Held in the lamplight glow of another’s attention time slows… space for a shared unfolding: the creases, rucks and pleats of story and experience, passion and sorrow carefully laid open.
In the cradle of this shared moment we are free to wander and explore: huddled close as we walk in step; or running free after fresh vistas; or simply sitting in easy company – pondering together and drinking in the view.
Scudding brightness pinpricks details to be pointed at and revelled in. Notions, like skylarks, twist and turn; cloud-pictures drifting and shifting, to crystallize when they are named.
And afterwards, the joy of sacrament: the recognition of new knowings… and the sense that we have been seen and heard and cherished – and that together, we have grown.
Piers Northam 14 January 2022 (with thanks to Ros, Susan, Julia, Lynn and Marion)
The daily reflections by the Church of England this week were by The Rt Revd John Inge, Bishop of Worcester.
On Friday he reflected on Matthew 22: 15-22. It was the encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees who were trying to entrap him. The meeting centred on the place of Caesar in the scheme of things and whether paying taxes to him went against one’s loyalty to God. Who was greater?
Jesus knew their hearts and so called them hypocrites but he willingly took up their challenge. Calling for a coin, he asked whose head was on it and whose title. ‘Caesar’s’ they answered. So, said Jesus, give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.
As ever there is more depths to Jesus’s answer and I thought about that when I received Joyce’s tweet this week. The caption has something very important to tell us and it begins its message in Jesus’s response to the Pharisees.
John Inge said that Jesus was able to assert the sovereignty of God over all things, while appearing superficially to support the emperor.
At another level, there is an unspoken message. John Inge went on to say that Caesar’s head is that of a human being. Human beings are made in the image of God. Citing Genesis 1:27 : “In the image of God, he created them; male and female he created them and God blessed them.”
Thus, in a very subtle way Jesus told the Pharisees that all things (even them!) were God’s. This important message reminds all of us that we reflect the image of God. Each one of us is ‘stamped’ with God’s image and likeness – even if sometimes we are not shining with that image as brightly as we could!
There is however, another implication. If we are all stamped with the image and likeness of God, we are all equal in God’s sight. He loves everyone, everything, that he has made.
According to the Genesis poem of Creation, God saw everything that he made and makes as very good. That’s very important for us to know. Of course, we don’t always believe nor act as if it is true. Life’s experience and circumstance can tarnish us and the goodness can fade. But it never goes completely away. It can be burnished very easily into brightness but we have to go to the maker to see to that. He has the polish to do it. It is called Love. We are rubbed by it in prayer, through conversation and study of His word and through the actions of Jesus and the Spirit. Also, we can polish each other with mutual love and encouragement. The image of God in us never goes away. God sees to that, though we do have to reach out to Him.
One of the great joys of the Gospel is that it’s about God being good to us.
So what’s this got to do with the little Blue-Tit? Well, it seems she knows that she is secure in the love of God and, like all Nature and Creation reflects the beauty and love of God. This is why she’s not too bothered about comparing herself with others. She’s just content with God loving her as she is.
Some of you will know the Butterfly Song which begins – If I were a butterfly. The Chorus is worth turning into a little prayer.
For you gave me a heart and you gave me a smile You gave me Jesus and you made me your child And I just thank you Father for making me, me
Rt Revd Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani is the Bishop of Chelmsford who recently took her seat in the House of Lords. Last week she spoke to the second reading of the Nationality and Borders Bill. It was just over 1 year since the body of eighteen month Artin washed up on the shores of Norway. He and his family drowned in the English Channel on the previous 27th October as they tried to make their 3rd attempt of crossing from Calais to Dover. Over one year later, as Bishop Guli spoke from the heart, people like Artin are still dying and are neglected. Bishop Guli’s words need heeding.
Bishop of Chelmsford’s Speech to the House of Lords during the second reading of the Nationality and Borders Bill
It’s a privilege to have been part of the debate and I look forward to following this Bill through and benefiting from the collective wisdom here.
I believe I’m one of relatively few in this House who have experience of both sides of the asylum and refugee system, having first come to this country as a refugee from Iran in 1980. The plight of those fleeing violence and persecution and the difficulties in navigating identity and finding a new home are not abstract or intellectual propositions for me, but part of who I am. And it’s with that perspective that I offer some thoughts now.
Often, I see asylum seekers presented either as victims, who require help but have no agency, or as chancers, seeking to abuse generosity – criminals, even. Neither approach is helpful. How different discussions might be if we reframed the debate in terms of the best way to work with potential future citizens, neighbours and friends. Not every asylum seeker will meet the criteria for being a refugee. But many will, and they’ll become part of our nation and community. How we treat them in the process has consequences for the sort of society we’re creating – the kind of nation we want to be.
We’ve heard it said repeatedly that citizenship is a privilege not a right. I dispute the binary nature of the claim, but I agree that citizenship, and other statuses, require a need for people to belong and contribute. Belonging can be fostered by welcome and how asylum seekers are received, but it also relies on there being real opportunities to contribute.
A system that respects human dignity, encourages agency rather than victimhood, gives people a chance to be heard and contribute is a system that’ll foster healthy communities and build up future citizens.
In Chelmsford Diocese we’re proud of our work with refugees and we’ve played a leading role in community sponsorship. We believe civil society needs to play its part in the welcome and building up of our neighbours. I hope to hear more from the Minister on community sponsorship schemes, but I also want to make the case that that is never enough.
We need a policy framework that gives future citizens the chance to contribute in meaningful ways. The opportunity to work, particularly for those facing long delays in the asylum process, would be one such chance but is sadly absent from the Bill
Indeed there is much in the Bill that doesn’t meet the tests of providing for agency, dignity and a chance to be heard. I’m concerned that the provision to remove citizenship without notice is a denial of the right to be heard, and one that has wider implications that seem to be unacknowledged.
I am concerned too that the proposed differential treatment of refugees [depending on how they arrived] is an example of learning the wrong lessons from the hostile environment and I’ll be listening carefully to proposed amendments in that space.
I’ve spoken to a great many people over the years, and am yet to find the asylum seeker who was deterred from coming to the UK because they’re barred from working, or housed in substandard accommodation. The situations from which people flee, and the promise of hope and a new life, greatly outweigh any deterrent. And yet these hardships are real and serve as barriers to contribution and to fostering a sense of belonging.
No one disputes the challenges facing the asylum system. But I’m troubled by some of the implications of this Bill. I’m not clear what problems differentiated treatment, or deterrence policies will solve, and fear that aspects put in jeopardy the agency and dignity of many vulnerable people.
[In conclusion], If you will indulge a bishop a Biblical reference, St Paul writes in his letter to the Hebrews “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some have shown hospitality to angels”. My Lords, it is better for the soul of this nation, and for creating good future citizens, to treat people with the greatest possible respect and dignity, rather than with hostility and doubt.
When I was a child, I was sent to Sunday School. I can’t say I enjoyed it very much and eventually I played ‘hooky’, choosing to spend my ‘collection’ on sweets from Mr Johnson’s shop. This deceit lasted until Mr Johnson reported on me! Needless to say, I withdrew my custom but it didn’t result in Mr Johnson closing down. THat was a big disappointment to me. His telling on me drove home a lesson that I had failed to learn at Sunday School.
There it was made clear that if I was naughty, God would act like a celestial policeman and punish me. On the other hand, my teacher told her class that if we were good, God would reward us. There was, it seemed, a special angel who kept a register of our deeds. Right hand side to record our good deeds,left hand side for our bad deeds. It was suggested that if we ended up with more good points than bad, we would be allowed into heaven. However, if it was the other way round, we would end up in the other place, where fire and brimstone would be our lot.
I didn’t think my chances of heaven were all that strong!
The doctrine of punishment and reward terrified me and even as I became more enlightened it still took a long time to shake off. At the back of my mind lurked, for longer than I cared for, an image of God who was vengeful and stern and meted out punishment.
Today, at Morning Prayer, the Gospel reading was Matthew 20: 1-16. It is the story that Jesus told about the kingdom of heaven being like a landowner who hired labourers for his vineyard at various times of the day. He kept visiting the market place and finding labourers without work. He sent all of them to his fields. At the end of the day he paid the labourers. Those who worked all day received the agreed pay. But then the landowner paid the same amount to all the others, even those who had only worked one hour. Those who had worked all day were angry and grumbled that they should have been paid more. The landowner told them that he wasn’t wronging them. That was the price they agreed. It was nothing to do with them how much he paid the others. It was up to him to do what he chose to do with what belonged to him. “Why be envious”, he said, “if I chose to be generous?”
The story is reminder of God’s nature and how he acts towards us. It is an entirely different picture of the god I learned about in Sunday School. It helps me to rejoice in God who is kind and generous, compassionate and loving. God who treats us all equally. Whilst God is always hoping that we will all strive to become the person he longs for us to be, he doesn’t threaten us with hell fire and damnation. Rather, through the teaching of Jesus and the self-giving of Jesus, he gives us an example of goodness, kindness, compassion and generosity.
These are qualities we are invited to work on in our own lives and in our dealings with others. We know that to develop these qualities, we need God.
We want to mirror Jesus and for that to make a difference to us, to our relationship with God and others, we need to discover a great truth. We can do nothing without the love and generosity of God sustaining and ‘growing’ us to be delightful members of Kingdom. The great thing is that we only need to ask. When we do, God comes running!
Which reminds me – We don’t earn the right to be inheritors of heaven. It can only come as a Gift to us, from our deeply loving God, who freely and joyfully opens the Kingdom door for us.