St John's The United Reformed Church in Northwood

Black Lives Matter

Sabbath ponderings from the manse - 7th June 2020

Who would have thought that events would have spiralled in the manner that they have?

As if Covid 19 were not enough, the political scene in the United States has descended to the depths with a President brandishing the Bible on the steps of a church, a photo opportunity in the midst of crisis and immense national pain. And a shocking demonstration of the most profound theological ignorance. A thug and a desecration.

In the same moment we are trying to unpick lockdown, trying to balance sound health advice with economic considerations. (Don't even get me started!)

If ever it were clear there will be no back to normal, it is now. The landscapes of our lives are shifting irrevocably. It's unnerving. And no, queuing at IKEA, isn't normal. It's sad.

Trinity Sunday presents an opportunity to ponder the nature of God. It might seem a rather esoteric concern, but of course, it is an important one. The timings of our pre-recorded services prevented any direct reference to Black Lives Matter which is a pity. But hey, God created us creative ... so here are some thoughts, tempered by immediate events and some gut and soul feelings:

The nature of God matters, but only in as much as any theological construct can. Theology is a powerful tool. It changes perceptions and expectations. And let's be mindful of the danger we create or refashion God in our image. (That's part of how racism and exclusivism work) Just to be clear; we are the created, not the Creator. There is a spark of the divine in us all. You cannot believe that, just a little bit. You do, or you don't.

What are our emerging expectations in these days when there is talk of return to normal?

A recollection of the great Exile and return to a land of promise might serve us well. Remember the grumbling hoard that Moses had to lead. (and feed!) And of course, he never got to see the land he'd been promised, or promised. Dream on. And just what did his people find when they got there? Not much manna as I recall, or quails!

Many years later Jesus addressed people from a stance of exile, exclusion (not least from the temple) and disenfranchisement in his own land. He knew the story of wilderness, promised returns that never quite materialised. Psalms of gratitude and lament remained the order of the day ... The same landscape, oddly familiar yet disorienting in one.

And here we are many more years later. The evolving theme is inescapable. The same landscape. Good theology helps us interpret our present lives in light of an honest recognition of the past. Stop looking for the magic vaccine. There isn't one.

BLACK LIVES MATTER.

Some will say, and I hesitate to type it "All l.... M......"; But that is part of a narrative that keeps the largely privileged in power and unscathed. It's a cheap, and at the same time, costly cop out. And in any event, there is ample evidence in our world that it's just not true.

Ponder the disproportionate impact of Covid 19 on BAME communities and the poor.

The conviction that all life matters just about gets some of us to the end of our street. Then back home to wash our hands in time for the 10 O'clock news! Then a good night's sleep!

I'm wondering more and more about faith and how we take fresh bearings for our faith journeys. I'm really not clear what we are hoping to return to. But I am clear this is a time for listening and discerning what the will of God might be. (PS not my version of the will of God) Discerning the will of God is not easy. Ask Moses or Sarah and their kids!

Our worship is far too much made in our own image and to our own ends. I'm really not sure I have the will or desire to choose nice hymns for the normal services I'm told matter, not yet. (Did he ever, I hear some say! ☺ )

I am clear that returning to normal sits very uncomfortably indeed with any theology that I recognise. What is normal? The normal manner in which millions of people have been systematically oppressed over countless centuries, however subtly or brazenly? (we know the list; some of us are on it!)

BLACK LIVES MATTER

My erstwhile mentor Kosuke Koyama, Theologian writes:

The movement from hostility to hospitality, from the fear of unfamiliarity to the joy of familiarity - this is the ecumenical movement. This is the movement of Jesus Christ...

The movement between the unfamiliar and the familiar is called the movement of love. If we just stay in our familiar zones, love becomes weak from lack of exercise.

Only in this movement is there hope for the survival of humankind:

"You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt"
Exodus 22, 21

I've cited these words often. They have been the bedrock of my vocation. And when I'm astray, all too often, they draw me back to a better path.

There is much talk about how we ease our way out of lock down. Perhaps our theology and our prayers, and actions, should spare more than a "pass- over" thought for those whose lives, hopes and dreams have been locked down by structures that have oppressed over hundreds of years, not just a few months? Wind Rush, Pentecost; Irony? Think! Imagine! PS Stonewall.

Preparations are underway for return to ...? We will have endless little tick boxes to ensure we’re doing it right. Once all the paperwork is correct, we can file it away, rub our hands and then... well, then; what exactly?

Will we be as disciplined when it comes to dusting down our theology which has been conveniently shelved for weeks. (Years, if not decades the truth be told). I have a dream that one day the Church will do more theology and less superstition and wishful thinking.

Years ago, when I was living in New York, I visited Weston Benedictine Priory in Vermont. I purchased an icon of Jesus. It spoke powerfully to me and it has been in my study ever since. It invited me, the first time I saw it, to venture to an unfamiliar place in my spirituality. At last it made sense of this man Jesus:

Jesus Christ Liberator

I do not worship Jesus. Never have.
That is idolatry.
He is my brother.
He is black.
He sets me free.

Jesus, wise Rabbi, Prophet, Friend, help us find our ways to a new familiar, a new home