A buffoon until proven guilty

image

Good old Boris! The funny, mad haired buffoon who is currently Mayor of London has won the hearts of voters everywhere with his funny tales of whiff-whaff, getting hilariously stuck on a zip wire and cameo appearances on Have I Got News For You. What a character!

Of course, what people rarely talk about is his politics which, for Boris, is probably a good thing. Especially when, as he has today, he suggests stripping away the presumption of innocence for UK nationals who travel to Iraq or Syria without informing the authorities.

” We need to make it crystal clear that you will be arrested if you go out to Syria or Iraq without a good reason. At present the police are finding it very difficult to stop people from simply flying out via Germany, crossing the border, doing their ghastly jihadi tourism, and coming back. The police can and do interview the returnees, but it is hard to press charges without evidence. The law needs a swift and minor change so that there is a “rebuttable presumption” that all those visiting war areas without notifying the authorities have done so for a terrorist purpose.”

Now, don’t get me wrong, the logic is clear. Why would anybody go to a war zone like Iraq or Syria unless they were terrorists? We must do something about these awful jihadis now and what better way than stripping a basic right enshrined in British law for centuries?

Unless, of course, they work for an aid charity. Or have a house or family there and want to get what or who they want out of the country as soon as possible.

“Ah,” you say, “but this is a small price to pay to protect our liberties.” Well yes, when it’s not your right that’s being taken away I suppose it feels that way.

However, imagine that we actually do take away the presumption of innocence for people who travel to war zones. Then what? I mean, it isn’t much of a leap to do the same for us to do the same to, say, suspected paedophiles. Clearly they potentially pose a very serious threat to our children which we must protect. It’s a small price.

But why stop there? If we presume the guilt of suspected paedophiles then why not all those suspected of violent sex crimes. I mean, we can hardly take the risk.

What about all accused of sex crimes, then? Or of murder? Or GBH? Or armed robbery? Or assault? Or affray? Or burglary? Surely all of these crimes are committed by people who pose a threat to life, limb and liberty and could be treated in the same way.

And, if we remove the presumption of innocence for those crimes then what’s to stop it being taken away all together? I mean, it hardly seems worth having any more if we’ve scrapped it for so many crimes.

Ok, you may think that I’m over reacting to this. After all, it’s just a suggestion by a man who is not even in government.

Now.

But, he is standing as an MP at the next election and is widely tipped as the next Conservative Party leader. Even if that doesn’t happen, the suggestion is out there now for people to digest, debate and seriously consider.

And this is where erosion of basic liberties start. By removing them from a small, already demonised section of society. Once it’s accepted it just gets bigger and bigger until, before you know it, a basic principle you have always taken to be true is gone.

If you are happy for that to happen in the name of fighting terrorism, then fine. Good for you. I, however, don’t want to see that happen. I don’t want to see one of the underlying principles of a free, democratic legal system taken from me or anyone else.

But good old Boris does.

Seems a bit sinister for a funny old buffoon with scruffy hair if you ask me.

Lent Day 2: Matthew 4-7

So, Jesus ministry begins. What’s the first thing he does? Miracles and wonders? No. Preaching in the Temple? No. Rises up against the Roman oppressors? No.

He goes into the wilderness, on his own, for 40 days. He puts his own discipline to the test to ensure he is strong enough to face the troubles which are to come. He deliberately leads himself into temptation, not long before asking his followers to pray not to be led into temptation, so that He can battle it and defeat it. The first victory of many.

We’re all tempted. Tempted by money, possessions, sex, power, self interest and many other things which lead us down the wrong path. Jesus, however, is tempted by ultimate power over the world without the need to put himself through  the suffering he will endure at the cross. He knows that he’s got a much higher purpose, though, and overcomes temptation by clinging to scripture. His knowledge of God’s word and desire to live it overcome his human instincts (he may be God, but he’s human as well).

This is an example we focus on during Lent (those 40 days in Lent come from here). It’s an example, though, that we need to follow all the time. It’s not easy. It’s not even possible. Not on our own, anyway. Thankfully, we have someone to pick us up, dust us off and encourage us again whenever we fall. And it is so worth it!

Then he comes back.  Peter, Andrew, James and John are called to follow him and, apparently, do so without question. Something is just right about this. They can see a better way. The better way. So they join Jesus as he starts by carrying on John the Baptist’s message of repentance.

I often wonder about Zebedee. The father of James and John, not the bouncing strawberry from The Magic Roundabout. One minute he’s in a boat, working with his boys and the next he’s alone as his sons go off with some Nazarene bloke they’ve only just met. I have two sons and I know I’d worry like mad if that was me, maybe even resistant. I always hope and pray that Zebedee understood, found peace with it and, in his own way, followed Jesus too. I hope he bounced back (pun intended).

Then we come to a verse which has hit me harder than any in these three chapters. We’ve been through the wilderness and the calling of the first disciples. We’re about to hear the greatest demon ever preached. Matthew 4:24, however, really strikes a chord in today’s world,

“News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them.”

All over Syria, Jesus’ news, teachings and healing took place. How much does that war-torn country, ripped apart by the vicious fighting between the government and rebels, need Jesus right now? His presence, love, uniting grace and healing are all there. It just needs people to stand up in that place and bring it to the sick, wounded, suffering, starving, grieving, angry, desperate people of Syria. It is happening, but I pray that it grows until peace and harmony finally take hold.

Then we hear the Sermon on the Mount. Or, at least, two thirds of it (it finishes in chapter 7).

The most beautiful, famous, remarkable sermon.

Starting with the beatitudes, a list of all those who are blessed and will receive God’s kingdom. Each one of these is for people who are normally seen as the least important, powerless, least deserving people. However, Jesus says, they are blessed in the eyes of God. We see why as the sermon moves on an Jesus speaks of sharing our salt and light, doing good deeds towards others in God’s name. He speaks of act which teach us love, respect and discipline, both towards ourselves and towards others.

We are called to be righteous, more so than the religious leaders of the day. This sounds almost impossible, but the rest of the Sermon, and the rest of Jesus life, shows us how. It’s not by following hundreds of individual laws which we cannot hope to keep no matter how hard we try. It is by understanding why those laws were written. What God meant by them. Seeing them through the lens of Jesus. Then we apply them to our lives.

This is what he meant when he said that he came to fulfil the law, not to do away with it. The law has been leading up to what he does in life, in death and then, beyond.

“For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:18 NIV)

Until everything is “accomplished”.

He’ll talk about things being accomplished again at a much more painful time.