At the beginning of January, the Archbishop of Canterbury led a pilgrimage to Auschwitz. Reflecting on the unimaginable horror of all that happened there, he commented that the genocide that took place began long before Auschwitz opened. It began in the language used by the Nazi regime which, in reshaping attitudes, made the death camps possible because they had become thinkable. Genocide does not begin with killing it begins with words.
So one of the many warnings from Auschwitz is that leaders, whether in church, state, academy, the media or community, help define the boundaries of the ‘acceptable’ in how they use language or fail to use it. That lesson needs to be learned in every age. Intentionally or not, our use of language shapes the wider culture. One of the most disturbing features of our own times is that much of the political discourse on both sides of the Atlantic, and on different sides of current controversies, is so often characterised by aggression and vilification. It demeans those who speak it and it demeans those who are spoken against.
In short, we should not underestimate the power of words to set free or to bind, to unite or divide, to reveal truth or obscure truth. In the Hebrew scriptures God speaks in order to create: “God said ‘let there be…’”. In the Gospels Jesus frequently uses words to heal, free, reconcile and forgive: ‘My daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace’; ‘Lazarus, come out’; ‘Father, forgive them’.
In an age of ‘alternative facts’, when social media makes words cheap, we must play our part in cherishing the careful use of language, so that our words build up our common humanity as children of God, rather than obscure it.
By the Revd Canon Dr Andrew Braddock, Head of Mission and Ministry
A couple of weeks ago the country heard alarming news: ‘The snow is on its way!’ Apocalyptic visions, whipped up by the mainstream media triggered a great panic, despite the fact that snow in January should by no means be considered an anomaly. While many of us initiated last minute preparations, anticipating the worst, on hearing the news many children’s eyes opened wider in the hope that they might get a chance to build a snowman.
I always find it curious that every couple of years parts of the country come to a standstill as a result of winter frost and snow, which considering its low, but regular incidence rate should not be a great surprise in winter months. Once again this month I watched with fascination as the panic levels escalated, only to switch back to ‘business as usual’ mode a few hours later, when the snow became a distant memory. Will the snow forecast come as a surprise to us again next time? I am convinced that to some it will. Others will have learnt the lesson and might invest in a shovel, warmer boots and new car tyres.
As I was pondering on the above I realised that while disruption, change of plans or facing a longer wait are rarely welcome in our lives, they can also create opportunities or teach us a valuable lesson.
The other day I was in a meeting where one of my invitees raised the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), which prompts Christians to always be ready for the Second Coming.
Ten young ladies got chosen to participate in a wedding. Their role was to accompany the bridegroom’s procession, part of traditional Jewish wedding celebrations. All were told to be ready and wait their turn. Five of them came well-prepared with an extra supply of lamp oil, which came in handy when the bridegroom was still nowhere to be seen after the sunset. The other five quickly run out of oil and had to abandon their posts to get more of it. While they were away, the bridegroom arrived. Only the virgins who came prepared accompanied him to the celebrations.
As we begin a new year it is worth asking ourselves whether there is enough oil in our lamps and if we are prepared for the next heavy snow in our lives.
By Adam Klups, Assistant Churches Officer.
It cannot have escaped your notice during the last few months that Donald Trump is a figure that divides opinion. It cannot also have escaped your notice that we are coming closer and closer to the day when we see him as President of the United States – one of the most powerful men in the world. It has perhaps also not escaped your notice that this powerful man (whatever you might believe about the latest allegations) has sought to use his power to put down the weak and to trample over the lives of those whom he perceives to be ugly, different in any capacity you can think of, poor or in need.
I am absolutely in favour of free speech – we should not be frightened to say what we think is wrong in our world and should not be scared to challenge injustice or the actions of those around us. Just because someone is different from us that does not mean we should not be able to challenge them but we should also be open to challenge about our own lives from others. However, those with power and responsibility need to work for harmony not division.
This week we celebrated Epiphany – the revelation that the Christ child was King, Priest and Saviour. He did not come to wield His power over the poor and the weak, the dis-eased or the emotionally and spiritually needy. Instead He came to those who had travelled from foreign countries, to the lowest of the low and to a teenage mother to say that God wants only justice and joy in the world. He came to lift the humble, to strengthen the weak and to heal the sick in body, mind and spirit. We, who count ourselves as his disciples need to keep this in mind now as our world seems to polarise itself more and more.
This week sees the launch of ‘Faith’, an exhibition of portraits of people of faith from our local community. They have all been painted by Russell Haines and are on display in the Cathedral cloisters until 26 February. If you get chance to go and see them please do. The overwhelmingly powerful aspect of this exhibition is that from an atheist has come the gathering of people from all nations to show themselves standing together for love, tolerance and understanding in the world.
Jo Cox MP said “We have much more in common than divides us” and she was right. It is called humanity. We all bleed the same way; we all hurt; we all get ill; we all need to be loved.
Please, at a time when the powerful seem more intent on causing division than ever before let us stand together for what we say we believe in. God come to dwell with every man, woman and child – wherever we come from, whoever we are and wherever we are going.
By the Revd Ruth Fitter, St Pauls and St Stephens, Gloucester
As one year ends and another begins, many of us will spend moments contemplating the time that has past and that which is to come. Much of this shared over the past week has been about the seemingly higher than usual passing of so many famous household names. We also saw an unprecedented period of a refugee crisis -a rather disappointing feature of 2016!
When asked to write the first post for 2017, I thought about sharing the hopes that a new year unwittingly offers; however, this does not quite feel right. The turning of the clock at midnight on 31 December does not necessarily offer many a new broom, a fresh start, or opportunities for resolutions. However, each year many of us perceive that we have this chance to make a difference.
Perhaps it would be better to see this moment each year as a refreshing point?
We ask our Lord for repentance of our sins as a way of being refreshed “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord;” [Acts 3:19]
So perhaps this year, rather than promising those extra days down the gym, eating healthier or even writing well versed blogs; perhaps some time in reflection and repentance, to seek the way we should change will be of greater benefit to us and those we meet.
Happy New Year to all who read this & I wish 2017 brings you hope, joy & love, which you can share and help others around you to find their ‘new broom’ and sweep clean for a refreshed start to our continued journey in our following of Christ.
I have two abiding images of this last week. One of the experience of my ordination as Bishop in Canterbury Cathedral, surrounded by the love and the prayers of so many, literally surrounded by my brother and sister bishops as they joined in the ordination prayer, images that brought with them a deep sense of being both called and sent, sent to share the love of God as a disciple of his son Jesus Christ.
The other is of the continuing, but little noticed crisis in the Yemen where war has torn this beautiful country apart, of babies, malnourished, struggling and in many cases, failing to live. Then in one photograph the hand of a doctor is seen gently caressing the tiny limbs of one such child, communicating, through touch, warmth, love and care. At the beginning of what for me is a new ministry among the people of Gloucestershire and South Gloucestershire this has been a powerful reminder of what we are called to, the humanity we are all, whatever our faith, called to share, humanity which the church is called to live not to shame the world but to bring light to the world. To belong, to be cared for, and to be loved is the most precious gift we can ever receive. It is also a gift to be shared, to be lived without boundaries without limits.
The truth is that, however hard this may be, I am connected to that child, bound in a common humanity, that child is my child, because we are both God’s child, she is waiting for my love, my care. I cannot abandon her any more than I believe God can abandon me.
By the Rt Revd Robert Springett, Bishop of Tewekesbury
I love football! Since the age of about 6 it has been my favourite sport, and has had the ability to occupy my attention for hours on end – playing, watching, reading about… I have to admit though, that until last week, I had not heard of the South American team Chapecoense.
As I was hearing the early reports of the tragic air crash in Colombia, my attention was grabbed on hearing that almost a whole football team might be involved. And as the news has gradually come out – what a tragedy overall.
What has particularly touched me have been the ways in which people have paid tribute to those who have died – thousands packing football stadia to remember and then Chapecoense being awarded the Copa Sudamericana, with the tag line ‘Eternal Champions’.
One or two people have commented to me, ‘oh how sad – especially at this time of year’ and my initial response has been to agree. But on reflection, I think this time of year actually tells us a lot about the hard times in life.
For me, Christmas time is as much about times of trial as it is about happy, family celebrations. This month we are marking the birth of Jesus as God coming into the world and sharing the whole reality of humanity – tears, pain and the laughter and joy. My favourite carol (Once in Royal David’s City) includes the phrase, ‘and he feeleth for our sadness and he shareth in our gladness’. This year as I sing those words, I will think of the anguish of those lost in this plane crash, and the pain of the world, as well as giving thanks for the fun and love – because God is here with us in it all.
By the Revd Canon Katrina Scott, Area Dean of the North Cotswolds
For me, the last word on the extraordinary American election season was a tweet from Irish author Damien Owens. It has the now infamous image of Donald Trump at a mass rally in South Carolina in the throws of a mocking impression of disabled reporter Serge Kovaleski. The tweet says:
“As long as I live, I will never understand how this alone wasn’t the end of it.”
It could be said that the last word on the Christian hope is the restoration of lost dignity. We see it in a glimpse of the Final Banquet at the end of time in the scriptures. As we look at those who have a particular invite to the banquet, we notice that it is those with tear-stained faces, those who have known disgrace, disappointment and disapproval. And, as they gather, we see that those who have known disgrace will have their disgrace removed – their dignity will be restored (Isaiah 25v8). I guess this resonates so strongly because most of us have true-life stories of having our self-worth pulled out from under us and our dignity shattered. The paradox is that this experience often has unlocked a strength in us – the strength of the wounded healer to those we encounter in situations of lost dignity.
I love the mythical tale of a boat carrying someone who has just departed this life to a new shore at the other side – where many welcome them home. In the manner of Deacon Blue’s classic hit-song, I like to think of that boat as “a ship called dignity.”
By the Revd Simon Howell, Stroud Pioneer Minister, Vicar of Holy Trinity Stroud and Inter Faith Adviser in the Diocese of Gloucester.