Communion In Times of Coronavirus: The Beatitudes – Or Be Attitudes

Part of the Communion in Times of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections

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Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

This article can be downloaded for use here

BEATITUDES (BE ATTITUDES) 1

Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of God (Luke 6:20)

19 July 2020

What is your favourite Beatitude?

What does Beatitude mean? The word comes from the Latin beatus and means happy and blessed.

To be beatific is to be saintly, and beatification means being made a saint.

The word felicitation is also closely related to beatitude, and means bestowing blessings or happiness on someone.

The first occurrences of the word blessed in Lukes Gospel is in Chapter 1, for example at verse 48 where we have Mary singing “He has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed”.

Mary is blessed because she gives up the direction of her life to God. She is blessed with a child. It does not mean she lives happily ever after, it means she does not resign herself to fate, lets go of the desire to control all the direction of her life. “Be it unto me according to your will”, she says (Luke 1:38).

Mary, as a teenager, unsure of what was happening around her and to her commits her life into the hands of God, and trusts God to bring her where God wants her to be.

This is not about giving in to fate or a state of resignation. It is about not trying to control what will happen.

This throws some light on what it means to be poor and to be blessed.

From here I discern that the key to understanding the beatitudes is to look for that attitude of young Mary, and where you see it in practice you will see something of what it is to be blessed and a sign of the Kingdom of God.

The first beatitude “blessed are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of God” is not therefore promoting or justifying poverty.

Where we read the words “the poor” in the Bible it refers to people who have little control of their lives, but who believe that God is with them, and leads them.

We have to keep in mind people who spend in the wilderness, unsure of their future.

We have to keep in mind people who feel trapped or captive or enslaved in their situation, that other people control their lives.

When Jesus said “blessed are the poor” he had in mind this long history recorded in the Bible. It is the history of a people of God. It is a painful and bewildering history.

The prophets of God constantly call these people to walk closely with God and to have confidence in God.

Their strength in not in might but in returning to God and resting in God.

It is when you have this mind, this attitude that you are blessed.

This first beatitude is not saying be happy that you are economically poor.

It is saying that being blessed is not in being wealthy and prosperous. It is in finding direction and strength for your life in God.

Your happiness does not lie in competing with others, or in having full control in life, relationships and situations.

There is immense blessing in giving up trying to be in control.

My understanding of stress is that stress is rooted in the sense of not being in control.

I’m sure you know that feeling, that you are not in control.

There is so much happening, you feel out of control and overwhelmed.

Experts in stress management say, don’t try to control everything.

Relax. Share responsibility. Work with others.

Do one thing at a time.

Happiness lies in having a more relaxed approach to life.

So, are there people in whom you see this approach to life?

Are there times when you have taken this approach?

Jesus says, that’s a window in to the Kingdom of God.

This is the first attitude you should cultivate.

Let go of trying to control everything, and the Kingdom of God is yours.

Nest week I will look at what Jesus meant when he said, blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Inderjit Bhogal

BEATITUDES (BE ATTITUDES) 2

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4)

26 July 2020 (actually delivered on 9 August 2020, Nagasaki Day)

Good morning.

I am reflecting on the beatitudes, and calling them the Be Attitudes. They offer wisdom on how to live.

We come to the beatitude, blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Jesus was not seeing poverty as a virtue when he said blessed are the poor, he was saying live in the confidence of God, not money; he was not promoting servitude but service when he said blessed are the meek; he was not justifying hunger and thirst but a commitment to work for righteousness when he said blessed are those who hunger and thirst.

It follows therefore that he was in no way belittling grief when he said blessed are those who mourn, but deepening the meaning. I long to understand what he really meant.

To understand the beatitude blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted, it helps to understand the history of Jesus’ people and his own experience.

Jesus is rooted in the history of the Hebrews. It is a history of hurt and bitter lament.

It is the history of a people who have been in captivity and enslavement, in exile, and decades of wanderings in the wilderness. It is a history of and pain and change.

You only have to read the Psalms to feel this, and hear their lament.

“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Hear my voice”. (Psalm 130:1)

There were times when the people felt so overwhelmed in their hurt that they cried to God, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”. (Psalm 22:1)

Jesus himself cried out in his agony on the cross using these words of the Psalmist.

Jesus own experience included immense hurt and pain.

He wept (John 11:35) when his friend Lazarus had died.

And Jesus wept when he contemplated Jerusalem and said “If only you knew the things that make for peace”. (Luke 19:42)

When Jesus said blessed are those who mourn, he had in mind the wider grief of people.

The people wept because they felt alone, forsaken, crossing whatever boundaries they had to for life, they hungered for justice and righteousness, and waited for their messiah who would make life better for them.

Sometimes they even mourned the loss of the life they had in the past so much that they even longed to go back to Egypt, forgetting the hardship of those days in slavery. They wanted the old normal, not the new normal.

In the depth of such grief they struggled to find meaning and hope, and could not agree as a people what would give them life.

So, Jesus wept over Jerusalem and the people of Jerusalem: if only you knew the things that make for peace.

It is this public as well as private grief that Jesus had in mind when he said, blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

To capture what Jesus may originally meant, imagine him saying these words in Beirut and Lebanon this morning.

Or perhaps in Nagasaki following the horrors of the atomic bombs there 75 years ago, and Hiroshima.

The people in Lebanon are in the anger which accompanies public grief. People are furious at the carelessness, injustice and corruption which creates national disaster and desolation. There is a national sense of loss and outrage.

The people are out on the streets venting their anger at what has happened in the horrible explosion there this week.

What words can you possibly speak into this situation where whole communities, and a whole nation is in mourning?

The word translated from Greek into English as “comforted” at a time, 400 years ago, was thus tyranslated when the word comfort meant strength.

It should actually read, blessed are those who mourn for they shall be given strength.

But the word translated comfort is profound.

The word translated comfort has roots in a verb that is translated elsewhere in the New Testament as “consolation” (Luke 2:25; 2 Corinthians 1:3-7), and also as “friend” or “advocate” (John 14:16; 15:26; 16:7).

In Luke 2:25 we read that of a Prophet called Simeon, who held the child Jesus when the child was brought for circumcision, and saw in Jesus the “consolation”, or salvation, for which he and others like him had been waiting. See Charles Wesley’s Hymn “Come thou long expected Jesus”, verse 2 and the words “Israel’s hope and consolation hope of all the earth thou art”.

In 2 Corinthians 3-7, the word consolation is used seven times in four verses. Here the writer is encouraging disheartened and weary people by assuring them that God is the “God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God”.

In John’s Gospel, the word translated as comfort refers to the Holy Spirit who is described as a Comforter, or Advocate, a Friend, who stands with you in solidarity in your hour of weakness, giving you strength.

In Panjabi the word comfort is translated as Honsla, which literally means, find the strength in the midst of your grief to live with a big and generous heart and help others to do so too, live with courage.

It is also translated as Dhir, which means composure.

So the word translated as comfort is a rich term.

In its simplest form it means friend.

Jesus does not say there will be no grief. He is not saying wallow in your grief, be miserable, for this is the condition that is essential for you to be blessed.

He does not belittle grief. He acknowledges there is a time for mourning. He knew the tears of grief.

In this situation, Jesus is saying, in your personal grief, your strength will come from not being isolated. You will not be alone. You will not walk alone, you will have company. It will be company from which you will have strength, courage, consolation, composure. This will help you to build your grace, so that you can live with heart, with a generous heart. And remember, your greatest consolation and comfort lies in the fact that God is with you, as a friend. I think this is part at least of what Jesus was saying, whatever else he meant.

What do you think he was saying?

In terms of public grief, as in our times of coronavirus, and in Lebanon, and in any situation in which people grieve publicly, Jesus is saying, resist the temptation to give up, don’t give in to despair, God will not abandon you, God is with you, and God will strengthen you to resist desolation, and to engage with all that is required for the rebuilding and renewal of public life, and your Jerusalem. God’s purpose is always to build hope, to build people, to build justice and peace, to heal broken hearts. Others may walk away from you, God will not. This was certainly Jesus’ faith and spirituality.

Live your life with this Be Attitude.

This is what Jesus was saying when he said, blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.

Thank you and bless you.

Inderjit Bhogal

BEATITUDES (BE ATTITUDES) 3

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the Earth (Matthew 5:5)

2 August 2020

Good morning.

We are looking at the beatitudes.

Or as I call them, the “Be Attitudes”, the attitudes that reveal the Kingdom of God, and the attitude we are called to live by in Jesus’ wisdom.

Today I will look at the third beatitude in Matthew. It is at Chapter 5:5.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

I said that blessed are the poor does not mean rejoice in being poor.

Rather it means, stop competing with others about wealth, or being in control in life, but in giving up wanting to be in control all the time. Let go of trying to be in control and have confidence in God, this is the attitude where we see a window into what the Kingdom of God means.

This helps us to understand what meekness means.

So, what may Jesus have meant when he said blessed are the meek, for the earth belongs to them?

Meekness is a word associated with Jesus.

You may have sung the Hymn:

Gentle Jesus meek and mild, look upon a little child; pity my simplicity, suffer me to come to thee” (Charles Wesley, MHB 842, HP 738).

Jesus was actually angry when he saw people being exploited economically, and when he saw people with debilitating illness or hunger.

What does it mean when Jesus apparently says he is “gentle and meek”? (Matthew 11:29). He says, “come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you will find rest”.

Jesus’ words here are about his whole lifestyle which was about being welcoming.

Come to me, he said, to those who were weary and disheartened, isolated and rejected. I know what it is to be like that, he was saying.

Far from claiming any status or title, Jesus was in utter openness and humility portraying a spirit of solidarity, openness and welcome.

For Jesus the opposite of poverty is not wealth but to give up control, the opposite of meekness is not might or majesty but giving up power.

Jesus was aware that the world is a tough place to be.

Life is exhausting. We don’t have economic wealth. We don’t have social power.

Don’t look to wealthy and powerful lifestyles to fashion your life. These may be the values of empires and kingdoms on earth, but they are not the values of the Kingdom of God.

We can’t change the world.

We don’t have the power to do this.

But we can play our part to make the world a better place, by helping to create more open and welcoming communities and spaces.

This is something we can reflect and create, openness and welcome.

This is one of the fruits of the spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23.

So, meekness does not mean doing nothing, or being ineffectual. It does mean we are not in rivalry for control or power. We recognise we need others, because we are weary and tired when we are alone, and invite other to be community with us, and build communities in which we are gifts to each other, and find rest in each other.

Rest is best understood as being refreshed and renewed.

Where you can be like this you “inherit the earth”.

So there is a be-attitude for you.

Give up the desire for power. Be welcoming to others, work with others to make the world where you are open and welcoming. You will help to make the world a better place, and you will inherit the earth. 

Where have you seen such qualities?

Get close to those places and people because that is where you will find revelations of the Kingdom of God.

Thank you.

Inderjit Bhogal

BEATITUDES (BE ATTITUDES) 4

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled (Matthew 5:6)

2 August 2020

Good morning. Today we will look at the Beatitude:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

We are familiar with these words about hunger and thirst. But how familiar are we with what it means to be hungry and thirsty?

Hunger and thirst make a person vulnerable and weak. To be hungry and thirsty is basic, it means you don’t have what it takes to survive and to live.

Have you talked with anyone who says he or she is hungry or thirsty?

Many people sit in streets and shop doorways with words about being hungry and homeless before them.

Hunger and thirst is the measure by which you are to know your commitment to righteousness. You are so committed to it you are hungry and thirsty.

There is only one person in the New Testament who says “I am thirsty”, and that is Jesus.

He askes a woman for water at a well because he is hungry.

He says when I was thirsty you gave me a drink.

As he hangs on the Cross, he cries out, “I thirst”.

He is thirsty and hungry for righteousness. He longs for human love and good relationships.

In other words:

  • He is not thirsty because he has neglected himself, or forgotten to take out water for himself
  • He is thirsty because he has been concerned about the welfare of others

What makes us less human is our selfishness.
What makes us truly human is our love for others.

This is what it means to hunger and thirst for righteousness.
I hunger and I thirst for righteousness says Christ because I am famished by the lack of justice.

Our life is under-nourished when others are hungry and thirsty.
What matters is not personal gain, but communal welfare.

To say blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness is to express the belief that God blesses and promises resources to replenish devastated communities.

In what ways are you desperate for the welfare of others?

God will quench your hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Thank you and bless you.

Inderjit Bhogal

BEATITUDES (BE ATTITUDES) 5

Blesses are the merciful, for they will receive mercy (Matthew 7:7)

15 August 2020
India/Pakistan Independence Day
VJ Day

Good morning and welcome.

I have been reflecting on the beatitudes, seeing in them the Be Attitudes, how to be, how to live.

This morning we come to the fifth beatitude.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

Mercy is the most highly rated quality in the Bible.

Mercy is a key value of the Kingdom of God.

Mercy typifies Jesus.

Mercy defines God.

In Micah 6:8 we read:

What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God?

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, in the mind of Jesus, the one who shows mercy is the one whose behaviour his followers are to emulate. Go and do likewise, he said.

Mercy is the pinnacle of human qualities.

Mercy is condition for eternal life.

Elsewhere, in Luke 6:36 we read the words of Jesus: Be merciful, just as God is merciful.

You are at the pinnacle of being human, you are closest to the image and likeness of God when you are merciful. Mercy shows the heart and character of God.

There is no Christianity without mercy.

Pope Francis has made mercy a top priority.

He says that the fifth beatitude is the only one in which the cause and effect of fulfilment coincide: The fruit of mercy is mercy.

Show mercy and you will receive mercy.

We can see this in the Lord’s prayer where we say, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Forgiveness results from forgiveness. Mercy follows mercy.

Pope Francis says “mercy is the air that we must breathe”.

Pope Francis has a book called The Name of God is Mercy.

In an interview about the book he told the story of a Priest who came to him and said he was being too generous in being forgiving towards those who sin. Pope Francis replied to him, “When I feel like that I go to the Chapel and the blessed sacrament and tell Jesus, It’s all your fault. You have set a bad example forgiving all those who asked you for mercy. You even shed your blood for them. At least you are not asking me to do that!”.

What does mercy mean?

The Oxford Dictionary says mercy is the abstention from the affliction of suffering on the part of one who has the power to inflict it.

In other words, mercy is shown by not acting with cruelty.

That is important, and needed in our world of cruelty.

In daily life we hear people using terms like “those deserving” or “not deserving” beneficiaries of help and mercy.

God does not make that distinction.

We are all beneficiaries of the mercy of God.

But Biblically mercy is not seen in what is not done, but in what is done.

For example, all Jesus’ miracles are rooted in mercy.

When people are harassed or hungry or hurting in any way, Jesus is angry at their condition and responds with actions of mercy.

In English, we read that moved by “pity” he takes action.

But the word translated as pity in English is the Greek verb splagchnizomai, which comes from the noun splagchnon which means “belly or heart”.

Pity is the word used in English to describe what Jesus felt in the pit of his stomach, or in the depth of his heart.

What did he feel when he saw people hurting in any way?

Let me give you just one example, by referring to his first recorded public healing.

A leper came to him and pleaded for mercy.

We read that “moved with pity” Jesus healed the man (Mark 1:40-41).

The word translated pity is splaghchnistheis. That word is used in classical Greek to refer to the snorting of horses.

Jesus’ pity or mercy is rooted in his anger at horrible disease, or hunger.

In his anger at exploitation and disease Jesus was so furious that he snorted like horses, and acted to remedy it.

On at least four occasions he performs a miracle on hearing the words, have mercy on me (Matthew 20:29-34; 15:21-28; 17:14029; Luke 17:11-19).

He saw people exploited economically in the Temple, and in his anger at such exploitation he overturned the table and drove out people whom he called robbers.

Jesus was deeply moved by people’s pain to respond. His mercy is not an avoidance of action, or simply an action, rather it is a response to a real situation of suffering.

It is no surprise that his definition of a fully human person, a faith-based person, a follower of Jesus, is that such a person is moved with mercy to take action. This is what we see in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:37).

Where have you acted with mercy like that?

Have you seen mercy, mercy where you least expected it?

I remember Nelson Mandela visiting Britain following his freedom from 27 years in prison by the apartheid government in South Africa. He was vilified by Britain as a terrorist.

When he came to Britain, I expected him to really hammer this country for his vilification.

However, he came here with an attitude of mercy and forgiveness.

He now has a statue to him in Parliament Square, and he is honoured as a strong and true leader.

Mercy is so often seen as a weakness.

Mandela showed the strength that is reflected in mercy.

Everything turns on mercy.

You are being callous and careless when you turn away from mercy.

When you show mercy, you are acting at one with God, and in tune with God.

On mercy is judged, and on mercy depends, our life now and in the world to come (Matthew 25: 31-45).

So this is a Be Attitude for daily life.

To be merciful is to be Christ-like, and to reflect the likeness of God.

Blessed are the merciful, they will receive mercy.

Let mercy define you as a follower of Jesus.

Thank you and bless you.

Inderjit Bhogal

BEATITUDES (BE ATTITUDES) 6

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God (Matthew 5:8)

23 August 2020

The focus here is not on those who are pure, but on the pure in heart.

It is illuminating to consider this beatitude in times of coronavirus, and all the issues we have in the contemporary world about cleanness.

Purity is defined as cleanness. To purify is to make clean, to make things free of pollution.

So, we have water purifiers, for example.

A purist or puritan is a person who is a stickler for correctness, and going by the rules in religion and morals.

Rules are created to define purity.

Keep social distance, wash hands, wear masks in public places.

It is amazing how quickly rules have emerged around coronavirus.

The danger in the world today is that certain groups of people as being more prone to disease, and therefore to be avoided, people of particular communities, or age, and people living with poverty.

Disease quickly comes to be associated with certain kinds of people.

Lines can quickly come to be drawn between people, and it is amazing how quickly some people come to be seen as dirty, and therefore a danger.

I think it is really helpful to understand the environment in which the Bible was written around 4000 years ago.

This would be a time before the kind of modern medication.

Even with all the medication that exists now, there is no protection from coronavirus.

So we observe the rules: wash hands, keep the distance, wear the mask.

Just imagine the approach to tackling deadly disease 4 thousand years ago.

There were strict rules about hygiene and cleanliness, and social distance and even covering the face to prevent contamination and spreading disease.

The role religion came to play in this environment was to speak about purity.

Purity was about distance, and maintained by keeping away from others to stop becoming contaminated yourself.

Religious leaders began to develop the theology that the purest one is God, and God’s purity is defined and maintained by God’s distance from people.

The religious name for purity came to be holiness.

God is holy.

People were called to be holy.

God is holy by keeping a distance from people.

Holiness, or purity, was achieved by washing and by keeping social distance, and if you can cover or veil your face, that will help.

All the world’s main religions, rooted in stories of the Bible (Jewish, Christian and Muslim, and Sikhism too) teach this.

Holiness is seen as cleanliness, and keeping apart, and the practice of face covering too is now commonly practiced.

In this theological reasoning, God lives far away from people.

Be holy, for I am holy, says God according to Leviticus 11:44.

This line is followed throughout the Bible.

Some people and animals and things and places are holy, other people, animals, things and places are unholy.

The holy becomes unholy, impure, or defiled, or contaminated by being associated with unholiness and impurity. 

In Biblical times leprosy was seen to be the most contagious ailment.

Lepers were treated as outcasts and people you should not be close to. They were dirty. Leprosy was even seen as a punishment by God (Numbers 11).

You become contaminated by mixing with those defined as dirty and therefore as outcasts.

This is dangerously close to where we are now in our contemporary world.

This is why it is illuminating to reflect on holiness and purity in the midst of all the concerns around coronavirus and contamination.

So what do we learn from Jesus? How did he live in the world demarcated by what is seen to be holy and unholy?

Jesus’ table fellowship with those considered to be social outcasts is the frame through which Jesus’ life and ministry is best understood.

He spent time with, and ate with, the outcasts of his day.

He was willing to risk danger and contamination, and to challenge rules, in order to enhance and protect life.

This infuriated the purists and religious leaders of his day.

Jesus’ most subversive activity was seen to be his practice of eating with the social outcasts of his day.

To include the outsider was objectionable, and it led to Jesus himself being ostracised and ridiculed.

Blessed are the merciful, he said. The best sign of mercy was to include outsiders.

Purity for Jesus was not cleanness but clarity, clarity of thought and focus and purpose.

He refused to regard people or certain foods as impure.

In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus defined the behaviour of the Samaritan as the example to follow.

This was scandalous, because in Jesus’s time Samaritans were outsiders.

Jesus’ mercy and inclusion embraced everyone, especially those considered to be outsiders. His kindness knew no limits.

This is why I find inspiration in Jesus, and why I am his follower.

I know what it is to be an outsider.

The holiness of God in Jesus’ proclamation is not defined by remoteness and social distance or social discrimination, but by intimacy and closeness, not by distance from those who are different but by loving the stranger, loving your enemies, by loving your neighbour as yourself.

Jesus’ clarity and focus lies in this that he saw the image of God in all people. In this he was consistent with the teachings in the scriptures he observed.

This is what purity of heart means in Jesus’ mind, not cleanness but clarity; clarity of focus, clarity of motive, a clarity that reveals the image and likeness of God in all people.

The pure in heart are not purists, they are not the puritans, not those considered to be clean or pious, but people who have such clarity of mind and vision that they see God in all people. They see the image of God in those who are marginalised, or maligned, or messy.

The pure in heart see God in others all around them, and God sees this purity of heart.

Purity of heart looks inwards, but always turns outwards to others.

Purity of heart seeks to eradicate impurities within.

Purity of heart achieves healing through hospitality without fear of being defiled.

Purity of heart hears God saying “do not call unclean what I have made clean” (Acts 10:15; 11:9).

Do not discriminate against particular people calling them dirty.

See the image of God in all people. Jesus proclaimed this as a blessing.

To see the image of God in others is also a way to remove fear of those who are different.

This is a good Be Attitude for your daily life and life style.

This is what Jesus meant when he said “blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Holiness is not cleanness, but it is certainly messy. It is symbolised in Jesus on a cross executed on a hill outside the city walls among the criminals and the unclean ones of his day.

Thank you, and bless you.

Inderjit Bhogal

BEATITUDES (BE ATTITUDES) 7

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God (Matthew 5:9)

30 August 2020

Essential to the things that make for peace are peacemakers. Peacemakers are blessed by Jesus. Their blessing is that Jesus calls them “children of God”.

Neither the title “peacemakers” nor the title “children of God” are self-designations. However, you can choose to be a peacemaker. Every follower of Jesus, and that includes you and me, is called to be a peacemaker. Peacemakers strive and aim for healing, not harming, and will always seek non-violent solutions to conflict.

The beatitude about peacemakers follows from “purity” of heart, and precedes persecution. Purity of heart is about the clarity with which people see the Image of God in others. Think about the great peacemakers, they all had this in common, that they see the image of God in all people.

Peace-making is not a popular task, nor is it an easy or a soft option. Peacemakers often attract hostility. Peace making is tough, and more difficult than making conflict or inflicting violence. We know from history that peacemakers are themselves hated and persecuted by others. Mahatma Gandhi was disliked by many people of his nation because he was seen as weak. He was criticised for even calling on the police to be non-violent.

Jesus was a peacemaker and is the Christian pattern and example to follow. He is described as “our peace”, making peace by breaking down dividing walls of segregation and hostility (Ephesians 2:14). He taught his followers to love their neighbours, to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44, 45).

Twice in Matthew Chapter 5, those who work for peace are called “children” of God. What this means is that you most closely reflect the nature and character of God, the great Peacemaker, when you are a peacemaker.  God is the God of peace. All the great religions of the world teach this be they Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs or Zoroastrians. Children of God will treat all people as children of God.

God could have had an easier life if God had chosen to make all people the same, of the same nature and character, same appearance and language, same hopes and aspirations, same likes and dislikes, same language and cultures. In God’s wisdom human beings are made in “the Image and likeness of God”, but not the same. Human beings are made in the Image of God but are marked by their immense differences.

This is what makes us beautiful, but herein also lies the route to our brokenness. Brokenness and conflict arise when Instead of valuing differences as gift and strength, they are seen as things to be feared and generate hostility. We can see this in all conflict in the world. Conflict arises when differences of appearance or opinions are seen as a problem rather than an enrichment.

Peace-making is essentially about valuing differences and diversity of opinions, facilitating deep and respectful listening to all views without rubbishing or humiliating anyone. Peace-making is rooted in seeing and valuing the Image of God in all people, including those who may revile or persecute you, and who may see you as their enemy.

Peace-making means you listen and enable listening however much you dislike what is being said, and asking questions that seek greater clarity in what is being said, and often this helps to see strengths and weaknesses in points raised. This is frequently the way to achieving shared strategic wisdom and ways forward.

Maya Angelou, the African American writer and poet says, that parents should teach children early that there is a beauty and strength in diversity. The Rev Dr Martin Luther King, whose famous dream speech has been invoked much recently, was often heard saying “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of it’s creed that all people are made equal”. Not same, equal.

For all their peace-making words and actions people like Dr King and Mahatma Gandhi were assassinated, though their wisdom continues to inspire millions.

Saint Oscar Romero, who was Archbishop of El Salvador, at the height of the civil war in his country used to tell the soldiers in his country not to kill people because they were only killing their own brothers and sisters. He was seen as such a threat for preaching peace that he was assassinated, shot dead in March 1980 as he lifted the bread and wine at a service of Holy Communion.

Some years ago, I visited El Salvador. I visited the Jesuit University there. Six of their staff had also been shot dead in November 1989 for sharing stories of witnesses to atrocities.

I was shown a portrait of Oscar Romero hanging in the University. It had been shot at by the assassins of the staff. Clearly there was a feeling that the wisdom of the Archbishop, now sainted, continued to inspire people, and this was seen as dangerous too. 

The one who most closely portrays God, according to the New Testament, is Jesus who is “our peace”.

How does Jesus make peace? By removing dividing walls of hatred. By bringing hostile people together. He paid for this by his life (Ephesians 2:13). He practised what he preached. He lives on and continues to inspire millions all around the world today.

The word translated “peacemaker” means being active in holding people together. Peacemakers see the Image of God in all people, they live on a larger map, see the bigger picture, treat all people equally, and so they reflect the nature and character of God.

The world needs more peacemakers. Be a Peacemaker, in your congregation, in your school and community, in your home, in your work place and playground, in your neighbourhood, in your nation, in the world.

Peacemakers are ordinary, vulnerable people. They try to live with a purity of heart, which most importantly means, with a capacity to see the Image of God in all people, not least in those who look, and think, and speak differently. This requirement goes deep into the need for honesty, humility and integrity in relationships, and clarity and focus in thought and being. It calls on you to pray for others, including your enemies and those who revile you or persecute you. It calls on you to always strive, do your uttermost, to aim at healing, never at harming.

Make sure that your morality and ethics are not defined by those who see some people as less than human, but by the values of God seen in the life and teachings of Christ and all he called “children of God”.

Inderjit Bhogal

BEATITUDES (BE ATTITUDES) 8

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12)

7 September 2020

The beatitudes are enclosed with the words “theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3,10).

To say “blessed are you when people persecute you” suggests that there is a danger that some people may actually seek persecution, or martyrdom, for therein lies blessing, and the reward of the kingdom of heaven.  

To read this from the eighth beatitude is to completely misunderstand it.

No one in their right mind seeks or wishes to attract persecution.

This beatitude cannot be read on its own.

None of the beatitudes is a stand-alone guide or pathway for life. All eight beatitudes are steps along the way. None of them can be removed without the whole foundation and structure becoming hollow and incomplete and misunderstood. 

The pathway of faith that Jesus lays out in the beatitudes is made up of a life centred on God, not money; grief that is real, not ignored, but which illuminates strength and wisdom in all we mourn; selfless service without accepting enslavement or losing dignity; hungering and thirsting for justice and righteousness; upholding mercy; seeing the image of God in all people; peace-making without violence.

Jesus’ honesty acknowledges in the eight beatitude that this path, and such a life, can expect persecution.

Persecution is not sought or attracted or desired. No one can feel smug or self-righteous or brag about being persecuted.

The eighth beatitude does not ask anyone to seek persecution. Rather, it tells us why people are persecuted. People are persecuted for “righteousness’ sake”. Seeking “righteousness” is twice highlighted in the beatitudes. Righteousness is not about being right, or doing things the right way, but about doing the right thing, always. This will mark you out, and you can expect opposition and persecution.

Persecution is the pathway of the prophets. It is not coveted by followers of Christ, it follows them (Mark 10:30).

There is nothing positive in persecution. Neither persecution nor martyrdom can be explained as a badge of faith or be seen as a reward for faith.

Persecution is infliction of hurt and harassment aimed at preventing you from living out your faith and commitment to righteousness.

The worst persecution that can come your way will come from people close to you, often close colleagues, or friends. This can dissipate faith and resilience. It can easily bring you to give up.

The worst thing that happened to Jesus was that he was betrayed and denied and let down by his own friends.

Jesus said his followers can expect the same fate as him.

People will hate you for being m y followers, he said (John 15:19).

In the explanation of the parable of the sower, a person who easily gives up in the face of persecution is described as the seed that falls on rocks and does not take root, and quickly withers and disappears (Mark 4:17). A plant that has not taken root cannot last long.

What Jesus was saying in the eighth beatitude was that if you live a life based on the beatitudes, don’t expect a pat on your back, you can expect persecution.

If you stick your neck out, if you put your light on a lampstand, you are like a well flavoured meal, and a city set on a hill. Your light will shine, though some will try to blow out your candle.

You may not see rewards, or much change, but if you stay within your faith track and moral framework, you will help to keep righteousness alive.

Stand firm. Be realistic, but don’t be deterred that all you get is persecution.

“Blessed are you”, he goes on to say, “when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Matthew 5:11).

If you are deeply rooted in faith, and truly committed to a life based on the beatitudes, – when the inevitable persecution comes, do not resist persecution with persecution, or evil with evil.

Rather, says Jesus, “rejoice and be glad” (Matthew 5:12). Not happy, nor full of euphoria at the sate of affairs, but retain gladness and joyfulness, which will help to sustain and energise you.

There is cost and joy in following Christ.

We do not serve God miserably, but joyfully.

Don’t lose your hope, and don’t lose your joy.

People of faith should not be characterised by their miserableness, but by an infectious positivity and joy.

We rejoice that God is with us, that all we mourn also opens new vistas and avenues, selfless service, mercy, and seeing the image of God in all people, keeping us committed to pursuing righteousness and making peace.

This is the life of faith for prophets of God.

This is your Be Attitude for life.

Inderjit Bhogal

BEATITUDES (BE ATTITUDES) 9

YOU ARE THE SALT OF THE EARTH

25 October 2020

This is what Jesus says to his disciples at the end of the Beatitudes.

Effectively, the Beatitudes lay out what may be termed some key characteristics of Christian behaviour, and of the church

  • Poverty
  • Mourning
  • Mercy
  • Meekness
  • Purity
  • Peace
  • Persecution
  • Righteousness

At the conclusion Jesus says – in effect – where you reflect these qualities you are salt, the salt of the earth, and you are like light set on a hill for all to see.

Let’s focus on the words “You are the salt of the earth”.

You are salt.

This affirmation comes with the warning that if salt loses its taste, its taste cannot be restored!

It has no value.

You may have heard the words said to someone, “don’t lose your salt”.

This effectively is saying, don’t lose your essential being, don’t lose your humanity and dignity.

It is not easy for salt to lose its taste, but it can happen.

The key to salt is taste, though the taste of salt is not universally liked, and we are now advised to use salt sparingly or not at all in our diet.

But taste is so important.

I like to read the work of Sheffield’s John Ruskin, the radical Victorian writer, theologian and art critic. I recommend to you the lecture entitled “Traffic”, he delivered in Bradford on 11th April 1864.

He reflects on decency, dignity and creativity in a world obsessed with money. He calls for “good taste” which he defines as “essentially a moral quality”.

Be led by taste he argues.

“Tell me what you like and I’ll tell you what you are”.

We all have our “likes” or what is to our taste.

Ruskin argued that so much that passes for design in buildings or architecture in not in good taste.

We are not required just to do the right thing he wrote, “it is not only about being just, but to hunger and thirst after justice”.

As the Psalmist wrote, “taste, and see that God is good”.

We can judge goodness by good taste.

We talk of people’s taste in food, but also, we say to people, “I like your taste in fashion…or furniture” and so on.

TASTE

I don’t partake of alcohol.

Most of family enjoy a tipple.

They take wine.

When they pour out wine for themselves, I take a glass of water.

My comment to them is, “You will drink your wine and change it into water. I will drink this water – it will become for me the finest wine”.

Seriously, I don’t drink wine, but I am a connoisseur of wine, and enjoy the five element of wine tasting, namely sight, smell, air, swill and spit.

I have learned the art of wine tasting.

Salvador Dali writes that those who know how to taste wine will not drink it.

It’s all about taste…what happens in the mouth, not taking it into your stomach. //

I learned the art of cooking from my father.

He cooked a fabulous Karahi Lamb dish.

I noted that he never measured ingredients.

He added each of the seasoning spices a bit at a time, and kept tasting the food all the time he cooked it.

And he would put a little in a bowl for me and say, “here, check the taste”.

Hmm…a bit more salt…a bit more masala.

Its all about the taste.

Do whatever you are doing with and in good taste.

If your food is not seasoned well – it will be incomplete, unless your diet or allergy requires that.

The food will be there.

It will be eaten.

But you will not think “Wow – that tastes good”.

Jesus said, “you are the salt – but salt can lose its taste – and it is not possible to restore the taste”.

SALT

Salt has many uses.

It adds taste.

It is a preservative.

It is antiseptic.

It is good for gargling, and cleaning the throat.

When I was young, living in Kenya, we used salt to brush our teeth. A bit of salt on a finger, and a good rub on all the teeth!

It has been used as currency.

The word salary comes from salt, and some people were worth their salt!

In Indian cultures salt is so precious that it is said if you waste it or spill it or throw it away you will be required to pick it up with your eyes after you have died as a punishment.

Salzburg City is famous for music but gets its name from the salt in the rock below it.

The British Empire grew on the strength of salt sold to the huge population of India.

Mahatma Gandhi told Indians to make their own salt as a way of hitting the British economy.

He led the famous “salt march”, walking to the sea, and urged people to make their own salt. //

There are many uses and stories of salt.

When Jesus refers to salt in the Sermon on the Mount – he spoke of it only in relation to taste.

Salt is salt.

Can it lose its taste?

Is it not an impossibility?

One danger is increase in salinity.

This is a danger facing the Sea of Galilee.

The Sea of Galilee, following five years of drought, has sunk to a hundred year low. In 2018 the level of the lake dropped close to a black line, the level at which it loses its freshwater body.

Overuse has taken its toll.

As the levels drop the lake cannot wash away salt fast enough. Its salinity rises, affecting flora and fauna which begin to die.

Once the lake becomes saline, it will be irreversible.

Apart from climate change war does not help.

The waters of the lake affect rivers in Israel, Syria and Jordan. Water is one source of conflict in the region.

The river Jordan is shared by Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories, Jordan and Syria, all of which use its depleting reserves. Because of war, each territory wants to take all the water.

In the mean-time the waters of the Jordan and the Sea of Galilee are polluted, and diminished.

And it is difficult for Christians who want to be baptised in the holy waters there and to venture to the site where John the Baptist is said to have led Jesus into the water, and where Jesus walked on water.

So, many issues are raised by salt around health, economics, and ecology.

Salt can be contaminated, and salt can be spoilt to the point that you want to throw it away.

Salt is contaminated by being mixed with dirty or damp items. //

So what is Jesus talking about when he says that salt can lose its taste, its saltiness cannot be restored, it has to be thrown away? //

 Lets be clear what Jesus is not saying about us being salt.

  • He is not saying you are salt in a container. Stay in the bottle and don’t get contaminated by engaging with the dirt and dampness and mess of the world around you.

You don’t light a candle and put it under a cover to hide it. Light has to do its part – shine a light.

Likewise, salt is not for keeping tucked away in a container. It has to be mixed with other ingredients – and do its part – add seasoning and flavouring and taste.

Salt in a container is a bit like Christians refusing to challenge racism “for fear of being labelled racists”, or refusing to engage with refugees for fear of being seen to be too political.

  • Furthermore, Jesus is not asking his disciples to be salt together. A concentration of salt, too much salt, can be poisonous. Salt has to be used in small portions. Too much salt will spoil the taste.

Ask anyone who has had a cup of tea with a spoonful of salt rather than sugar!

Jesus is saying don’t remain a holy huddle.

If the disciples of Jesus are constantly in a holy huddle, if a congregation will focus only on themselves, matters internal to the congregation – it is a toxic mix.

Too much salt in one dose is a unpalatable. It is not good for anyone.

Too much salt will only raise your blood pressure.

All congregations know something of members turning in on each other – falling out over internal matters, forgetting the larger vision of the care for the environment and embrace of those who are different.

Salt has to be mixed with other ingredients.

A congregation HAS to give attention to: wars that make refugees; hunger that makes food banks essential; poverty that increases homelessness; oppression that leads to racist outrages; wastefulness that increases environmental degradation.

We can forget the bigger issues when we become a holy huddle, and we can be as poisonous as too much salt in one serving.

So what did Jesus mean when he said “you are salt – don’t lose your taste”?

To understand this we need to look at what Jesus says immediately before these words.

What we find here are the Beatitudes.

The word “blessed” is not really understood.

For our purposes, let us replace the word “blessed” with “you are salt”, and read the Beatitudes again.

YOU ARE BLESSED/SALT

You are salt when you pay attention to poverty

You are salt when you mourn and weep over hurt in the world

You are salt when you are meek and challenge intimidation

You are salt when you hunger and thirst for righteousness

You are salt when you are merciful and seek mercy

You are salt when you work and speak from a deep inner purity

You are salt when you work for peace

You are salt when you are persecuted for righteousness’ sake

We lose our taste when we avoid these matters, and remain a closed huddle like salt in a container.

Our light does not shine when we keep ourselves under the roof of the church.

According to Mark 9:50, Jesus said if salt loses its taste it is not even good for the soil, and not even for the manure.

According to Luke 14:34-35 being tasteful requires from the followers of Jesus to live in peace.

“You are salt” means we are at our best in small doses. We are likely to be used in small portions.

We are not going to change the world in one fair swoop.

We may not make too much of a difference.

Salt does not change the food it seasons.

Salt will be a preservative.

Rubbing salt into a wound might be painful, but we will stop the wound from getting deeper or worse.

So we will keep playing our small part.

We will keep joining protests for righteousness and justice.

We will play our part to challenge poverty and injustice.

We will weep with those who weep, and we will mourn over the loss of values and goodness.

We will challenge oppression and refuse to behave in intimidating ways ourselves.  

We will seek mercy in leadership, policy and practice.

We will uphold the path of peace.

We will stand with those who are wrongly persecuted.

We will seek always to work from a purity of motives.

We will contribute what we can to make the world a better place especially for those who are most maligned.

We will remain realistic about what we can do, we will not be deterred by what we cannot do, and we will always remain hopeful, and do all we do in good taste in the Name of Christ, the true light and salt of the earth.

Thank you and bless you.

Inderjit Bhogal

This article can be downloaded for use here
All documents on this topic are located here

Communion In Times of Coronavirus: Wisdom In Jesus’ Prayer

Part of the Communion in Times of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections

Click here for more

Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

Jesus mostly spoke about the Kingdom of God in Parables illustrating or picturing abundance, grace, forgiveness, generosity and hospitality. In my view Jesus summed up his thoughts on the Kingdom of God in half a minute, in the words of what is often referred to as the Lord’s Prayer which can be said, without rushing, in just 30 seconds.

We note three key themes in the prayer.

The priorities of Jesus are seen here in the honouring of

  • Your Name
  • Your Kingdom
  • Your will

The Kingdom of God is seen on earth (as in Heaven) where:

  1. God’s Name is honoured (not my name or anyone else’s)
  2. What we decide, do or say reflects God’s Kingdom (not a personal aspiration or opinion)
  3. The will of God is discerned and done (not my will or any other individuals’)

Following these words Jesus’ petition reflects where these three key themes are seen:

  1. Where all have daily bread (a world free of inequality, gluttony or greed, governed by the philosophy of hospitality and enough). Give us our daily bread literally means give me what is on my essential shopping list for my daily needs. The key item of course is food
  2. Where all debt is remitted or forgiven (a world free of debt), and a spirit of forgiveness governs relationships
  3. Where all are assured of strength/support in their times of trials/tribulations/temptations (a world free of isolation and loneliness, and wanting what is not yours)
  4. Where all are delivered from all that is evil (a world free, for example, of awful disease and crime, war and violence, waste and environmental degradation; where relationships are healed and reconciliation is real)

This is the kind of world where we see change and transformation of the world as it is. In such a world God’s will is done, God’s Kingdom comes on earth as in Heaven, and God’s Name is hallowed.

Or as the Prayer says it, in such a world, “Yours is the Kingdom, the power and the glory”. We see signs of the Kingdom of God here and there, but the Kingdom of God is not fully realised on earth, so we constantly pray, “Your Kingdom come”.

The prayer of course is addressed to God the divine loving parent and creator of all. I hear the words “Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your Name…” in all people and all creation, all the time. Jesus captured in just a few words the prayer of all, and all creation, centred on the Kingdom of God.

This is a good daily prayer.

Jesus said, when you pray use these words.

Prayer is not meant to be wordy, or to tell God how to order the world.

I can assure you that I pray for you every morning.

What do I pray for you, and for all others I pray for?

I say the Lord’s Prayer in your name. This is what I pray for you and all people.

There is simple wisdom in Jesus’ prayer.

Use these words as your prayer, and use the wisdom contained in Jesus’ prayer for your daily life and decision making, always seeking first the Kingdom of God.

Inderjit Bhogal

12 July 2020

This article can be downloaded for use here
All documents on this topic are located here

CLINTON MCCURBIN: JUSTICE NOT VIOLENCE

Clinton McCurbin died, or was killed, on 20th February 1987, as Police arrested him in the NEXT shop in Wolverhampton town centre. He was making a purchase when the shop assistant suspected he was using a stolen Bank Card. Police were called. Clinton died while he was being arrested. The story going around town was that Police had a knee over Clinton’s neck, in a head-lock, to hold him down during arrest, and he died of asphyxia. This incident unleashed a fury of anger at what was termed “police racism and violence”.

A national march against police racism and violence was organised in Wolverhampton on 7th March 1987. A crowd from all over the country was expected. Many in Wolverhampton stirred up fears of “War in Wolverhampton”. The local Express and Star newspaper carried a front-page headline centred on the fear of violence. Local people were advised to stay away from the town centre on the day of the march for their safety. Shops along the route of the march were encouraged to board up their windows and doors. Faith leaders, of all faiths, advised their communities to keep away from the march, and not support it because it was expected to be violent, and they did not want to be seen to be endorsing violence. Some of them gave interviews on local radio to this end. Members of a Church along the proposed route of the march prayed for snow on the day of the march, hoping this would lead to its cancellation. The fear of violence was real and deep.

I had a town centre office and ministry in Wolverhampton as co-ordinator of the Wolverhampton Interfaith Group at the time. My Methodist leaders, whom I respected greatly, had also asked all Methodist Church members and ministers to give no support to the march. My office was on Queen Street, opposite Express and Star offices, little more than a hundred yards from the spot where Clinton died.

I recall quizzing in my mind as to whether, as a faith leader it would be appropriate for me to go against the advice of my seniors and join the march. Wolverhampton Interfaith Group looked to me for leadership and direction. I decided to join the march, and announced this through interfaith networks, inviting any faith-based person wanting to join me on the march to meet me in the Friends Meeting House half an hour before the commencement of the march.

On the actual day of the march, it snowed, quite heavily! We had blizzard like snow conditions. This drastically reduced the numbers who turned up. Instead of the anticipated 10,000 crowd, around 1000 were there. 

Twelve people turned up to walk with me. I decided to walk in my clerical gear, and wished on this occasion that I was a Bishop and could wear a Bishop’s outfit, and be loud as a faith leader. As it was, in the wintry conditions, with winter coats, my clerical collar was quite hidden. I went out with my coat hood up. To all intents and purposes, I was hidden and anonymous. My companions asked me where we shall be in the march. “Right at the front”, I said, “the media of the world will be here. We will walk at the front, be central to the march and all the walkers, and then we shall also be able to bear witness to the truth of the occasion, and not just rely on media stories. We want to say that there are faith-based people who care deeply about the concerns at the centre of this march, and are against police racism and violence. I am confident that a march against violence will not be violent. We will walk at the front to declare our solidarity”. I wanted to be able to say to all those joining the march, and to Clinton’s family, the Church is here and with you.

We found our way to the head of the march, and walked there. Those participating were predominantly black and Asian people. There was a significant white people’s presence. Many were carrying banners expressing outrage at police racism and violence. Snow was falling heavily as we commenced walking. It snowed all day, quite heavily. This can be seen from photos taken on the day. As we walked past the Church where members had prayed for snow, I was clear in my mind that the weather is not influenced by people’s prayers, if it did, I would pray for rain in drought ridden areas on earth so that people there could grow their own food. Prayer is not about ordering God on how to order the world. I was walking in the march as an act of prayer, expressing solidarity with people’s hurts and hopes. It felt like I was bearing something of the cross of the hurting, exhausted Christ, as a man called Simeon did on the road to Golgotha.

Wolverhampton was closed and quiet on the day, not only because of the snow but also because of the march. But the march was noisy. I sensed a deep anger in the walkers at police racism and violence. There was visibly a heavy police presence. There were those in the march who would have turned violently on to the police, but were remarkably restrained, expressing their outrage verbally rather than physically.

The march slowly snaked around the town, and then halted right by my office. From here the NEXT shop where Clinton died could be seen. Clinton’s mother, Esther McCurbin, wanted to go to the spot where her son died to lay a bouquet of flowers and pause for a moment of silence. This was a real flash point. Marchers were getting agitated. I could see that scores of police officers were lined up here blocking the way to the sacred spot. The police sensed violence and wanted the march to proceed, but no was moving. I was right at the front with Esther. She was determined to lay her flowers and say her prayer outside the NEXT shop associated with her son died.

I went and spoke to the Police Officer who appeared to be in charge, and explained the situation. Taking me to be the leader of the march he said, “get the march moving”. I told him that there would be no movement until Mrs McCurbin could go and lay her flowers where her son died. “Can you promise me the march would move on if I allowed that?” I said, “Yes”. He spoke into a walkie talkie device he had, and like the parting of the Red Sea, the blue line of police officers moved aside to allow Esther to have the personal moment she desired. “Who are you?” asked the Officer in charge, holding what was a recording device in front of my face. “Inderjit Bhogal, I am a Methodist Minister”, I replied.  “Are you the leader of this march?” he asked. I simply suggested to the Police Officer that the march would move, and that Mrs McCurbin should be brought to Lichfield Street by the Prince Albert Statue and that she could join the march there again. This was all agreed. Suddenly I was seen as the leader. It seemed to me that people are like Sheep without a Shepherd. This space is so often occupied by people who exploit it with all kinds of messages and methods, for good and for ill.

The march proceeded. We turned into Lichfield Street. Mrs McCurbin joined us again at the Prince Albert Statue as agreed. But at this point the march stopped again, and stalled. This was the next flash point. From here the NEXT shop could be seen clearly. The world’s media seemed to be gathered on the steps of the Midland Bank on Lichfield Street, from here they would get the best photos of the anticipated violence.

From here too, all the way back to the NEXT shop there was a heavy police presence, beginning with Officers on foot with riot shield to protect them. Behind them Police on horse-back. Behind them Police reinforcements in Vans. The Police had also come expecting war and violence, and so too had the media.

I found myself standing between some black youths, carrying bricks who had come to have a fight with the police, and the heavy police presence, carrying various weapons and riot gear. I recall looking at the photographers lined up strategically. I felt they wanted to show the world images of violent black youths. I was determined there was not going to be any violence and that the media would not get the story and images they were here for. 

I started shouting to the black people in front of me, “you throw one brick and you have lost the battle. Look at those photographers. Their images will portray you as people with bricks and but no brains. You are more than that”.

Then I started shouting, “We want justice not violence”. There was a man with a loud hailer. I took it from him to shout “we want justice not violence”. Gradually others started shouting this too, and it became a chorus and a crescendo. Two or three others came and stood with me between the police and the angry marchers. This chanting went on for about fifteen minutes. It was freezing cold. The snow fell relentlessly. I noticed that the marchers began moving on. Only I and those who stood between the marchers and the police shouting for justice and non-violence were left there, including David a good friend of mine, another member of the clergy who joined the march with me. Gradually every one disappeared, the marchers, the media, the police. I have no idea where or how the march concluded. David and I stood there reflecting on the events. A local Press photographer took a photo of me that appeared in a Newspaper the following week.

It was freezing cold, but I felt very hot just then. I was soaked with sweat and snow, and exhausted. I did feel I had participated in and witnessed remarkable expression of anger at police racism and violence. I also felt I had helped to prevent violence in which there would have been human casualties and property damage.

I walked away from the scene reflecting how critical it is to provide leadership and a voice for non-violence. It is important to offer wisdom of non-violence. I did follow this up in succeeding days and weeks by meeting with the Chief of Police in Wolverhampton to state the message of the marchers, and to talk about racism awareness strategies.

There were those who felt I was a “police collaborator”, some of those who argued this regarded the police as “the enemy” and wore balaclavas over their faces at street gatherings and clearly knew me for they talked with me by my name. I knew who they were. And at the same time, I was asked by my Methodist leaders to explain my actions in joining the march. I explained to them that I may have helped to prevent the “war” that was expected on the day of the march. I don’t know. But in my mind joining the march was the better decision than deciding to stay away. I have always tried to walk for justice and non-violence in my exercise of ministry.

A few days after the march I was present at Clinton’s funeral. I walked at the head of the procession with Paul Boateng MP to the Church in Heath Town. Clinton’s death was a tragedy. He was laid to rest in peace and with respect and dignity.

Inderjit Bhogal

20 February 2020

DUBLIN INTERFAITH ONLINE REFLECTION AND PRAYER

Today is Pentecost Day, when Christians recall a day when God blesses people with the Holy Spirit, and reminded themselves that the Spirit of God is poured out “upon all flesh”.

This day is recognised in churches as the birthday of Church.

The very first message on this day, by the Apostle Peter was exactly this, the Spirit of God is poured out on flesh, God blesses all people, and when Peter said this he was speaking to people of different nations.

The image of the Spirit of God is the breath of God.

The breath of God is the source of all life.

Breath and clean air epitomise our times of coronavirus.

It is sad that coronavirus attacks the capacity to breathe.

We remember all those on ventilators now, and all those who care for them, from cleaners to consultant surgeons.

It is sad also that the words at the centre of news this week are “I can’t breathe”, the last words of George Floyd, the African-American man killed by Police in Minnesota, USA.

I am also saddened by the violence that has erupted following his death. Anger and protest have to be expressed non-violently.

Another sad image of our times is that of war and violence destroying people’s lives and homes, driving many to seek sanctuary elsewhere.

Every day myriads of people set out to cross whatever barrier is in the way to find safety and a better life. When people are deprived of their homes, their families, and familiar surroundings, they will be grateful for welcome, hospitality and safety.

I live in Sheffield.

Poet Laureate Andrew Motion’s words adorn the side of a Sheffield Hallam University building. The good sighted can read the words of the poem as they walk to the city from the railway station:

“O traveller from somewhere to here…to wander through the labyrinth of air,

Pause now, and let the sight of this sheer cliff become a priming place which

lifts you to speculate…

What if…?

What if…?

What if…?”

I like that triple “what if”.

What if we could all work together to bring our diverse population into shared conversations, even if difficult conversations, on how we can work together to build better understandings, deeper relationships of mutual respect and trust, and come to genuinely accept each other as human beings?

What three things can we do?

My three challenges in response to these what ifs are centred on the belief that God’s spirit is poured out on all flesh. We are all human beings made in the image of God. So here are my three challenges:

Be human, and always call others back to their humanity.

Be hospitable, and always call others to express hospitality.

Always challenge hatred. This is done by challenging inhumanity and

inhospitality.

The way ahead for us all now is to widen and deepen relationships across different cultures, creeds, colours and identities, to end hatred, and together to build cultures where all are welcome, and valued. We can be united in building hospitality. We have fantastic opportunities in our multi-ethnic and plural societies to meet and eat with each other, to share our stories and discover our interconnectedness, and link the local with the global.

How we all relate to each other, and in particular to people seeking sanctuary and safety will be central to humanity. How we all treat those who are in greatest need for safety will be the measure by which we shall judge personal, national and international morality and spirituality.

A Prayer:

Holy God, you are our refuge and our hope.

You live in heaven, on earth, and in our hearts.

Your majesty surrounds us in all your creation.

Holy is your name.

Holy are your ways.

We bless you for the honour you give us

By making us all in your image,

By calling us all to share in your work,

And by inviting us all to eat at your Table.

We thank you for Jesus Christ,

In Him You have given the world

New patterns of living, loving, learning, serving and suffering,

And the promise of the fullness of life.

We bless you for giving us the gift of your Holy Spirit,

The breath of life;

The strength to live by each day.

We hold before you

All those who are struggling today, and those who bring care, help and support.

Those who are taking their last breaths, and those who watch and wait and pray with them;

Those who have died, and all who are bereaved.

Grant to us, to the world, and all who are in our prayers, your strength and peace,

And bring us all where you want us to be.

In the Name of Christ.

Amen.

Inderjit Bhogal, 31 June 2020

Six Words to Live By: Act Justly, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly

Part of the Communion in Times of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections
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Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

ACT JUSTLY

14 June 2020, third anniversary of Grenfell Tower fire
This article can be downloaded for use here

Today is the third anniversary of the Grenfell Tower. 72 people died in the devastating fire there.

The last fortnight has seen angry protests following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota. Most of the protests have been peaceful and I detest violence where it has featured.

It is important to listen to the calls for justice, and to ask what needs to happen.

Or, to put it another way, what does God require of us, not only in this situation, but at any time?

This question features in the Bible in a number of places with significant answers.

One place where the question is asked is in the book of Micah, chapter 6 verse 8 where we read:

“What does the Lord require of you but to act justice, love tenderly, and walk humbly with God”.

 Six words are important there: act justly, love tenderly, walk humbly.

In any situation you have to make choices about how you will respond. The attitude you choose to live by is critical.

The words in Micah are worth pondering.

We can choose to live by those six words: act justly, love tenderly, walk humbly.

I will take these words in two’s to offer reflection.

So, first let us focus on the words “act justly”.

What justice means biblically is that everyone can enjoy the benefits of life. The “fulness of life” (john 10:10), for all without discrimination and deprivation. This is the persistent call of the prophets of ancient Israel.

In the words of the prophet Amos, God longs for the day when “justice (will) roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:2).

Whenever men and women work in favour of justice, understood as simple fairness, and equality among people in things that enhance human dignity and well-being, they are standing on the “foundation stone” established by the God of justice.

This justice challenges the violence of poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia, and every form of domination, discrimination, oppression and war. Consequently, justice will not employ violence, and will address violence non-violently.

Commitment to justice includes working non-violently whether we are speaking of verbal violence or physical violence.

Ending particular forms of injustice is integral to the Kingdom of God, where all enjoy the fulness of life. 

Justice is not about being right or righteous, but doing right and hungering after righteousness.

In Genesis 18: 17-19, justice and righteousness is linked, and mean the same thing, the “way” of God is revealed as “doing what is right and just”. This is what brings about the completion of the will of God. Fairness, equity, and impartiality in the rule of law, and sharing of the benefits of belonging together is what is held together here (Sacks, 2003).

For Moses justice is a good life. He says, “choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19). Justice is the route to a good life.

When the biblical prophets spoke of justice they consistently held up the “widow”, the “orphan” and the “stranger” (Exodus 22: 21-27; Psalm 146: 7-9). These three groups of people represent those who had no means of their own to live a good life, and were dependent on the grace and generosity and goodness of others.

In our times these groups relate for me to older people in care, children in danger, and refugees.  

Biblically, God is the God of justice (Deuteronomy 32: 4; Isaiah 30:18; Psalm 119: 137). It is God’s measuring line (Isaiah 28: 17). Justice exalts God (Isaiah 5:16). It is the worship God respects (Amos 5:22-24).

Act justly.

In all the debates of our times the cry is for justice, rooted in a 400 year history, and spanning Grenfell Tower, Minnesota, and Covid-19.

A cry for justice is the cry of God.

We are to hear the challenge of God to “act justly”.

LOVE MERCY

21 June 2020, Father’s Day, Summer Solstice Day

Good morning.

It is Father’s Day.

We give thanks for our fathers.

It is also summer solstice day, though it does not look or feel like it here in Sheffield. It is the longest day in the year.

Have a good day.

Last week I started a reflection on what I called the wisdom of six words to live by. The six words are from the book of the Prophet Micah in chapter 6 verse 8.

Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly.

Last week I reflected on what it is to act justly.

Today I will reflect on love mercy, and next week I will reflect on what it is to walk humbly.

So, love mercy. These words are sometimes written as “love tenderly”.

All people are inspired by and respond well to tenderness in the world.

Let’s look at the biblical meaning of mercy or tenderness, and to do this I want to recall something I learned from a woman called Marianne Katopo.

I met Marianne Katopo (Katopo, 1981) when she was studying in Birmingham, in 1980. Marianne describes herself as an Indonesian novelist, poet, journalist and theologian. She says she is a poet of God. I was privileged to discuss and engage in theological reflection with her forty years ago. Her theology was published in the book Compassionate and Free, An Asian Woman’s Theology. Marianne was one of the first Asian women theologians to teach me. She says God is compassionate and free and calls us to a compassionate and free life.

She taught me much about the meaning of compassion.

The Hebrew word for compassion is “rachamim”.

I recall Marianne saying she asked a professor at a theological school in Indonesia what “ra-cha-mim” meant originally.

The professor replied that the word literally means “movement of the womb” (rachamim). It could also mean movement in the womb. It literally refers to the “guts”, a deep feeling.

For Marianne, there is no deeper experience or more God-like experience than compassion. She says, compassion is intimacy, not distance.  

The best description of mercy is that it is the tenderness a pregnant woman feels for the baby in her womb, especially when she feels a little movement of the baby in the womb.

It is father’s day but our theme has taken us to mothers.

It is significant that the mercy, tenderness, compassion, is derived from the most motherly organ in a human being, the womb. This is where the most intimate mother-child love and bond is most intimately formed or knitted. This is the root of compassion, tenderness and mercy. The tenderness, compassion and mercy of a mother for a child is deep. Women know this. Men need to learn this.

It is significant also that in English, Woman and Womb is connected.

Sometimes the bible speaks of Israel as the son of God, Ephraim.

Speaking of Ephraim, God says, “I am deeply moved for him; I will surely have mercy on him” (Jeremiah 31:20). The movement is deep within, in the womb of God. The resulting action is mercy.

There is a heart rending cry of a man pleading with Jesus: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me” (Luke 18: 38).

On another occasion, mercy and compassion is the motivation for the action of Jesus faced with a crowd before him: “I have compassion for the crowd., because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat” (Mark 8:2).

In Hebrew scriptures mercy is a gift of God to people. “I will give/grant you mercy” (Jeremiah 42:12).

Showing mercy is an emotion. Giving mercy is a choice.

Blessed are the merciful, they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7).

The compassion of God has a touch of the feminine said Marianne (Katopo, 1981, page 66).  

Mercy, tenderness, compassion.

I will leave you to reflect on how you show mercy, and how you can love mercy in your daily life.

Next week I will reflect on the words “walk humbly”.

It is lovely for us to keep connected like this on Sundays.

I will sit outside chapel with a lit candle on Wednesday morning at 11am, and hold you in my prayers.

Thank you and bless you.

WALK HUMBLY

28 June 2020

Welcome and good morning.

I’ve been looking at six words to live by, with reflections on what I called the wisdom of six words to live by. The six words are from the book of the Prophet Micah in chapter 6 verse 8.

Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly.

Last week I reflected on what it is to love mercy.

Today I will reflect on what it is to walk humbly.

I have found Holman Hunt’s painting entitled The Shadow of Death a good meditation on humility. His painting The Light of the World is better known. The Shadow of Death painting repays attention.

The painting shows Jesus Christ standing in his carpenter’s workshop, and is stretching himself. His mother is in the workshop too, and is shown watching the shadow he casts over a wooden rack, prefiguring his crucifixion on a cross.

The painting hangs in Leeds Art Gallery. It captured my attention, but I was drawn to it even more when I read the words beside the painting.

“He made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a slave…and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even death of the cross” (Philippians 2: 6-11, King James Version).

We have to be careful when we read words like “slave” here, whether it is used in the King James Version published in 1611, or the New Revised Standard version published in 1989.

The focus is on selfless service, not servitude, or being a doormat.

Humility is what I am focusing on.

Jesus’ humility is reflected in his manner and ministry. Born in a cave, crucified on a cross, he rode a donkey, he washed his disciples’ feet, he was let down by people close to him, and spurned by many rejected his message.

He made himself of no reputation.

Which other leader is there of whom we can say that?  

The words “he humbled himself” are translated as he “emptied himself” in the NRSV.

Christ reveals and reflects God who is seen as one whose divinity embraces the human body with all its beauty, bruises and brokenness, and in the words of the Charles Wesley Hymn, “emptied of all but love”.

Justice, mercy and humility come together in the striking image of Christ on the cross.

Quite rightly the cross stands at the center of churches, reflecting the life that flows from letting go of power.   

Christian thinking and theology is defined by Christ’s birth in obscurity and his humiliating death, not by rulers who live in palaces and rule by power.

This God calls us to work, walk, and share in this prophetic ministry of justice, mercy and humility, and to reflect and call for this model of leadership and life, in the hope that God will bring us to grow deeper and deeper into the image of God.

Humility acknowledges we cannot go far by ourselves. We need each other.

We are dependent on others.

We are stronger together.

In any congregation and community, this is where our strength lies, in each other.

It has been challenging to stay together in these difficult days of coronavirus.

These zoom gatherings have helped.

Chapel will remain closed till at least the first Sunday of September.

We will look at holding one or two events, within social distance, in the garden.

All documents on this topic are located here

Communion In Times of Coronavirus: Stillness

Part of the Communion in Times of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections
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Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

“Be still and know I am God”

Psalm 46:10

STEP 1

Correct breathing

STEP 2

Stillness…also the goal of Yoga.

Last week I showed simple ways to breathe correctly, with a focus on breathing through the nose.

Just try that again.

Breathe through your nose with the 4-7-8 formula.

Breathe in for 4 seconds. Hold the breath for 7 seconds. Breathe out for 8 seconds.

Have a go now. Breathe in, hold, breathe out.

What happens when you do this?

The first thing, apart from breathing well is that you shut up. You say nothing.

I’ll come back to that in a minute.

Now, what is the first lesson you must learn when you learn to drive?

Answer. You must learn how to stop.

To make any move in a car, you must be able to stop it.

It is important to stop.

Coronavirus has stopped us all in our tracks.

The current situation has taught us that real healing and wellbeing comes from learning to stop.

When you stop you, even when you slow down, you see more, you listen more.

The most important thing in life is not what happens to you, but how you react to it.

In any situation, breathe well, stop, listen, don’t focus on what to say.

If you do these simple things, what you are doing is being still.

In the stillness is God.

Be still and know I am God.

Live in that confidence that God is with you.

The Psalmist who wrote those words was speaking to a people at war.

When he said “be still” what he meant was “put down your weapons”, stop the clatter, and know that your confidence is in God.

What is the weapon you carry? Your words.

Breathe well. Stop speaking.

True Yoga is not about movement and posturing and exercise.

True Yoga has only one goal: the complete stillness of thought, and mental movement.

Total stillness because only in this stillness will you know that you live in God and God lives in you.

I grew up in a large family. Nine of us. The first thirteen years of my life my family lived in two rooms. As you can imagine I could never get away from noise in our home. I learned quickly that what is important is not silence but stillness within me.

Stillness within me can be achieved anytime and anywhere.

I also decided that listening was essential to stillness.

Stillness is assisted by silence, but does not require silence.

Stillness is not doing nothing. It is about being attentive to the moment. It is a resting in the midst of noise and activity.

I can be still when I am walking or running.

In stillness I shut up and listen.

The Prophet Isaiah wrote:

In stillness is your strength

Isaiah 30:7,15

The words Jesus used to still a storm were, “peace, be still”.

If you want peace learn to be still.

God is with us.

Be still and know this.

There are simple practical ways to deepen the quality of stillness in you.

First, in a conversation listen with stillness. In other words, listen without working on what you will say next. Just listen. Allow the person speaking to finish. Then, don’t say what you want to, ask the person a question like, can unpack what you have said a little more so that I have a clearer understanding of what you have said. You could then say, I need to think a little more of what you have said. What is happening is that you are listening with stillness of mind.

St Columba said people say I am wise, but all I do is listen to them.

Second, try the Zen of seeing. Try this anywhere. Look at anything, it could be a leaf, or a feather, or a piece of rock or a flower. Focus on a small part of it and draw it in your mind. You need no paper or pencil. The important thing is you are learning to focus, give attention to detail without using words.

Learn in this time of slowing down to breathe well, to stop, and to be still. No need to hurry.

Here you can be still, and know God.

So, I close with the words of Christ.

Peace, be still.

Thank you and bless you.

Take care, and we will meet at the same time next Sunday.

Inderjit Bhogal, 17 May 2020

This article can be downloaded for use here
All documents on this topic are located here

Communion In Times of Coronavirus: Wisdom for Anxious Days

Part of the Communion in Times of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections
Click here for more

Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

These words are part of what is termed Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

Seek first the kingdom of God. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today

MATTHEW 6:25-34

Imagine Jesus sharing reflections with people as he sat on a hillside. Many were there with their anxieties. They were living in times of Roman occupation and oppression. They were living in fear, worried about their future, and looking for wisdom. They will have sought help.

We could imagine we are sitting with Jesus on Wincobank Hill with our anxieties.

What did Jesus say to the people around him? Read and study the whole of “the sermon on the mount”. To understand the words of Matthew 6:34 read the words that precede them in the rest of Chapter 6. There are words about modesty in lifestyle, and not stockpiling for the future. The words in verses 25-33 centre on handling anxiety, and conclude with the words in verse 34. The wisdom is, do not be overly anxious about the future, live in the present by clear values.

There are three pieces of wisdom that precede the words in verse 34 and illuminate them. There is a simplicity in these words. Some may consider them simplistic, but they contain depth.

First: “Look at the Birds”. You don’t have to travel far for this. Just look out of the window. Listen to the bird song. If you want to develop the looking, get a good pair of binoculars to help. There are many resources to identify them, not least by their song. They work and play, and are melodious.

Two: “Consider the Lilies”. I like the word “consider”. It suggests pay close attention, study, be inquisitive, explore, appreciate. There is immense beauty in lilies, visitors to them like bees and butterflies, and wider nature.

Spend some time with birds and plants in your garden or travel further if you are able to. Time with nature offers nurture, nourishment, rest, refreshment and time to reflect. It can help to clear and still the mind and determine what is important. Getting close to soil can be healing. It is full of life. All people of all ages can wonder at the majesty, magic and mystery of creation.  

Three: “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”. Direct your life by this rule. By rule I do not mean instruction, but way of life. To be a follower of Jesus is to “consider” and live by this rule. Jesus prayed “your Kingdom come” expressing his high priority and hope. Jesus is encouraging his followers to put their lives and anxieties into the wider context of the wellbeing God desires for all people.

Jesus directs his teaching anxiety about the future with words about how to live day by day. Seek first…

The words of verse 34 are not about fatalism, simply accepting destiny, or just leaving everything to God. There is a basis to them. It has been suggested that the Gospel writer added the words “so, do not be anxious about tomorrow”. Whoever is to be credited, these words make sense and hold gospel wisdom in the context of the Sermon on the Mount.

Make the most of each day. Live one day at a time. Appreciate good things around you. Seek the Kingdom and righteousness of God, “and all these things will be given to you as well”.

Inderjit Bhogal, 3 May 2020. Words shared in Sunday morning worship with Wincobank Chapel Congregation

This article can be downloaded for use here
All documents on this topic are located here

Lessons from Ray Davey: Corrymeela Reflection and Prayer

Part of the Communion In Times Of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections
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Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

8 MAY 2020

From the Croí 8 May 2020 Led by Inderjit Bhogal


It is 75 years since World War 2 ended in Europe.

On 15 May is the annual Conscientious Objectors Day when we remember those who refused to join the war.

With others I give thanks for all those who give their lives for justice and peace, and pray for a world without war and violence.

With the whole world at present, in our times of coronavirus, I give thanks for all those who work to provide care, prayer and healing.

I give thanks for all those who have upheld the witness to non-violence and peace. I find inspiration in them.

Today with the Corrymeela Community I especially give thanks for Ray Davey who was a prisoner in World War 2, and was released on 8th May 1945, and I will conclude my offering with a prayer written by Ray on 10th June 1944.

I want to begin with a prayer I wrote on 31 January 2020 as the UK determined to leave the EU which has at least tried to maintain peace in Europe.

PRAYER FOR OUR TIMES

Holy God
Creator of the universes, the heavens and the earth.
You make all people in your image;
You know the hurts and hopes of us all;
Your presence is deep within us and around us.
Holy are your ways and holy is your name.
For all the ways in which
We assault and abuse your image in us, and in your creation around us
Forgive us
For seeking the best for ourselves but not others, and so often at the expense of others
Forgive us
That our highest ideals are marred by our selfishness
Forgive us
For our ways and words that bruise and break relationships, households, congregations, communities, neighbourhoods and nations
Forgive us
For the inhumanity, inhospitality, hatred, wars and violence
Which destroy homes and displace people
Forgive us
For the inhumane, inhospitable and hate filled treatment of people seeking sanctuary, and of refugees
Forgive us
Holy God
Bring us and the world to end hatred, war, and violence, and always to build cultures and communities of healing, hospitality and justice
Where all are welcome, valued, belong equally, and have sanctuary and well-being.
Strengthen us to work with you to heal hurts, keep hope alive, to make all things new, and never to tire of seeking justice and peace.
In the Name of Christ.

Amen.

For a reading I offer only one verse from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and it is from Matthew 5:9

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Matthew 5:9

I came to Ireland in my younger days to meet people I admired, including the leaders of Corrymeela. I looked up to them all, especially Ray Davey the founder of Corrymeela.

I recall once sitting on a wall by the Croi with Ray Davey. I was talking to him about an idea growing in my mind about Sanctuary for refugees.

In typical form Ray said, “If you have an idea you must incarnate it. Go and do it”. I did, and have seen sanctuary grow as a movement in Britain and Ireland and beyond, and I am thankful to Ray for his encouragement.

Ray is an inspiration for me because he stands out in a world littered with the debris of war as a peace maker. He never gave in to war and violence. He remained constant in his objection to war and in his work of building relationships of respect and trust.

Ray was a prisoner of war and kept diaries which he published. I have a copy signed by Ray and Kathleen that Ray gave me when I visited them on 26 September 2005.

Ray used his confinement in a prison camp positively and learned the importance of human community as he brought prisoners together for prayer, and how relationships sustain the human spirit in difficult times.

He wrote that “love is at the root of all things, not force and hate” (War Diaries, page 175). Ray stressed the need to live with this attitude consistently.

He wrote of “the sacrament of social workers”, of service, modelled in Jesus washing feet. “A revolutionary idea of leadership” noted Ray, “one of the master touches of his life” (War Diaries, page 211).

This experience he used as a leader and theologian while he was University Chaplain twenty years after he left prison, and worked with the wisdom and enthusiasm of young people to lay the foundations of Corrymeela Community and its work over the last 55 years or so.

Ray used his solitude to deepen his relationship with God, a communion from which nothing and no one could separate him. He was a man of deep prayer. Ray’s prayers reveal his deepest hopes and desires.

Only one of Ray’s prayers in his diaries make it into his book The War Diaries. It is on page 202. He prays that his life will be an “instrument fit” for God’s greater service.

I had the privilege of reading through Ray’s actual diaries when I visited him on 11th November 2010. I was particularly fascinated by his prayers and wrote down three of them into my own diary. I will use these prayers to close this meditation in a couple of minutes.

Prayers reveal our deepest hopes and desires.

What are you praying for in your time of confinement?

It seems to me that the whole world has one common prayer at present. Everyone is praying that a cure for coronavirus may be found soon, and for healing. No one is immune from Covid-19. We all want anyone who is hurting to be healed.

I dislike the use of war terminology in relation to Covid-19 like “enemy” and “battle”. We should talk instead about healing and hope. Be positive in your language.

Ray’s War Diaries close with important lessons (page 222). He concludes, “the things that make wars and unhappiness are not just Hitlers and Mussolinis, but are things in our own lives – greed, pride, dishonesty, lack of consideration. If we are to overcome these things, we must become different ourselves”.

Ray incarnated his ideas. The Corrymeela Centre was opened in October 1965 for “all people who are of good will who are willing to meet each other, to learn from each other and to work together for the good of all..”

Let me close by sharing with you lessons I have learned from Ray’s time in confinement, they are valid for our communion in times of coronavirus:

  1. Do all you can, within your restrictions, to bring people together and build community
  2. Love is the root of all things, not force and hate. Incarnate love in your lives
  3. Never take pride in the humiliation of others. The sacrament of leadership is modelled in the humility of service as seen in the ministry of Christ
  4. Invest in instruments and efforts of healing. Put away words and weapons of violence, hate and harm
  5. Deepen your relationship with God. Devote more time to prayer

So, I will close with a prayer written and said by Ray in prison. 

O God of all ages, we know that we live in momentous days, days of destiny and change.

Today we look to the world, we think of all that happens there.

Humbly and in faith we commit our cause to thee.

We confess our wrongs and evils, as a nation and as individuals.

We admit our part, and we accept our blame for this disordered and shattered world.

Be with all who take part in the struggle, endue them with patience, courage and crown their efforts with success.

May all the nations learn the folly, uselessness and senselessness of war.

And in thine own good time may a just and lasting peace be born from the ashes and destruction of so many lands and lives.

Give us the determination to live in patience and faith until the day of our freedom.

Breathe in us anew the burning resolve to fashion a society that shall think more of the things that bind men together than those that keep them apart.

Give us the will to raise a new community, God centred and God controlled.

Give us the practical willingness to plan the remaking of our own homes and the rededication of our lives, so that our land may be built on the solid basis of love and trust.

O God of our captivity, whose hand has held and sustained us through this weary journey,

Be with us now in these days of suspense and waiting.

As thou hast been our guide and strength in the past strengthen us now.

Give us the quiet mind of patience and confidence.

We remember thou hast said, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee because he trusteth thee”.

Father who hast created the nations as all members of the great human family, cause the terrible strife to cease.

And when it comes to an end may reason, justice and foresight prevail.

Cleanse our hearts from the spirit of revenge and hatred and reprisal.

Give us the spirit of charity and forgiveness.

We would reaffirm our belief in love as the centre of life.

Give us the determination and faith so to live as individuals and nations that wars may be outlawed forever.

Amen.

RAY DAVEY PRAYER DATED 10 JUNE 1944

A Blessing
Creative God
Breathe your breath of life on us.
Forgiving God
Breathe your words of peace on us.
Empowering God
Breathe your spirit of strength on us.
Amen.

Inderjit Bhogal, Former Leader and CEO of Corrymeela

8 May 2020

Note: Davey, R.( 2005). The War Diaries: From Prisoner-of-War to Peacemaker. Belfast, Brehon Press

This article can be downloaded for use here
All documents on this topic are located here

Homeless and Rootless at Christmas

NOMAD is an organisation that has been working in Sheffield since 1989, to my knowledge.  NOMAD began in 1989 when Jacky who had experienced homelessness with children, and Barrie who had experienced homelessness as a single man, made a commitment to form an agency to assist homeless people in Sheffield. Jacky and Barrie commenced their work without any resources, from the kitchen of a Council maisonette.  My understanding, from conversations with Jacky and Barry, is that the name NOMAD originated in their experiences of receiving the answer “no” so often to their requests for help that it drove them “mad”, hence NOMAD!

One of the first initiatives that Jacky and Barrie took was to organise a Christmas meal in the maisonette for people who found themselves roofless over the festive period. They were overwhelmed but not surprised by the numbers [78] who turned up.  They also found accommodation for six individuals.

The story of NOMAD caught the attention of many of us who were concerned about homelessness. NOMAD had already illustrated that when the will is there much support can be given even when resources are tiny. A small group of us from different voluntary and religious organisation met with representatives of NOMAD on 5.9.90 and 1.10.90 to consider the provision of support for homeless and roofless people over the Christmas – New Year period of 1990/91. The meetings identified the need for premeses, finance, provisions and volunteer support.  The premises at Carver Street Wesley Methodist Church [now an Australian theme Bar] were offered as a Night Shelter.  A building [Club 81] was also offered as a day centre.  

As a result the group calling itself SHOC (Sheffield Homeless Open Christmas) launched an appeal for £10,000, and enough volunteers to provide shelter, friendship, food and clothing for those who would otherwise find themselves isolated, lonely, and even roofless over the festive season. The response was excellent. We received £15,000, over a hundred volunteers offered to help, and there were many contributions of food, clothing and bedding. Over the Christmas period, up to 25 people took shelter each night at Carver St Wesley, and up to 80 people made use of the day centre.

We had to find an alternative name to SHOC since there was another organisation using the same title, and after some discussion came up with Homeless and Roofless at Christmas [HARC].  The word Roofless was changed to Rootless soon.

I know, from Minutes of meetings, that the initial group of people who started HARC included:  Inderjit Bhogal, Briony Broome, Margaret Chamings, Phyllis Cooper, Philip Drake, Rachel Frith, Howard Long, Bob Townrow, Judith Tucker, Barrie Sefton and Chris Sissons.  Numerous others joined in later, of course, but these are the founding members.  Jacky Hague never came along to meetings.  We appointed Margaret Chamings as the Coordinator, and I was appointed the first official Chair of HARC.

Other people who were very hard workers with HARC included Captain Alan Turner of the Church Army, Jenny Hales, Mavis Percy and Bill Emmingham.  There are, of course, many others and the problem of starting to list names is that some are left out. 

We worked as small groups under the titles of:  Premeses, Finance and Provisions, and Support & Publicity.

Each group worked very conscientiously, and with great care.  Well before the days of Risk Assessments, we paid close attention to Fire, Health and Safety needs.  Each volunteer went through training sessions.  No one was allowed to work with HARC without proper training.

As it developed, HARC donated some of the surplus money to other organisations working alongside homeless and rootless people in Sheffield. HARC also initiated and sponsored a new Sunday centre which also started life in the Carver St Wesley buildings.

We adopted a Constitution, and began to take the shape of an organisation.

I believed that the work of HARC would be quite temporary and that there would soon be long term provision, including adequate housing for all.  I was convinced that 
the kind of initiatives taken by groups like HARC will not eradicate need. Only adequate housing and affordable homes would do that.

In 1990 we made a financial appeal for £10,000 and received £15,000. In 1991 we made a financial appeal for £16,000, and received £24,000. In 1992 we appealed for £20,000 and met our target again.  In addition to money there were generous gifts of food, clothing, bedding and premises…. And most important of all people gave themselves – as volunteers, over 100 each year. This response said to me that the people of Sheffield were disturbed and bothered by the levels of homelessness among us, and wanted to support any initiatives being taken to stand alongside homeless people.

Twenty years ago I said in speeches that it is unjust that anyone in Britain is homeless; that there are sufficient resources within this country, even in the depths of a recession – or depression – to end homelessness. The levels of homelessness in this country are scandalous. The kind of initiatives taken by groups like HARC up and down the country are good, but they will not end homelessness – only the provision of adequate and affordable housing will do that.  What we can offer is compassion and friendship. We will do what we can within our human and material means.  We will support the work of organisations such as Shelter at the national level, and NOMAD at the local level which campaign alongside homeless people for justice. While the initiatives taken by groups like HAC will no eradicate homelessness, they do illustrate the concern that exists over homelessness, and what can be done even where resources are small. The City-wide response to HARC has brought people from different religious political persuasions to stand alongside the homeless and form a deep fellowship with those who find themselves homeless and rootless.

Justice requires the provision of adequate and affordable housing. It is a basic human right, for each human being, to have a home, a permanent home. It is to government, at local and national level, that we look for such justice, and meeting of basic human rights.

We all have to do what we can, and we can all do something to achieve justice.

Sadly twenty years on we are in an economic recession again.

For twenty years HARC has offered support and worked with homeless and rootless people in our city. HARC does what can be done within limited resources. In no way is HARC has provided a transitional, resting place, warmth and food and friendship.  The Sunday Centre [now based in Victoria Hall], has continued to provide a service.  NOMAD continues to provide an essential service.

The need remains.  The situation is more complex.  Those needing the support of HARC and the Sunday Centre include destitute people seeking Sanctuary among us.

I don’t know where Jacky and Barry are now, but they’ve left a lasting legacy in Sheffield.

Perspectives… thoughts for Lent

lent-2Have you ever found yourself asking what do a modern city and the Bible really have in common? How does faith fit in with how we live our lives in a city which is changing as fast as York?

In previous years CoRE, the York City Centre Churches Care and Development Trust played host to the Bishop of Selby, Martin Wallace who has talked about faith and the city of York.  Last year the talks were so well attended even the standing room was full.  The themes clearly touched a chord with the audience. 

For the 2010 Lent talks five guest speakers offered their views on faith in society today.  Each explored a different topic covering volunteers, the traditions of feasting and fasting, commerce, education and health.

The Rev Dr Inderjit Bhogal OBE spoke on the 1st March exploring the traditions of feasting and fasting.

Click here to read Inderjit’s talk.