There’s a road in Gloucester which has big red signs by it saying ‘Shared Space’. Research suggests that pedestrians get so used to having the pavement to themselves, and drivers so used to having the road to themselves, that they become less vigilant and there are accidents. But if you blur the distinction between road and pavement the drivers pay more attention to the likelihood of pedestrians on the road, and slow down. Of course you couldn’t use this idea all the time – I’m not sure ‘Shared Space’ on the M5 would be such a good idea, but it certainly works on that stretch of road. It’s not clear who has right of way so I’ve seen drivers slow down to a stop as pedestrians hesitantly cross.
I wondered what difference it would make to me if, when I left my house in the morning, there was a sign post on the street saying ‘Shared Space with God’. I know there’s a sign like that on the front door of every church building, and that does make me pay attention. But what if it was on the door of Sainsbury’s, of my office, of my living room, even on the M5? What difference would it make to me if I realised that God is present in the ordinary as well as the special things?
I suppose that all depends on how you see God. If God is the angry judge wagging his finger at you every time you swear, go over the speed limit or think an unkind thought, this could be very oppressive. I can see why people might want to lock that kind of God up behind thick church doors, to be endured once a week and then escaped. But if God is the attentive friend, the compassionate counsellor, or the adoring lover – the one who I ache to be with and who brings meaning to the most mundane of tasks – what difference would that make?
Then ‘Shared Space’ wouldn’t be a threat, but a promise, every footstep would be on holy ground, and all creation would resonate with glory.
Ian Bussell, Diocesan Director of Ordinands and Co-ordinator of Curate Training
As some of you may be aware, Jeremy Vine hosts a programme on Radio 2 on weekday lunchtimes which includes debates on topical issues. Once a week, he invites a well- known person from all walks of life to answer the question “What makes us human?” Using the same query format, I am pondering on “What makes us Christian?”
I was reminded of this when my fun loving, party going grand-daughter was presented with a cup for “the student who has most clearly demonstrated the Catholic ethos and values of the School”. For “Catholic” I have substituted “Christian”. She has a zest for life and uses it as positively as she can. Part of the tribute to her referred to her lively and bubbly personality, but looking beneath this description, you find someone who engages easily with everybody, young, old, sick, poor and exceedingly rich. I have yet to hear her criticize a fellow student; she will always find some redeeming feature to praise. I could not help comparing the way she uses her Christian beliefs with the devastating way that religion is used in Tunisia to stir up hatred and bitterness culminating in the ruthless murders earlier this month.
Surely in a world which is now so advanced socially and democratically, religion should be seen to be something that is comforting to people instead of this extreme hurt it has dealt in Tunisia where a small minority is causing such great divisions.
Mary Adlard, Chair of Gloucester Diocesan Board of Finance
Just a few short weeks ago, a lone gunman, went into a Methodist Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and gunned down nine people engaged in prayer and bible study. Honestly, it was a heinous act of senseless violence that appalled people across the world. But, it was the response of those who lost loved ones which was so remarkable and powerful. Not hiding from their grief, those African Americans were able to reach out in forgiveness to this disturbed young man. Through their tears, they did something truly divine – something which Jesus Christ modelled – they forgave the one that had so cruelly pierced their souls, saying, just as Jesus did: ‘forgive them Father for they do not know what they are doing’. But, something else happened at the Memorial Service for Rev. Pinckney and the others.
President Barack Obama, leader of the most powerful nation on earth, spoke about ‘grace’. He said in the week leading up to the service, he had been reflecting on the idea of grace – the ‘Amazing Grace’ that is sung about in the well-known hymn. He called it the ‘free and unearned favour of God’; and that ‘we are all recipients of that grace’; he even ended his eulogy by singing the first verse of the hymn. It was a poignant and extraordinary moment. But the truth is we know that he spoke words of real power about what we all can believe; that there is a God who loves us, and who, by grace, calls us all into a relationship with him.
The Revd Bruce Goodwin, Chaplain at the University of Gloucestershire
In the wake of the horrific shootings in Tunisia and Charleston, I’ve been thinking a lot about the dynamics of hate and fear and how they are related to violence. Two driven individuals gunned down numbers of their fellow human beings in the name of a perverted ideology, one of race and one of religion/culture. Many of us identify with those folks who were gunned down randomly while they were simply enjoying a holiday or attending a bible study group. We feel vulnerable and afraid.
Scripture (1 John 4.18) teaches that “Perfect love casts out fear.” As Christians, we are commanded to love others with the same love that Jesus has for us. It’s hard enough to love in that open and self-giving way when we are feeling safe and appreciated, much less when we feel uncertain or threatened and afraid. That’s why it is so striking that St John says that love is the best weapon to drive fears away. That means loving while we’re afraid on order not to be ruled by that fear.
Fear all too easily casts out love and replaces it with a dehumanising hatred that soon leads to violence. Ideologies built on such hatred can never lead to the peaceful bridging of differences. Jesus’ kind of love reaches out in care and concern to the “other”, the one who is different, the one we may even have been taught to hate or fear. We must avoid and oppose hate-based ideologies, but never by adopting their tactics. Our aim must always be to become perfected in love and thus freed from fear.
The Revd Canon Robbin Clark, Dean of Women Clergy