Let us stand together

Ruth FitterIt 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

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Suffering

sam-squareI thought I’d explain why God allows suffering in the world, knock that one on the head because, let’s face it, the question’s been rumbling on for a while now. You’re welcome, don’t mention it.

Watching my kids grow from babies, it occurred to me there’s a bunch of wonderful things baked into us; things like justice, creativity, and love. When my daughter was 8 months old she’d cry when witnessing another kid have something taken off them. Compassion and justice are pretty difficult concepts to get across to what is basically a big crying, weeing chicken nugget that NEVER sleeps – so I’m pretty sure we didn’t teach her what justice was.

I reckon we have enough of these little Godly things built into us, that if we used them properly we’d live in paradise. But we don’t, do we? Anyone who’s been to Swindon can confirm that. And God doesn’t seem to step in when he really should, so what gives? Why do some kids get blood cancer? Why Rupert Murdoch?

Looking at the long game, the human race has very nearly solved cancer, in fact when we put some effort in, great things happen; look at the global efforts to eradicate smallpox in the ‘50s, or initiatives like Medecins Sans Frontieres. But when you put metrics to the effort, another picture is revealed. Yes we’ve spent X thousand man-hours trying to cure a certain type of blood cancer, but then we’ve spent 188 million man-hours watching Gangnam Style on Youtube, haven’t we? Yes we have.

In the UK, we’ve just dug deep and finally invested £130 million in radiotherapy kit; a whole nations’-worth of cancer treatment. That sounds good. But then a Spanish football team just spent £293 million getting a single chap to play football for them. We’re an interesting species, let’s face it.

The point of the Adam and Eve story was that we [humans] are capable of living in paradise, but we choose not to, we choose Gangnam Style and Donald Trump. We choose Sunny Delight and Wonga. We choose to turn our backs on God-given abilities. I do it, you do it, we all do it. As theological writer Francis Spufford put it, we share this “human propensity to f*ck things up”.

We are magnificent, ethereal, productive little so-and-so’s, created and clothed in wonder and joy, and called to walk with a creator in such a way that reveals the paradise just out of reach.

The question is not ‘Why does God allow suffering’, the question is why do we?

Blog by Sam Cavender, Senior Communications Officer

 

Don’t lose faith

Richard AtkinsLast month, the Government downgraded the role of Minister for Faith, handing it instead to a junior minister. Meanwhile, the Labour Party has refused to comment on speculation in the religious press that Jeremy Corbyn is thinking about appointing a Minister for Jews and a Minister for Muslims.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair was once told “we don’t do religion” by Alistair Campbell. From Blair back to Corbyn may seem like a journey of a million miles but an interesting article in the Spectator illustrates that, far from being the angry atheist that some have painted him, Corbyn is much more moderate than perhaps the press are giving him credit. “I’m not anti-religious at all,” says Corbyn, “not at all… I find religion very interesting. I find the power of faith very interesting. I have friends who are very strongly atheist and wouldn’t have anything to do with any faith, but I take a much more relaxed view of it. I think the faith community offers and does a great deal for people. There don’t have to be wars about religion, there has to be honesty about religion. We have much more in common than separates us.”

As Faith and Ethics Producer at BBC Radio Gloucestershire for the past decade and more I would say the same – the faiths have more in common than that which separates them; they have an enormous amount to offer –  working together and not apart. This view is seen by some Christians as being the weak option; they see the role of the Christian to ‘convert’ those who are different from us, have a different belief; we like to take the moral high ground as THE faith not a faith.

That’s one way of understanding the Christian faith but it’s not the one I can sign up to. I simply don’t believe that view is valid. Yes, there are differences, of course there are, and it seems to me that civilisation is all the better for it. Would the world be enhanced if we were all only Christian or Muslim, Hindu or Jewish? Personally, I can’t think of a worse place to live.

One of the highlights of Bishop Rachel’s Inauguration was the fact that leaders of other faiths were invited. I know Imam Hassan from the Rycroft Street Mosque in Gloucester, he’s a friend, and I know he was thrilled to not only to be invited but also to be involved and have the opportunity to welcome Bishop Rachel. The Government may have downgraded the role of Minister of Faith but the faiths themselves should not feel downgraded but continue to find a voice in an age when the voice of reason and hope needs to be heard more than ever.

Rev Canon Richard Atkins, Faith and Ethics Producer/Breakfast presenter, BBC Radio Gloucestershire

How can we keep faith?

AA Robert glance at the latest news headlines is hardly encouraging: another cease fire in Gaza ends with the firing of more missiles, refugees killed in the Ukraine, another found dead in a container at an Essex port, and in Iraq thousands forced from their homes fleeing for their lives because of their faith. How, we may well ask, can they keep faith in the face of such danger and hostility, how indeed we may ask ourselves, can we keep faith in the face of such a world as ours, how can we talk of a loving God.

Let us not have the audacity to pretend it is easy, there are no simplistic answers or trite phrases that will somehow make everything better. What we see laid bare before us are scenes of inhumanity and evil, and must be named as such and indeed, being named, must be confronted.

Unusually perhaps it has been the church and its bishops who have in recent days been leading the challenge to our politicians to respond, to go to the aid of the refugee and to confront the aggressor, and there may be some ready to remind the church and its bishops to keep out.

But God did not ‘keep out’- indeed quite the reverse, the God we believe in got involved, stuck into the mess and the darkness of our world in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. In Jesus God was born among us as a refugee, lived in exile, faced injustice and torture and held fast to light in the face of the greatest darkness on the cross and through that brought new life and hope.

The life death and resurrection of Jesus convinces us that though the darkness may be great it will never ultimately win, for he has shown us that love will triumph.

May we never give up, and may that love be shown in us, our lives, our words, our deeds that even in the face of such headlines the world may still have hope for the future.

The Venerable Robert Springett, Archdeacon of Cheltenham

Greetings from Western Tanganyika

Lake Tanganyika 3I bring you greetings from the Diocese of Western Tanganyika in Tanzania with whom we, as a diocese, are linked.

I had been invited to preach at their ordination of priests, a service which lasted four hours – and not because of my sermon! I’ve never been to Africa before and this short visit turned out to be one of those life-changing events which I shall never forget.

I was struck by three main things. Firstly how much the Christian faith is alive and well and how the Anglican community is growing and enthusiastic. We could learn a great deal from the joy of our brothers and sisters and their commitment to prayer and their confidence and Jesus Christ.  Secondly, the warmth of their welcome and hospitality was humbling, especially from those who have so little material wealth compared to their visitor! Again, we can learn from those who have so little and yet share so much in the name of their faith. Thirdly, I reflected that we in the West have so much power, economic and political, compared to those with whom we are linked. Important as our problems here most certainly are, the ways in which we can have positive influence through our support for those who share our faith is far greater than we might believe.

We live in one world. As Christians, wherever we are, we belong to one Church. The more we live this out, the more Jesus Christ is proclaimed and glorified.

The Very Revd Stephen Lake, Dean of Gloucester