Wednesday, 21 January 2015

It Ain't Persecution!

There are times when it is just one thing after another.  Before Christmas our minds were full of a tragedy in the centre of Glasgow and now we are living with the echoes of the terrorist attacks in Paris.  We all know what it is like to be going about our business in a city centre without a thought for our personal safety so events like these touch us at a personal level. 

Ignatius Kaigama offers us some perspective, however.   He is a Roman Catholic Archbishop in Nigeria where Boko Haram have killed thousands of people and rendered many homeless.  He has commended the spirit of Paris with thousands turning out in support of the victims and to affirm their commitment to freedom of speech.   Nevertheless he has challenged the West, not least its leaders, to show that same kind of spirit when attacks happen in Nigeria, in Niger or in Cameroun. 

Perhaps, looking at the West, the Archbishop would agree with the poet’s observation that we cannot bear too much reality.  The scale of the carnage in places like Nigeria is just too much for our minds to process.  But it is there and people who share our faith are being called to persevere in the midst of it all.  And that is a wake-up call for people like me.   From time to time I have felt that orthodox Christians are being sidelined in Western society and sometimes even pressurised to conform to mainstream thought on a number of issues.  But what is this in comparison to the suffering inflicted on Christians of all traditions in parts of Africa and the Middle East? 

The Anglican Archbishop of York, John Sentamu was interviewed recently and it was put to him that some Christians in the UK are currently feeling persecuted because their views have been marginalised by mainstream society.  He replied:

‘Well I lived in Uganda during the time of Idi Amin . . . and our Archbishop was murdered by Idi Amin.  I had to get out of Uganda because I had opposed Amin on a number of things which I didn’t think were ethically right  . . . I know what persecution looks like.  What is happening at the moment in (the UK), it ain’t persecution. 

The coming season of Lent reminds us that Christian discipleship is challenging but we still have freedom to express our views in various ways, to engage in works of service and also to share our faith.    None of this should ever be taken for granted but approached prayerfully and used responsibly and respectfully.  

Monday, 19 January 2015

A Beautiful Symphony.

No one could fail to be moved by the amazing scenes in Paris as tens of thousands of people, including many world leaders, expressed their solidarity with the victims of the terrorist attack on Charlie Ebdo.  It seemed to be one of those moments when people  of all political and religious persuasions were united in a common concern for freedom of speech.  And yet it wasn’t long before other other voices began to be heard.  One Muslim woman said that she deplored the Charlie Ebdo murders but she was nonetheless deeply offended by the way her faith had been insulted by the magazine.   ‘For that reason’, she said: ‘I am not Charlie.’  Other Muslims took a similar line, especially when the cover of first edition of Charlie Ebdo after the murders carried a cartoon of the prophet Mohammed.   Some seemed to think this was a missed opportunity.  The vast majority of Muslims were horrified by the attacks and wanted to be part of the general condemnation but were  alienated by this lack of consideration for their beliefs. 

Then there was a voice from Africa.  Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Nigeria pointed out that Boko Haram has killed thousands of people in his country with many more displaced and with an uncertain future.  He commended the spirit of Paris but appealed for that same spirit to be spread around when attacks happen in Nigeria, in Niger or in Cameroun.  On his Facebook page, Hollywood actor Boris Kodjoe congratulated the world leaders for taking part in the Paris march and asked “can somebody tell me why nobody is marching for those [Nigerian] victims? Any world leaders planning a trip to Lagos or Abuja this week? Too Busy? Bad flight connections?”

It all comes together to emphasise that on political and moral issues it is almost impossible to find consensus.  Something that seems straightforward to me is problematic to someone else.  I am writing this on 19 January, Martin Luther King Day.  Today he is generally regarded as a great champion of human rights but there was significant opposition to his drive to secure equality for the African-American community in the United States.  To some people, many in high places, he was a threat to a status quo that suited them very well. 

This does not mean that we should hold back on the issues that are important to us.  In the end, however, we have to find a way to live together, in disagreement perhaps, but without threats to life and liberty, and sensitive to the feelings of others.  The Apostle Paul once wrote:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.’

If I am to put this into practise then it means an openness to others, no matter where they are coming from politically or spiritually, in the hope that in mutual understanding and respect we can live in peace.   To quote Martin Luther King: ‘With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.’

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Grit For The Road!

It took Gabrielle four hours to get home from Braehead yesterday.  We were keeping in touch by phone and she thought it might be a good idea if I gritted the hill leading up to the Manse in case she failed at the last slope.  There is a grit bin in Grange Road opposite the Manse.  So here we go!  Heavy work it was but on the way up the lady did not falter.

Maybe the work of the Church is to grit the road for our fellow travellers on life’s journey.  Sharing the truths that enable them to have a firm footing in this life and the next.