A message to “Overweight Haters Ltd”

Fat

This card was handed out on the London Underground today. It is a message of hatred and judgement based solely on first impressions due to somebody’s appearance and, understandably, it has caused a bit of a Twitterstorm.

So, I’d like to share some words with Overweight Haters Ltd which sum up how to view your fellow human being,

  “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
   Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
   Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
   Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
   Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
   Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
   Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
   Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

  Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Now, doesn’t that sound better than having a pop at total strangers due to their size?


  

Let’s #JustPray for a bit of perspective

The Church of England have brought out this fantastic video, showing many people from many different backgrounds, reciting the Lord’s Prayer. The idea is that prayer is for everybody, not just for a select few. 

Digital Cinema Media (DCM), the ad agency who supply the UK’s three largest cinema chains, have decided not to show this ad, scuppering the plans to have it shown before screenings of the new Star Wars movie. Their decision is based on their policy of not showing adverts for political or religious organisations in order to avoid offending those of different persuasions.

The Church have, predictably, expressed their disappointment with this decision. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, called for the public to Be allowed to “judge for themselves rather than be censored or dictated to”. Many Christians have taken to Twitter and other social media to attack the decision to, in many people’s words, ban the advert. Many comments involve claims that the decision has “backfired” as it has led to extra publicity for the “offensive and subversive” prayer.

As a Christian, you may think I agree with the outrage. After all, the Lord’s Prayer is the example Jesus himself gave when asked how we should pray. It is a beautiful prayer, recognising the Kingship and glory of God, whilst asking for and offering forgiveness and demonstrating a reliance on God for all of our needs. It has been used by all denominations for 2000 years and will endure for much longer.

However, when I saw the National Secular Society tweet the hashtags #JustPray #whatifidontwantto, I was in agreement with them and DCM’s decision. DCM, and the cinema chains they supply, are secular businesses. Their business is to show films and one of the ways they are able to do this is to show adverts beforehand. You may not approve of certain adverts, based on the product, company or even tone of the advert, in which case you can mentally switch off or ignore.

When the advert is for a particular way of life, even for the Way of life, this response differs. Imagine being an atheist, or humanist, or even an adherent to another religion settling down to watch a movie you have spent way to much to watch. You expect to sit through the usual fare of trailers, and adverts for fizzy drinks and perfume, when you are suddenly confronted by something overtly Christian like this video. 

Put yourself in their shoes, if you are a Christian. Imagine one of the “there is probably no God” style adverts appearing on a cinema screen near you. Imagine how that would make you feel. Imagine what sort of complaints would be directed at Cineworld et al as a result of it. “What is a cinema chain doing promoting this. It’s not their job.” would be the likely line trotted out.

And it isn’t their job. Just as it isn’t their job to promote prayer. It is the church’s job, both on a corporate level (by using things such as this video, for instance) and on a personal level (maybe by sharing it). It is not the job of a company who flogs cola, insurance and cars. And they know it. They know the likely negative impact on them and their clients by showing this video, just as they recognise why showing any religious, political or other potentially divisive material is not good business sense.

They haven’t “banned” the video, they have just taken a business decision not to show it in line with existing policy. They haven’t branded it as “offensive”, they just said that some people may take offense at it being shown in that specific context. They haven’t “censored” anything as it is still readily available.

Yes, Christians should share this video. It is a wonderful demonstration of the beauty of prayer and its value for all. Getting our knickers in a twist over cinemas not showing it, though, is likely to undo any good work the video itself does, by showing us as being to ready to complain at the slightest thing. So let’s forget about the rights and wrongs of bringing prayer into cinemas and get back to bringing it, and God, into people’s lives instead.

Why I want to be an extremist and a fundamentalist

Blog pic 1

Extremist = bad

Fundamentalist = bad

Moderate = good

These three things are held true by most people when it comes to religion. The extremist kills, the fundamentalist hates and the moderate is nice and warm and fluffy.

So, why do I want to be an extremist? Why do I want to be a fundamentalist? Why do I want to be anything other than moderate?

Look at the definitions at the top. Look at what extreme and fundamental actually mean. Think about how that would apply to Christianity, based on its central message.

Does rejecting people because of their lifestyle sound like something which forms the central core of Jesus’ teachings? Or does calling them to follow him, dining with them, talking with them and loving them sound more like it?

Does taking the lives of people for their sins sound like Jesus? Or does telling them to “go and sin no more” strike you as more fundamental to his way?

Does the pursuit of wealth for the few come across as an extreme example of Christian teaching? Or does selling everything and giving the money to the poor fit the bill?

Does a love of Queen and country seem like the central tenet for us to hold onto? Or does the seeking of God’s Kingdom over all earthly kingdoms sound like our main aim?

Does a rejection of people based on race, colour or creed sound like a divine calling? Or do you think that welcoming strangers and making disciples of all nations is the thing we are called to do instead?

Extreme love.

Extreme grace.

Extreme forgiveness.

Extreme acceptance.

Extreme devotion to God.

Extreme sacrifice.

Extreme peace.

Extreme generosity.

Extreme service of others.

Extreme life.

These, as the result of Jesus’ teachings and his sacrifice, allowing the Kingdom of God to break into this world, are the fundamentals of Christianity.

This is what true Christian extremism and fundamentalism looks like, not the false gods of the religious right in America or similar noisy factions throughout the world.

They are extreme, but not extremes of Jesus’ way.

They aren’t fundamental, but are quite the opposite as they twist and distort the truth.

And what of the “moderates”? What of the Christians who are “average in amount, intensity or degree”? Who actually wants to be one of those?

Is feeding the poor ‘average’?

Is worshipping a God that most people in the West don’t believe in ‘average’?

Is visiting the prisoner, or the sick, or the grieving, or the lonely, even though you don’t know the person ‘average’?

Is worshipping and praying with and for refugees who nobody seems to want ‘average’?

Is proclaiming your faith in the face of oppression, as many around the world have done, ‘average’?

Is speaking words of forgiveness, then singing songs of worship before being decapitated by masked men on a beach ‘average’ or ‘moderate’?

No. This is extremism and fundamentalism at its purest and most beautiful.

A quote has been posted on social media a lot recently. It says ‘If your fundamentalists are bad, there’s something wrong with your fundamentals’. I believe the fundamentals of Jesus were everything which is good. I believe that when you look at Jesus you see what an extremist, what a fundamentalist should look like.

It’s time we looked like that as well and took back those two terms to show what they can and do really mean.

 

 

Love over hate following the Paris terrorist attacks.

  

This is a short sermon I preached two days after the attacks in Paris which left over 120 people dead and many more injured. There was a baptism during the service, which is alluded to briefly. 

The reading for the day was Hebrews 10:11-14 & 19-25.



“Let us hold on firmly to the hope we profess, because we can trust God to keep his promise. Let us be concerned for one another, to help one another to show love and to do good.”

‭‭‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬Love. The writer of Hebrews asks us to show love. It sounds so simple, so pure, so obvious that we sometimes take this for granted; as if it goes without saying because it is the natural thing to be doing. We think love is such a simple thing that we attach the word to so many objects or experiences; I love Christmas, I love my new shoes, I love your hair, I love that video of a cat doing the moonwalk that I saw on Facebook last night. 

Love, an action so simple that we say it almost without thinking. 

And then something happens. Then we encounter something which shakes us up, something which changes the way we think and feel so dramatically that we find it hard to express ourselves or to process what is happening. 

We had that on Friday night as news came through of the awful terrorist attacks in Paris. So many dead, injured or bereaved that I, like millions of others, just sat there, dumbfounded by what all unfolded in front of me. 

And you realise that what you are seeing is what happens when there is an absence of love. You are seeing what happens when hate takes over people’s lives and causes them to act in ways that seem inhuman. It makes you feel sick, angry and shocked to your very core at such atrocious acts. 

And, suddenly, we find ourselves trying to figure out how to react. Do we, as so many have done over the last couple of days, react against Islam, or against all religion as a source of extreme conflict? Do we look for revenge, for more bloodshed to overcome our righteous anger? 

No. There is another way. 

Martin Luther King once said, 

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” 

Love. We are called to respond and react to this with love. 

We are called, in Prisoners’ Week (as it currently is), to respond to those locked up for any and all crimes with love. We are called to respond to those who carry out all illegal acts, no matter how horrendous, with love. 

And, yes, we are even called to respond to pure hatred, with pure love. Love for the victims, love for those who are coping with loss, love for our Muslim brothers and sisters who are being blamed, by religious association, for this horror, and love for all of those refugees who are now seen by some as potential terrorists because of the acts of a few. We’re even called to show love for those who plan and carry out these acts, young men and women who found themselves consumed by the darkness of a twisted ideology, making the tragic mistake.  

It’s not easy, but we are not called to do the easy thing, we are called to do the right thing. When Jesus offered himself as “one sacrifice for sins, an offering that is effective for ever” it was not easy. Even as he hung on the cross, mocked by the crowds, his clothes divided in front of him by Roman soldiers, he said “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing”. He responded with forgiveness in love as he offered himself as a sacrifice.

And he did it for us all, so that we could all be forgiven for all of our sins. Not some people or some sins, but all people and all sins. We are “washed with clean water” as we have seen so beautifully symbolised in the sacrament of baptism this morning. 

And we are to bring the offer of that forgiveness, that cleansing, that ultimate act of love, to all of God’s children. 

People can be cruel and filled with hate. The world can be an evil place. But both are also filled with the love and beauty of our creator. Let’s hold on to that. 

I just want to end with a prayer I saw yesterday, written by Martin Saunders on the Christianity Today website

“Almighty God, 

We pray today for the people of Paris, that your presence would be tangible among them, and that your healing power would be at work. 

We pray for those who are fighting for life, and for all those who’ve lost someone they love, that you, all-powerful God would even now begin the process of strengthening and restoring them. 

We pray for ourselves, that you’d show us how to respond, how to support, how to show kindness and love, and how to continue to hope in the midst of such devastating news. 

And most of all Lord, in a world where anger, war and hatred are often so prevalent, we pray that your peace would reign, and that your Kingdom would come. In Jesus’ name, 

Amen.” 

Never forget – Never again

  
Today is Remembrance Sunday. Once again, at 11am, a nation stopped and contemplated those who have fought and died in wars in the last century and a bit.

It’s also a time when some people get very angry over the most futile of things, or twist the meaning of the day for whatever reason.

As such, I’ve been thinking about what Remembrance Sunday is and isn’t about. Firstly, what its not about.

1) It’s not about nationalism – Remembrance Sunday is about troops from the UK and the Commonwealth. There are, at the moment, 53 different nations in the Commenwealth, many of whom fought in WWI and some in WWII because Britain still had an empire and forced them to take part in the fighting. More still fought willingly to defend countries which are not their own from tyranny, often due to a sense of duty to the ‘Motherland’.

This is not a day about Britain, but about a whole host of nations who have many, many dead young and women to thank for their freedom. If you add Armistice Day to that then the number of nations, and lives lost, climbs rather dramatically.

So many seem to view the day, and the poppy, as a source of national pride and identity. It is not. It is so much more than our tiny islands of the north west coast of Europe. It is global.

2) It is not about what you wear – Every single year a storm occurs. The storm is always about somebody not wearing a poppy. Papers, online commenters, radio phone-in callers all rage about a newsreader, footballer, politician or dog who isn’t honouring war dead by wearing some red paper and a bit of plastic.

At its most just (the idea of a just war is not an argument I’m getting into) war is about freedom. Freedom from tyranny, freedom of speech, freedom of conscience; freedom of all kinds. What it isn’t for is so that people can enforce what Chief of Defence Staff, Sir Nicholas Houghton, called ‘Poppy Stalinism’.

We are free to reflect on, remember and honour those who fight and die in wars, or not, in our own way. You can disagree with how people choose to act at this time of year, but freedom of choice and of conscience means that you don’t get to dictate what they do.

(Update: It’s also not about how low you bow!)

  

3) It is not about the military – Let me be clear on one thing first of all; I am not sure I could put myself in a position where my life is on the line for a cause and I am fairly certain I couldn’t kill for any reason. On some occasions, though, I can see the necessity for doing this (you couldn’t have just let the Nazis take Europe over, for a start). Anybody who joins the military needs a special type of personality which (other than the more psychopatic minority element) I have a huge respect for. The readiness to put yourself in the line of fire to defend the freedom of others is an amazing thing; as Jesus said “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”.

However, some seem to view Remembrance as being about the Armed Forces as a whole, rather than the sacrificial acts of people, both military and civilian, in the name of freedom.

  

The Royal British Legion, who organise the Poppy Appeal, posted this photo, with three children wearing t-shirts bearing the words “Future Soldier”. This is not meant to be some sort of long term recruitment drive, giving some sort of glamour to the idea of being a soldier. War is not glamorous, it’s not an aspiration children should have or be encouraged towards.

And war is not only fought by the military. There are countless acts of heroism and self-sacrifice made by civilians in every single war. These people are being remembered and honoured too, but seem to be airbrushed from the picture all too often as the focus is on those in uniform.

4) It is not a PR opportunity – Two right wing groups in the UK seem to be trying to hijack the agenda around Remembrance. One is Britain First, a self-styled group of concerned “Christians” who dress like the Army stocked by Millets and act like the facist thugs that they are. 

  

This was a tweet they sent this week, clearly changing the idea of remembrance into a right-wing, anti-Islamic concept.

I have very left-wing political views, but I am wearing a poppy this year, as always, and I took part in a Remembrance Sunday service. I would never disrespect anybody by trying to disrupt it, and I don’t know anyone who would. Similarly, many Muslims have fought and died in wars and are being remembered, too. With the exception of extremist nut job Anjem Choudhary and his mob, most UKMuslims either observe the occasion or at least leave it to go ahead as normal.

On the other hand Britain First, rather than respecting the occasion, are using it to score cheap points. I ask, who is being the most disrespectful here?

Then there are UKIP. For the second year running they have complained that their leader, Nigel Farage, has been unable to lay a wreath at the Cenotaph in London due to his party having fewer than the six MPs required to get a place at the service. They claim it is because their exclusion shuts out their 3 million voters, leaving them silent. Well, my party, the Greens, weren’t there either, but I still observed Remebrance nonetheless, without feeling excluded.

Once again, what they are doing is making the occasion about them and their leader, not what it actually is about.

Which leads me nicely onto what it actually is about. There’s is only one point here:

1) It is about remembering sacrifice during times of conflict – They called the First World War the ‘war to end all wars’. They were wrong.

War is a fact of life. There were more wars in the 20th Century than in any other century in recorded history and more deaths caused by war than at any other time as well.

Some wars seemed pointless and futile, others had moral justification behind them. All, however, were caused by leaders’ lust for land, power, money or all three.

And all were characterised by self-sacrifice.

People intentionally risked their lives, or were seriously wounded or killed in order to save others. Soldiers, sailors, air crew, resistance fighters, freedom fighters, or ordinary men, women and children carried out extraordinary acts of bravery in the face of horrors and evil most of us cannot even imagine. People fought, defended, rescued, hid others, defied the powerful, died, were maimed or suffered serious psychological damage. They still do, every day in various place on the planet.

Every single one of those whose actions of bravery and sacrifice were for the sake of others deserve remembering and thanking. This is about them. Those in the past and those today who suffer in times of war.

And it is about stopping and learning. As we remember them, we remember the futility of war, of killing people we have never met because of a warped idea of justice. Of bombing whole towns because of the actions of a few. Of tearing apart lives because of the orders of those tucked safely away in their bunkers.

This is why I wear my poppy, as a symbol of remebrance that all war, both just and illegal, is evil. It is full of death and suffering and, yes, heroism. But heroism that nobody should ever have to display.

It is about remembering all of this, then saying, as one and with real hope and conviction, two powerful words to shatter through the pain and evil. Two words to bring peace in times of war, healing in times of suffering, and love in times of hate.

Never again.