 21st century diocesan bishop look like to a nine months pregnant young woman and her partner? What does it say to her about the world into which her child is so soon to be born?

Posada will help me ponder on those questions. I’d expected that.

But what has surprised me is how this “Mary with the bump” has helped me glimpse into her world. Her hands are placed on her stomach, tenderly caressing the child within her. The very posture of her body gives a sense of how powerful is her expectation of his arrival. She longs to hold him in her arms and love him. And I’ve found myself caught up into that anticipation and excitement too.

I long for his coming even as she does. And now there’s not long to wait!

Posted in Bishop of Manchester | 3 Comments

Who Tells Our Story – and How?

by Prof Helen King, Professor Emerita in Classical Studies at The Open University and lay preacher in the Diocese of Oxford

Helen King

I’m a great fan of the musical Hamilton, particularly (as a historian), its final song: ‘Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story’, sung by Alexander Hamilton’s widow, Eliza. Earlier in the story, she’d removed herself from his story by burning his letters to her. After his death, she ‘puts herself back in the narrative’, taking centre stage to tell his story. She then asks the audience ‘Have I done enough/Will they tell my story?’

This is the time of year when ‘The Christmas Story’ is told again.

Its popular version mixes the accounts of Matthew and Luke, with some later accretions from tradition. Hamilton reminds us that the power of stories depends on who tells them: ‘You have no control/Who lives, who dies, who tells your story’. That gives us a far richer understanding of the traditional Christmas story. Back in 1992, Richard A. Burridge wrote What are the Gospels? A Comparison with Graeco-Roman Biography, reprinted with an extra chapter in 2004. Burridge, trained in Classics, used his knowledge of how ancient Greek and Roman ‘lives’ really worked to argue that the gospels were nothing like ‘biographies’ in the modern sense. Each gospel focuses on a different aspect of Jesus’s identity, so who ‘tells the story’ affects what we’re told. Understanding the focus of each gospel writer helps us see Jesus more clearly.

The power of stories is strong in Christian traditions which foreground the ‘testimony’, a story of ‘how God rescued you from sin and death through Christ, and changed your life as a result’, as one of the websites on how to structure one describes it here. Such first-hand stories also form part of the ‘wider participation’ aspect of the Church of England’s Living in Love and Faith process, which has been collecting the experiences of different individuals, aiming to present some of these in the final document or as videos. The LLF website states: ‘Our hope is that the stories that are entrusted to us are a means of conveying something of the wisdom we crave for exploring and discovering the mind of Christ regarding these fundamental aspects of our human existence.’ (my italics)

Who tells the story, here?

But I’m still uneasy about the authority that can be invested in such stories. ‘Entrust’ is an interesting choice of word, suggesting that the story is fixed and can be given to someone else to hold. I think a better model would be ‘construct’. We co-construct our stories with those to whom we speak. Someone has to select which stories to include. A video is a first-hand account, but directed, and edited.

I had some experience of this on my twenties, when I shared my own story with Shelagh Brown, a priest in my former diocese of Guildford. She probably found me through my General Synod membership; I spoke in a debate about sexuality, although not in the 1987 ‘Higton debate’. The result of our very enjoyable co-construction chat in her garden, on a sunny day over a huge bowl of cherries, was published in her book The Art of Being a Single Woman(1989). Shelagh wrote several other books, including Single (1971) and the edited Married to the Church? (1983). She also edited BRF’s New Daylight Bible reading notes – the first to include the Bible passage as well. She died in 1997 after falling downstairs as she ran to open the door to guests. When I think of her story, those cherries and the circumstances of her death combine to create a clear picture of a life focused on hospitality, but I’ve no idea how accurate that picture is.

What was my story, as told in that book?

Reading it now, it makes me cringe; although I’m sure Shelagh would have run the whole draft chapter past me. So, at that point, it was ‘true’ for me. But now, I don’t recognise that person I was, who was so positive about virginity and so keen to tie contemporary attitudes to sex to her academic research on the ancient Greek view that virginity damaged women’s health. From where I am now, I am sure that my enthusiasm for virginity reflected the unease I felt at that time about my body, not least because of severe endometriosis. 30 years on, married for 15 years, I just don’t recognise that upbeat person who apparently said, ‘I like the freedom to think about who I am, without having to support someone else who doesn’t know who he is!’  and ‘I don’t think that the person I’m looking for is ever going to turn up!’, although to be fair I have married a man who is very comfortable being himself. I don’t recognise that person who claimed that one thing she’d worked out about herself was that she was strong, but that it wasn’t always something she admitted because that is a masculine quality. Now, I wouldn’t say I’m strong, nor would I gender strength in that way.

The story I told isn’t one I would tell now.

Even when told by the person whose story it is, a story is told to a particular audience and to a particular end, and it represents just one moment in time. Giving stories weight, and fixing them in print or on video, risks missing the point that stories shift even if it’s you ‘Who tells your story’. Hearing a testimony may be powerful, but it is not all of a person’s story. ‘You have no control/Who lives, who dies, who tells your story’.

We are all works in progress.

Posted in Helen King, Human Sexuality, Living in Love & Faith | Leave a comment

Nationalism, Patriotism and Glory…

by the Very Revd Dr David Ison, Dean of St Paul’s, Member of General Synod and Vice-Chair of the Ozanne Foundation

David ison 2

‘Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism is when hate of people other than your own comes first.’

So wrote the Lithuanian and French Jewish novelist Romain Gary, who knew about nationalism and being an outsider.  We can patriotically love and support our country without hating or dominating others; which means that in times of election fever and division we can put the demands or promises of parties and leaders in their places.

100 years ago the Dean of St Paul’s, Dean Inge, wrote in his diary about a speech he gave in December 1917, in which he warned of the dangers of a post-war international settlement that would create ongoing conflict. His perceptive comments were met with a torrent of abusive news reports and letters; he wrote that ‘one good lady says: I am praying for your death; I have been very successful in two other cases.’ This time the lady was unsuccessful; but Dean Inge ruefully noted at the end of his diary for 1917 that ‘our people, slow and reluctant to enter the war, are now mad with rage and hatred… It is indeed a terrible time.’

Nearly every day I worship in St Paul’s Cathedral, surrounded by statues and memorials intended to focus, not on the suffering and damage of war, but on national and individual glory.  These monuments to men like Nelson, Wellington, Collingwood and Abercrombie, who lived or died ‘gloriously’ for their country, were erected at public expense so that their glory will be remembered by our nation, exalted heroes who built the Empire or defended the realm, held up as examples both of self-sacrifice for the nation and of the glory to be earned as a result.

But the lives of these heroes were more like ours than their monumental statues suggest. These were men with families, loves and betrayals, pride and anger, courage, vanity and endurance. They killed other people, and were responsible for the deaths of many under their command, as part of the human cost and moral ambiguity of war. Each one was a human being doing their duty as they understood it – but not peaceful martyrs for their faith, or humanitarians like Florence Nightingale whose memorial is downstairs in the Cathedral crypt.

Their memorials were erected by men like them who held power in uncertain and revolutionary times; men who wanted to avoid rebellion against themselves, men for whom gaining glory in the service of the nation was a useful distraction from the question of who and what the nation is for at all –  and from the cost of the pursuit of national glory, the mentally and physically battle-scarred veterans, and the victims of conflict who are so often women and children and those unlike ‘us’, airbrushed out of the nationalistic narrative.

Like a promise of glory in time of conflict, Christian faith has been used to bolster those in power and keep the discontented masses quiet by promising future rewards for present suffering, as Karl Marx recognised. But true faith is subversive, because worship of God and allegiance to our Lord Jesus Christ comes first.

As Christians we have to put into their place the nation, our political or religious party, even our own self-interest, with our highest loyalties being to God and to the well-being of all humanity. Such subversion isn’t a destructive threat to a nation, but a threat to nationalism, which is the creed of those who use national loyalty in order to capture or keep hold of power. Having Christian values that can judge whether what we’re told is in truth for the good of the nation, and having a population able to reflect on politics and hold national leaders to account, is a sign of a nation’s maturity, not of disloyalty, recognising that populism and nationalism are perversions of something better.

In a febrile, binary and intolerant world we need to see ourselves from God’s perspective.

Surrounded by statues extolling human glory, I remember the words from John’s Gospel (12.23-33) where Jesus speaks about his glory and honour coming, not from victories on behalf of the nation, but from the glory God reveals in Jesus being nailed high on a cross. The glory of God is in self-giving, in loving, in dying that others might live. God’s glory doesn’t mean power for great men, but honour for those whom the world sees as weak and disposable. The glory of Christ is the cross, where Jesus carries our sorrows and suffers for us.

Empires and nations and their glories come and go, but God’s love for each one of us endures. Although some of their memorials remain, the ‘glorious dead’ are long gone; we remember their limitations, and our own, and see true glory in those who bear the mental and physical damage of conflict, whether due to war, or to the divisions and hatreds of our own society.

As Christians, we glory not in self or in power, but in loving service and working for the good of all; we long, not for glory, but for the day when war and conflict will be no more, when nations will serve each other, and love will have the final word.

 

 

Posted in Brexit, Dean of St Pauls, Establishment, Politics | Leave a comment

A Call to “Take Sides”!

by the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool and Chair of the Ozanne Foundation

my-name-is-paul

In an increasingly polarised and angry West it may seem perverse to say that we need to be clear about taking sides. Surely the work of civilised people, and in particular of those who follow the Prince of Peace, is to avoid taking sides – to work instead at bringing all sides together and seeking consensus, agreement, emollience? Surely that would be the pastoral thing to do?  And the Church is primarily a pastoral entity – isn’t it?

In “Liberating God”, his remarkable study of “Private care and public struggle”[1],  Bishop Peter Selby has wise and prophetic things to say about this understanding. He writes of the default setting of our pastoral care, which is crystallised in words such as “attentiveness”, “empathy”, “caring”, “openness”, “a non-judgemental attitude” – and of course he knows and emphasises the value of all these things, especially as they apply to individual care for the hurting. But he also says that if this is all we do, and all we think we are for, then we may be missing a vital contribution to the public square.

We may indeed be missing something of what our Scripture and our tradition calls us to. And so he regrets that:

“The minimising of pain and the reduction of tension do not appear as one side of an argument, to be balanced against the possible value that disturbance may have.”

He continues:

“…we should at least consider a new aspect of the pastoral relationship. This aspect involves making pastoral care not only listening but also a taking of sides.”

This week a new biography of one of my predecessors as Bishop of Liverpool, David Sheppard, was published. Called “Batting for the Poor”, it is written by Professor Andrew Bradstock[2]. It tells the story of a privileged young man, a sporting hero, who was changed and indeed radicalised by his conversion to Christianity and by his immersion in Scripture and in the life of the underprivileged, first in East and South London and then here in Liverpool. In short it tells the story of a man who was led to take sides.

Despite the accusations which were laid against Bishop David of political naïveté and of flirting with Marxism, Andrew Bradstock writes: “Sheppard had carefully avoided direct involvement in party politics while in Woolwich and Liverpool…”. But he then goes on: “Sheppard said he ‘would certainly accept the label of Christian socialism – which doesn’t always mean commitment to one particular programme.’” [3]

As I read this I was led to consider how bishops speak today, how language has changed over the years since Bishop David lived in the house where I now live.

Times change.

Ours is an overheated climate in more ways than one, with every political party ready to throw accusations of partisanship at anyone who speaks into the public square. In such an election climate it’s all too easy for people to misspeak, throwing verbal fuel on a pretty hot fire, producing more heat than light.

It would be better then to look for the fruit of thought, or in another image to identify the political compass which people try to follow, and which they invite others to follow in the particular currents and channels of each person’s own life and commitments. And a powerful and relevant example is to hand.

In their excellent joint letter for the General Election, published earlier this week, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York speak strongly of the need for prayer and respect for our politicians, for unity and for courtesy in public discourse, and very rightly so.

But their letter is also crystal clear as to the Christian imperative:

“…we must put the vulnerable and those on the edges of society first … That includes justice for the oppressed, protection for the persecuted, and a commitment to combat climate change and adapt to its effects. It also includes a just economic system, open and encouraging to aspiration and ambition, supportive of those who struggle.”

It does not seem to me that Bishop David Sheppard would find anything here with which to disagree. Certainly I agree with it. The Church follows its Lord who took the side of the poor. Taking sides need not mean taking up labels, but it must surely mean taking Jesus seriously.

My own public statements on this election are few, and very brief, but I believe they stand in the tradition lived out by Bishop David decades ago, the tradition mapped out by our Archbishops this week.

For better or worse I have chosen to express them on Twitter, and they stretch to three tweets. They constitute a pale echo of the stand taken by Bishop David and by Archbishop Sentamu and Archbishop Justin. But here they are:

Let me say again what I say in every election: if you’re a Christian, then (after praying, reading and learning) cast your vote in the way that you believe will help the poorest most. #Election #ChooseLife

Electing: six suggestions in two tweets.

  1. Pray, read and think before you choose.
  2. Seek the truth. It can still be found, even if it is harder to find nowadays. Dig.
  3. Vote. It’s not true that they’re all a shower, not true that your vote will make no difference. Vote. 
  1. Vote in such a way as to help the poorest most.
  2. Vote for a government – it’s not a referendum, not a presidential election.
  3. Resist those everywhere who stir up fear of others, Antisemitism, Islamophobia.

I commend these simple ideas to you – in the hope that they might help you at the moment when, whatever side you choose to take, you take sides; that is, for the moment when you vote.

© 2019 +Paul Liverpool

[1] SPCK 1983

[2] SPCK 2019

[3] “Batting for the Poor”, p.274

Posted in Bishop of Liverpool, Brexit, Good Disagreement, Human Sexuality, Politics | Leave a comment

The Challenge of Faith in the Quantum Era

by the Revd Canon Rosie Harper, Chaplain to the Bishop of Buckingham, Trustee of the Ozanne Foundation and Member of General Synod

Rosie Haarper

I felt as if I’d been seriously told off by Jesus. A couple of weeks ago a verse from the gospel reading jumped out at me: “You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and sky. Why don’t you know how to interpret the present time?” Luke 12: 56

Of course, it’s true!

Time and time again we try to get our message across by trying harder and expecting a different outcome. We find it so very hard to believe that the world has changed, so now there is a burning platform. You’ll have seen the stats -published 4 months ago by the National Centre for Social Research –that in 2018 2% of 18-24 year olds identified as Anglican, and only 1% indicating they belonged to a church.

If we are genuine about our longing to communicate our story – the story of the love of God which can change people and bring life and hope and joy to all humanity – we have got to get our heads round this fact:

No one wants what we are offering any more.

We are trying to say things in a way that people can’t, not won’t, but can’t hear.

History shows that in the end the Church is able to adapt, but as we move into the “Quantum Era” we are really struggling.

Most Christians of my generation have deep roots in the Enlightenment. It was a time when everything was either known, or not yet known. Newton’s laws gave us the world as mathematically quantifiable. The printing press eventually led us out of feudalism and towards democracy and capitalism and the Church thrived in this linear, measurable world view. Things were either right or wrong. Our religion became solid, precise, and mechanical. Scouring the scriptures, we came up with a clearly articulated, highly understandable belief system. We determined all the right doctrines, systematized them in books.

We figured out a proper doctrine for God, Jesus, human nature, sin, redemption, and the afterlife. We perfectly mirrored the culture. We became steeped in certitude; confident we had the right doctrines. The culture was looking for dependable answers to spiritual questions, and we had answers aplenty. These are the roots of that confident phrase we still hear today: ‘The Bible clearly says.’ The Alpha Course is the epitome of this way.

But physics has moved on. At the beginning of last century we discovered that stuff we though was solid, wasn’t at all. The table I’m working at looks firm enough, but it is actually made up of empty space and electrical charges. Einstein and then Heisenberg showed how little, not how much we know.

The world is working out what this means.  Certainty is giving way to mystery. Power is fragmented, and as for ‘truth’ – well, who knows?

This could be such a wonderful opportunity. We surely secretly knew that it was foolish to be certain about God. We could inhabit this world so much better with a focus on what really matters: consciousness, mystery, empathy, purpose, creativity, love, God.

Non-religious people see this better than us.

There is a new play on at the Soho Theatre in London by David Baddiel.  Called “God’s Dice” it explores this quantum era in terms of religious faith. Baddiel doesn’t have an ounce of traditional faith. ‘I think I’m more of an atheist than Richard Dawkins’ he says, but he is very interested in the human need for religion describing it this way: ‘the beauty and poetry and magic and morality and the theatre indeed of religion.’

In his play the protagonist’s ‘proof’ of God’s existence comes from depicting Jesus’ miracles as scientific equations. Done in this way – as equations – Jesus’ miracles go from being impossible to merely very, very, very unlikely.

Here’s the rub: if you are doing quantum physics you are also studying the very, very, very unlikely. How can one electron be in two places at once as quantum physics seems to suggest? Is that solid science, or does it require the same leap of faith as religion requires?

In other words – It’s a mystery, but it’s real!

When something goes viral through the power of new media there seem to be two features common to many ideas. The first is that they tend to touch people’s hearts more than their reason. Remember: That elusive truth now resides in emotion not fact. The second is that life on the internet is egalitarian – the powerless can feel empowered. A shepherd on a hillside in a third world country can now be part of a world-wide movement.

These are both areas where the Church is weak. Locked into a way of thinking about communicating faith that is linear.

An example? Well in my Diocese, Oxford, the number of confirmations has fallen off a cliff. Lots of soul searching later, the answer from the top is that we must revive the tradition of catechism and teach people better. We suppose that imparting our truth systematically as a series of ideas cannot fail to convince people. There is a concept called ‘lock-in’, where it is almost impossible to change perspective – which seems to apply here.

We are also obviously horrendously weak on equality. Women, BAME, LGBT, those with disabilities. We can’t seem to understand that these are issues that really matter to people. They don’t simply disagree, they are disgusted.

But it could be so different because our faith is about the heart. Our faith is about equality, equity.

A few days ago, Jayne Ozanne was the subject of an unpleasant piece in which she was called a “Notorious Anglican Lesbian Activist”. Instead of getting upset, or arguing, she embraced it with a sense of fun and now there are NALA badges and T-Shirts. It gave me a little glimpse in to how the Church is just as fragmented as the rest of the world and that trading clobber texts the way my parents did simply makes no sense anymore.

We need to occupy the space with creativity and learn to see the quantum age as bursting with energy where God reveals the full glory of mystery, uncertainty and diversity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Human Sexuality, Politics, Rosie Harper | 1 Comment

Inside, Outside – XR, Church & Change

by the Revd Canon Giles Goddard, former Chair of the General Synod’s Human Sexuality Group and member of the co-ordinating group for the Living in Love and Faith project

Giles Goddard

October was a strange month for me.  It was all about insiders and outsiders.

St John’s Waterloo was pleased to open its doors to the protesters of Extinction Rebellion. We gave fifty Red Rebels a home in the crypt for a fortnight, enabling them to rest and robe before going out to sites of protest around London. In their robes of red, with stark white faces, they witnessed silently to the consequences of catastrophic climate change.

Climate Change XR protesters

The response we had from XR protestors who made us their home was moving. One person wrote to me afterwards – ‘I was brought up as a Christian. However, I have to say that in the sixty five years of my being on this planet this is the first time in my life that I have been quite so moved and impressed by such an open, loving and caring approach.’

At the same time I was hard at work helping with the fourth redrafting of the Living in Love and Faith resource,  following feedback from the College of Bishops. I have been moved by the level of engagement from people across the spectrum of views in the Church of England, as we work closely together. We’re trying to create something which will genuinely help the church to engage better with the deeply contested issues this blog often covers. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating, but the process of making the pudding has been in many ways humbling.

Many of the XR rebels I spoke to are ‘insiders’, grandparents – often from the West Country – who have never protested before. Who have certainly never thought of being arrested, of intentionally breaking the law – they are the people we would think of as the haves, the comfortably off. But they have deliberately re-cast themselves as outsiders, as lawbreakers. They have reached the conclusion that this is the way they are called to try to bring about the urgent changes needed to resist global heating. The insiders have become outsiders.

Many of the people involved in LLF are ‘outsiders’. People who, because of the church’s history and theology, do not fit within the current structures. Lesbian and gay people in relationships, trans people. People bringing a different voice, people who have often in the past been shut out or marginal. But now we are in the room, being listened to and listening. For many it hasn’t been an easy process. Some have left – but others have stayed or joined. The outsiders have become insiders.

In March I compared the XR arrestees to Jesus, and got some pushback for that.  But I didn’t change my mind in October. The challenge of climate change is so great that urgent measures are vital.

In October I was welcomed by the College of Bishops, expressly because of who I am, a unique and individual member of the Church of England’s spiritual community. It felt weird but good.

I’m not sure where I stand now, inside or outside the circle. I expect the XR protesters aren’t sure where they stand either.  But I am absolutely sure that the necessary changes won’t happen, in climate or in the church, unless we are willing to unsettle ourselves and move outside our boundaries. Journeying together to an unknown future. Which, by God’s good grace, will be the better future for which we all hope.

 

Posted in Climate Change, Giles Goddard, Human Sexuality, Living in Love & Faith | 3 Comments

Remembrance, Inclusion & Identity

by Lord Ian Blair of Broughton, cross bench peer, former Metropolitan Police Commissioner and parishioner in the Diocese of Oxford

Ian Blair

In this period of remembrance, I have been reflecting on the time-limited nature of memory. I was born after World War II in 1953 but my childhood was dominated by it, with poppies and remembrance services being as absolute a fixed part of the year as Christmas. My childhood games and comics were all about Gerries, Nazis and Brits.

This last decade has seen an outpouring of remembrance as the 100 year anniversaries of the First World War slipped past, followed by the 75 the anniversary of D Day this year and with the 75th anniversary of VE day still to come next year.

A number of issues have been striking me this weekend, two of them very strongly. The first is the question of how long the significance of these particular acts of remembrance will continue. The second is whether we are necessarily remembering things quite right.

The industrialised slaughter of 1914-8 and the loss of so many brilliant young lives is burned into British, German and French national memories. My uncle was killed in France in 1915.

We also now pretty much understand that the Second World War was effectively a continuation of the First and its victors’ peace. But if we look ahead 30 years, will people still be remembering the bravery and the futility of these events? And what will people be remembering?

The way in which a small pebble can start an avalanche caused me to think about this when I noticed a newspaper article to the effect that a number of police forces were no longer prepared to devote manpower to all the remembrance services in their particular region and were asking village events to be subsumed into larger city ones. Where does this lead?

Soon, all those with direct memory of these titanic struggles will be dead, with all respect to those mourning losses from more recent but thankfully smaller conflicts. What then?

Who knows what future generations will do but what it made me think is that those who do survive and those of us whose lives have been was so influenced by it need to make sure that the memory of all that sacrifice is accurate and comprehensive and not able to be twisted into a narrative of British or even English exceptionalism and nationalism.

The great 1940 cartoon by David Lowe entitled ‘Very Well, Alone’ pictures a single British Tommy standing on the white cliffs of Dover, fist raised aloft against German bombers streaming in overhead. It was published after the fall of France earlier that year. It was a wonderful piece of propaganda and those who come after should not disregard its significance.

Cartoon-Very-Well-Alone-by-David-Low

The sheer raw courage of the Churchill-led government in refusing peace terms with Nazi Germany should never be discounted.

But even when Lowe’s cartoon was published, ‘Alone’ was rapidly becoming less true. Soldiers from New Zealand, Australia, Canada and South Africa were already steaming towards our shores. Resistance movements from Holland, Poland and France fought and flew with us. Then the Americans came in and eventually Germany was to be defeated by huge Soviet sacrifice. All this is compatible with my childhood memories – these were all people recognisably like us.

But people recognisably not like us, not like anyone in my entirely white Cheshire home town, came as well. And my childhood memories do not include any understanding that those who fought alongside the British included hundreds of thousands of non-white citizens of the British Empire and Commonwealth.

This was brought home to me sharply at a Remembrance event in Hounslow in west London, which I was attending in an official capacity sometime in the 2000’s. I met an elderly Sikh, with a slew of medals across his chest. I was very surprised indeed when he told me that he had been a Squadron Leader in the Battle of Britain. Where did this story fit in to my understanding of the past? Turbans among the Few?

Ever since, I have been tracing the stories of Black and Minority Ethnic contributions to the events Remembrance Day commemorates.

I am just going to take the example of India. One million Indian soldiers served in the First World War, as the magnificent Indian War Memorial in northern France makes clear: 75000 died, while 87000 died in the Second World War.

But their contribution is scarcely remembered in most of Britain.

I always see Jesus Christ as the epitome of diversity. Christ outraged the Jewish religious authorities of his time by mingling with tax-gatherers and sinners. He enjoyed the company of women not of his family, a very unusual course of action at the time, appeared first to one of those women after His Resurrection and protected an adulteress from being attacked.

He spoke at length to a Samaritan woman – regarded as an apostate by Jews at that time – at a well and then stayed in her village.

Jesus preached at and stayed on the Mount of Olives, just outside Jerusalem. This was then the site of Jerusalem’s leper colony. He was inclusive above all.

The Temple in Jerusalem was divided into concentric courts, first the court of the Gentiles into which anyone could go, then the court of the Jews open to both men and women, then one only for Jewish men, then one only for priests and then the Holy of Holies, which could be entered only by the High Priest, only on one day a year, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The deeds and words of Jesus challenge this exclusivity, as did His early followers in taking Christ’s teaching to the ends of the earth, offering Christianity to all the world.

We need to follow His example and ensure that, for future generations, the message of Remembrance Sunday is not only about – although certainly including – a British (Scottish, Welsh, Irish as well as English) triumph and sacrifice but a wonderful diverse achievement by all faiths and none against all the odds, against world-wide evil and brutality.

At the going down of the sun, we need to remember all of them. And that inclusive memory will help future generations combat the evils to come in their day, rather than allowing such a glorious moment in our national history to dwindle into a little Englander motif.

Posted in Brexit, Human Sexuality, International Relations, Jeremy Morris, Lord Blair of Boughton, Politics | 1 Comment