Monthly Archives: October 2014

What we should be learning from children’s stories

(by Alison)
I’ve been struck recently by how many children’s stories are about a small group of enlightened individuals battling against a greater power who has popular support.   For example, in the Lego Movie, Emmet, Wildstyle and the crew opt out of an extremely regimented society, and through their own creativity try to stop Lord Business deploying his weapon, the Kragle.  The crux scene is a super example on non violence with Emmet trying to appeal to Lord Business not to deploy the Kragle.
In Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix, Harry and his friends act in secret to defeat Lord* Voldemort, despite the Ministry of Magic denying he has returned.   It later turns out that key figures in the Ministry of Magic are in league with Voldemort.
The bible has similar themes.   Senior rabbis worked in league with the oppressing Roman government to ensure the execution of Jesus.   The early church (and of course the church in some countries today) tried to spread the truth of Jesus despite persecution.

So why are we happy for out children’s heroes to be seeking truth in a world which constantly tells them to conform to the status quo, yet in our own lives we wordlessly accept the rhetoric our government feeds us without lifting a finger to object?   We’re happy to protect big business’s “rights” to make profit at any expense – workers conditions, the environment our children will grow up in and the peaceful life of civilian’s abroad.   Look again at the name of the baddy in the Lego Movie!!

Jesus reminds us to respect our children as the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to them (Matthew 19:14), I think it’s time we should listen properly to what we’re teaching our children!

*I’ve just noticed that both baddies are called “Lord”.   I think there’s a whole other post somewhere about whether non-democratically elected Lords can be a force for good but I’ll leave that for another day.

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An Open Letter to Andrew Nunn, Correspondence Secretary to the Archbishop of Canterbury

Dear Mr Andrew Nunn,

Thank you for your letter (dated 6th October) in response to my previous correspondence. I am concerned that you do not seem to have grasped what I was trying to say, or for some reason have chosen not to respond to the main points which I made. I am writing again in the hope that some further clarification may enable you or the Archbishop to respond more pertinently to my correspondence.

Perhaps the fact that we seem to be approaching the subject from significantly different starting points created some confusion which left you unsure how to answer. While you are working with a definition of peace which states “peace at any cost may bring with it the continuation of exploitation, aggression or domination, of genocide even”; my own definition would be very different and would say that any situation of continued exploitation, aggression or domination could certainly never be named as peace, with or without western military intervention.

Let me make very clear, then, that the peace of which I write, and for which I hope, is not about the avoidance of western military intervention being a byword for the permitted continuation of other forms of aggression, but an invitation to choose the long and difficult path of creative, non-violent action which makes hope possible. I stand by my position that more war and hatred will never create peace. Only acts of love can do that. This is the message of the God I believe in.

My principle disappointment with your response to my letter is that the perspective from which I wrote was primarily a theological, not a political one. While it was a speech from the House of Lords which inspired it, I wrote to the Archbishop not as a political figure but as a religious one. It was addressed to a fellow Christian, albeit one with a more prominent public profile, walking a path in which we strive to follow Christ in the way he taught.

I wrote from the deep convictions of my faith, from my reading of the bible and my relationship with a God of Love. It was an invitation for the Archbishop to do the same. As I said, I can personally find no justification in the New Testament, nor in my personal experience of God, for anything other than a non-violent response however despicable an act may be. My hope is that, if the Archbishop does indeed stand by his intervention in the debate and his defence of the military action now taking place, he does so not as a politician but as a Christian: that he finds his justification in a return to the Christ who walked to the cross.

I was disappointed, therefore, that your response made a frequently articulated political argument but offered no theological justification for the Archbishop’s position. Your letter contained not a single reference to either Christ or the Gospels. Simply saying that “Christians must be committed to social goals other than just peace” is not, to my mind, a theological justification for military action. Not least because I, as someone who would not support such acts of state-sponsored violence, do not disagree with this premise, as I think my letter’s references to the intertwined issues of social, economic, political and military power, and the Church of England’s relationships to them (another unanswered point), probably suggested.

As I said in my previous letter, what I wanted to hear from the Archbishop was “what drove you to speak as you did and how you are able to understand the Gospel so differently to my reading of it”: a question which remains unresolved, and to which I await an answer with interest.

May I end by thanking you for sharing the link to the Archbishop’s speech but assuring you that I would not have dreamed of writing to the him at such length without having already read, and prayerfully considered, the full text. I also apologise for my mistake about the regularity of his attendance (although this was never intended as a criticism as I am sure he has a multitude of other priorities). I acknowledge not having taken into account that the Hansard records account only for those eight days in the 2013-14 season on which he spoke and not those where he was merely present in the chamber.

I look forward to hearing from you again soon,

Yours Sincerely

Stephanie Neville

Reply from the Archbishop’s Secretary

This weekend I received a reply to the letter I sent to Archbishop Justin Welby after writing to him about his intervention in the House of Lords in favour of military action. As the original letter was shared here, it seems only fair to share the reply too.

This is not going to be the end of the story either. I was not particularly impressed with this response, so my next letter is currently being drafted … watch this space in the next few days for the continuation (if you are interested!)

andrew nunn 003

Eid Mubarak!

This weekend, Muslims around the world are celebrating the feast of Eid al-Adha, or the “festival of sacrifice” which is (at least as I understand it) their most significant religious festival. “Big Eid” as the children in my class used to call it, celebrates both Ibrahim/Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ismail, and, perhaps more significantly, God’s intervention to prevent the death of that treasured child. The biblical version has Isaac in the place of Ismail, but tells the same story of God’s intervention.

This festival seems an appropriate time for me, as well as my Muslim friends, to reflect on its significance. To me, at least, the message of the story seems very clear. God does not choose, ever, acts of violence as a way to honour him. When we think we hear God asking us to carry out acts of violence; he whispers into our heart, no, that is not what I desire. God does not desire suffering, death or violence. Abraham, even if only at the last moment, heard that message and understood it. For me, it is perhaps this as much as anything else about his story that marks him out as a man of God and father of faith.

As Wilfred Owen wrote, far more eloquently than I could express, too often, humanity, including the many who profess to believe in the God of Abraham/Ibrahim, have forgotten to listen to this message. Almost 100 years on from these words being written, sadly, we too often continue to forget, and the words remain hauntingly relevant.

Parable of the Old Man and the Young
So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
and builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretchèd forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo, an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.
But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.
(Wilfred Owen)