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Faith in the Real World

03/06/2015

This Friday and Saturday we are holding a two day conference on ‘Faith in the Real World’

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Pastor Steve Vaughan has a post interviewing Sean Mullan, Damian Jackson and me about the event – good job Steve!

The quotes below give a flavour of the themes that we will explore together. If they capture your interest, book in and bring others in your church along as well.

“Jesus speaks to the world about everything that really matters in life. It is our responsibility to follow him and be with him in this difficult, delicate, and crucial work.”  (Dallas Willard and Gary, Jr. Black, The Divine Conspiracy Continued: Fulfilling God’s Kingdom on Earth)

“‘Mission’ is the calling of God’s people in the world to witness to the salvation accomplished in Christ in the whole of their lives. It involves every part of their life and is in life, word, and deed.” (Michael Goheen)

“Our increasingly complex society is one in which we operate in close proximity with people at work, in our neighbourhood, on the bus, in the classroom and possibly in the same house who regard our own world view as nonsense. We need to understand what we believe about God, ourselves, other people and the world around us.” (Simon Smart. A Spectators Guide to Worldviews).

“For this, in the end, is what the Christian faith as a prophetic religion is all about—being an instrument of God for the sake of human flourishing, in this life and the next.”  (Miroslav Volf, A Public Faith).

“If we ignore the world we betray the word of God which sends us out to serve the world. If we ignore the word of God we have nothing to bring to the world. Justice and justification by faith, worship and political action, the spiritual and the material, personal change and structural change belong together. As in the life of Jesus, being, doing and saying are at the heart of our integral task.” (Micah Declaration on Integral Mission)

Pentecost Sunday

24/05/2015

The Spirit is first and foremost the eschatological presence of God in the here and now. A couple of quotes for reflection this Pentecost Sunday.

First from JDG Dunn

“for Paul the gift of the Spirit is the first part of the redemption of the whole man, the beginning of the process which will end when the believer becomes a spiritual body, that is, when the man of faith enters into a mode of existence determined solely by the Spirit.” Dunn, Jesus and the Spirit, 311.

Second from Max Turner

“We conclude that for each of our three major witnesses, [Luke, Paul and John] the gift of the Spirit to believers affords the whole experiential dimension of the Christian life, which is essentially charismatic in nature. The gift is granted in the complex of conversion-initiation. The prototypical activities of the “Spirit of Prophecy” which believers receive – revelation, wisdom and understanding, and invasive speech – together enable the dynamic and transforming presence of God in and through the community. These charismata operate at individual and corporate levels, enabling a life-giving, joyful, understanding of (and ability to apply) the gospel, impelling and enabling different services to others in the church, and driving and empowering the mission to proclaim the good news.” Max Turner, The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts: Then and Now. 155.

Faith, hope and love in South Tipperary

22/05/2015

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending a profoundly Christian funeral.

The beautiful church was packed with all sorts of people – including family, friends, colleagues, carers from the local hospice, local people whose lives had been touched by the remarkable woman whose life we were remembering and celebrating.

There were tears, there was fond laughter, there were songs, there were prayers, there were wonderfully well-spoken words.

Framing all of this, for me anyway, was a deeply tangible sense of St Paul’s great triumvirate of the Christian life: faith, hope and love.

Faith

In focus was the faith in Jesus and subsequent life of the lady whose earthly life had drawn to a close earlier this week: a vibrant, active, transforming faith that motivated her life.

As someone said, “she walked the walk” right to the end. Everyone who spoke, from young to old, talked of the impact she had had on their lives – nurturing, encouraging, caring, daring and challenging. A faith that trusted God, took risks, lived boldly and fearlessly fought injustice wherever she saw it.

Linking to the last post, here was faith made manifest in a life of good works. There was even a standing ovation by the congregation. And while she would have been horrified at the thought, it seemed perfectly right and fitting to applaud such a life.

Hope

Yet this was a funeral with a coffin and a grieving husband and children. Hearts were heavy with the damage that death does to those closest. There had been weeks and months of suffering and caring culminating in a final parting.

In John 11 we are told that ‘Jesus wept’ at the grave of his friend Lazarus. Verses 33 and 38 tell us that Jesus was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. The Greek has a sense of his indignation, outrage or anger at death – that bringer of grief and loss.

This, I think, carries with it a profound and deep hope. Jesus has just told the grieving Martha that he is the resurrection and the life. Yet a moment later he is in tears. This Lord of Life is not some dispassionate force or distant Deist God. He is with his friends in their grief and sadness. Paul talks about death as the last enemy; it is not a thing to be welcomed and embraced.

The whole Bible can be read as the story of God conquering death and its root cause, sin. The good news of the gospel is that the one who is the Resurrection and the Life undoes the power of death once and for all. At the cross he atones for sin and dies in our place. And at the resurrection he is shown to have defeated sin and death decisively and completely.

All this means that at the very core of the Christian faith is a deep and sure hope – the hope of resurrection life to come. Yes, Christians, like anyone else, cry out in lament and pain when death comes calling. But they can also look forward to, and pray for, the ultimate healing and restoration of a broken painful world. For such ultimate restoration is precisely God’s agenda.

It was this specific Christian hope that pervaded the service. Death did not have the last word.

Love

The third thing so powerfully evident during the funeral was an overwhelming testimony of love.

Moving words of love from a dying woman to her husband; words of love from husband to wife; a deep and tenacious mother’s love that so obviously sustained, formed, empowered and liberated three children to be who they had been created to be; love of grandchildren for their grandmother; love of a pastor for a friend; love of a woman for those in need whoever they were; love of colleagues for a nurse who needed care herself after a lifetime of care for others; tender and sacrificial love of hospice carers for a mortally ill patient; self-giving love of a daughter nursing her mother to the end.

It is for good reason Paul says love is greater than faith and hope. I like to call him the apostle of love. Love pervades his teaching and ministry, but that is only in keeping with the whole witness of Scripture. Love is lifeblood of the Christian faith. God himself, John tells us, is love. Love fulfils the law. Without love, all the good works in the world done in God’s name are a waste of time. The evidence of the Spirit’s presence is love. The call of God’s people, OT and NT, is to love God wholeheartedly and love their neighbours as themselves. Love alone is eternal – it is the language of the new creation to come.

Christians are taught by their Lord to pray ‘May thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.’ What I witnessed just a little bit of yesterday was a slice of kingdom-come life here on earth.

There were also stories of her sheer love of life, including love of the natural beauty of South Tipperary in particular. After the funeral, on the way home, I was passing the lovely mountain of Slievenamon. It was a sunny warm afternoon and, unplanned, I stopped and took a couple of hours out to climb the mountain and soak in the familiar scenery of a place that I used to know well.

Here are a couple of pictures of that walk.

Near the top someone had etched a simple prayer on a rock in the path – I can’t think of a better tribute to a truly Christ-like life.

 

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Faith, effort, works and the Protestant psyche

19/05/2015

IMG_4489Last Sunday was the annual Maynooth 10K run. Yours truly participated, although ‘run’ is probably a generous description of my progress around the course.

The worst part of the run for a total running amateur like me was between kilometres 4 and 7. Up to 4km, no great problem. After 7km the course turned through the gates of the magnificent Carton House Estate and it felt like a (long) home straight back to the town. But between 4 and 7 was a dead zone of feeling increasingly knackered yet with a long way to go.

As I gasped, red-faced, the road felt a lonely place, even if surrounded by lots of other runners. I guess that is where the evening training runs kicked in. My simple goal was to finish without stopping in under an hour – achieved, just.

High speed motion capture

High speed motion capture

Each runner had their own race to run and personal goals to aim for – whether the guys trying to win or slow-coaches like me plodding on behind. But whatever sort of runner you are, no-one else can run a race for you. No-one else can do the training. No-one else can force you to keep going when it would much easier to stop.

And this got me thinking about individual effort and the Christian life (anything to take my mind off how I felt!)

1) The cost of discipleship

As I understand it, the ‘cost of discipleship’ is a summons to voluntary self-giving of one’s life to God out of thankfulness and worship. It does not take the form of coerced obedience but rather is inspired by God’s own self-giving love.

The depth of that discipleship will depend, to a significant amount, on the degree to which someone has experienced and appreciates the extraordinary depth of the redeeming love of God.

The shape of that life is imitation of Jesus, the risen and reigning Lord who washes his followers’ feet. The ultimate purpose of the Christian life is to be conformed to the image of Christ (Rom 8.29).

And while we don’t run alone and need the encouragement of other runners alongside us, the Christian life can’t be lived vicariously.

To live such a life day by day requires large doses of determination, personal responsibility and perseverance.

2) The necessity of effort and works

In other words, there is no contradiction in the Christian life between grace and effort; between an experience of unconditional love and a response of disciplined obedience.

Historically, Protestants have had a hard time reconciling salvation by the grace of God alone with the necessity of ongoing determined effort to live the Christian life in such a manner as to produce good works.

Instinctively in the Protestant psyche is a logical jump that goes something like this: – if we are justified by faith alone apart from works and salvation is all of God’s grace, then our ‘works’ are ‘secondary’ and, strictly speaking, therefore ‘unnecessary’ for salvation. Our effort and subsequent ‘works’ may be good in and of themselves, but they can’t and don’t ‘contribute’ to our salvation because that is completely God’s work not ours.

The problem with this sort of logical jump is that it doesn’t do justice to what the Bible actually says about faith, effort and good works.

Take Paul for example; in all his letters he demonstrates an overriding central concern for the moral development and transformation of the believers under his care.

To the troubling Galatians he says

“My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!”

In 1 Cor.7:19 he says

‘circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping God’s commandments is everything.’

For Paul, moral effort, obedience, perseverance and good works are integral to God’s saving agenda for his people.

Living the Christian life, like running a race, requires effort and that effort actually gets you somewhere. It results in visible ‘works’ that are actual ‘hard evidence’ of an internal newness of life.

For Paul, such works and obedience are both expected and necessary. They are not an optional and secondary ‘add on’ but are intrinsic to God’s work of salvation (Phil 2:12).

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling”.

This is why he (and other NT writers) teaches quite unambiguously that future judgement will be according to works (e.g. Rom 2:6, 13 and elsewhere).

God “will repay each person according to what they have done.”

13 “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.”

Such works require effort, intention, active obedience and discipline. The NT knows nothing of ‘cheap grace’ that leaves people with little or no motive or desire for living a life pleasing to God.

But here’s the key thing – and where the parallel with the lonely slog of the runner begins to break down. The effort of living the Christian life does not consist of a solitary autonomous individual trying harder to be better. The problem with that image is that God is left out of the picture altogether.

Instead, the consistent message of the NT is that a Christian is someone who has, by grace, been united to Christ through the Spirit, the ‘empowering presence of God’. It is out of this living union with Christ that the Spirit enables believers to live a transformed life. Good works are the result of the ‘fruit’ of the Spirit’s presence in someone’s life.

Take Ephesians 2:10 for how God is the initiator and empowerer; a changed life flowing from union ‘in Christ’.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Or to finish Philippians 2:12 with 2:13; individuals work out their own salvation but it is

“God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose.”

It’s that tension of the Christian ‘race’ that I was wrestling with between kilometres 4 and 7. God elects, saves, redeems and empowers. But each Christian is called to obedience and moral effort. No-one else can decide to keep ‘working out your salvation’ or pressing on to the future prize promised in Christ. No-one else can make those daily moral choices that each of us face. No-one else can resist temptations that only you or I experience. No-one else can doggedly persevere when the going gets hostile and discouraging.

In other words, how much progress a Christian makes in ‘running the race’ of the Christian life is still, to a significant degree, up to the effort, discipline, passion and focus of the individual believer. The Spirit may regenerate and empower a believer to live the Christian life but he does not control or manipulate. God is deeply and essentially non-coercive.

The Christian may be saved by grace but still has individual responsibility in living a life of faith and good works that are both necessary for salvation and are the basis of future judgement.

That’s a message that I suspect tends to get glossed over in a lot of evangelical Protestantism. What do you think?

Comments, as ever, welcome.

The Coldest of Cold Capitalist Hearts

04/05/2015

Watched Nightcrawler (2014, directed by Dan Gilroy) the other day.

Spoilers ahead!

nightcrawler-posterJake Gyllenhaal (Lou Bloom) is a sublimely sinister guy on the make. There is an unnatural stillness in the way he stares and talks; like someone who instinctively knows they scare normal people and has learnt to try to minimise the creep effect.

He’s already ‘fallen’ when the movie begins – he starts bad and gets a lot worse. This is the story of his evolution from petty thief to finding his true ‘calling’ – a descent into the netherworld of ‘first on the scene’ news chasers.

This is a vocation of heartless voyeurism sold to the masses who consume others’ suffering from the comfort of their sofas.

Lou falls into his new career literally by accident. Out of curiosity he stops are a car crash and sees a film crew at work, catching the blood and pain for TV and he’s hooked. The next step is a low budget camcorder and radio and a relentless determination to work long night hours.

Lou is completely free of conscience or remorse, he will do (and does) virtually anything to get the video story.

He blags he way into the local TV news station where Rene Russo is the producer desperate for ratings who will take his material no questions asked – apart from ‘Are we going to get sued if we show this?’

A ‘Viewer Discretion Advised’ tag is added to the graphic stuff just to spark viewer desire.

So develops a symbiotic relationship but one where the power gradually shifts to Lou due to the quality of his ‘product’ and the need of the buyer (Russo).

Never slow to exploit an opportunity, Lou uses his power to coerce Russo into a sexual relationship (the film goes curiously coy here – just was well) as well as negotiating better pay and conditions. She’s outraged, exclaiming that friends don’t force each other to have sex. But of course, Lou doesn’t do friendship or ethics.

While Nightcrawler isn’t a great film, there are echoes of Taxi Driver. But where De Niro’s Travis Bickle raged violently against the world, Lou is consumed with calculating self-interest. He has a business plan and plots a route to profitability while manipulating the violence of others to his own advantage.

Lou is capitalism personified and his is the coldest of cold capitalist hearts.

The ‘virtue’ of ‘pure’ capitalism is that it marginalises and makes irrelevant things like compassion and mercy and social justice.

Lou knows that death, violence, fear, disaster and blood sells – and sells well. He knows how to produce what the market wants and is willing to put in the hours because he believes that “good things come to those who work their asses off”.

He also knows that the key to market success is creating a restless, unquenchable desire for more – and more.

And so the stakes continue to get raised – how can Lou top the last bloody offering to the masses? Without new product both he and Russo are going to be out of work.

And this leads to the climatic set-piece where Lou stage-manages certain death and violence between LA cops and drug dealers all simply for the lens of his (new bigger and better) camera.

It’s not often you see a film that follows capitalism all the way down to its logical end.

Lou has no ethics because ethics get in the way of what the market wants. Any competition – either in the form of other news chasers (Bill Paxton) or his Lou’s expendable partner with an inconvenient conscience – are ruthlessly eliminated.

In capitalism everything can commodified; here it is human suffering that is for sale. Lou’s competitive edge is that he is willing to go further than anyone else to exploit that market opportunity.

Lou’s genius is that he is able to offer the market a new choice – one that consumers willingly select. He can’t force anyone to watch what he films, but he knows the desire is there freely to choose to see real blood, murder, fear and tragedy – and his vocation is to oblige.

I liked how the film kept its nerve to the end. Lou’s aggressive entrepreneurial drive bears fruit. He is in the process of becoming a ‘self-made man’; a ‘success’ in business and ‘respected’ because he knows how to earn money and keep the corporate machine (TV station in this case) and himself in profit.

If ever a movie exposes the ludicrous idea that capitalism is a benign ‘neutral’ force and that markets should just be left to themselves to deliver the best of all possible worlds, this is it.

Comments, as ever, welcome.

A Christian Response to the Humanitarian Crisis in the Mediterranean

01/05/2015
From the World Evangelical Alliance – worth reposting in full.
Contrary to protectionist reactions by people like David Cameron under pressure from UKIP, it calls for “humanitarian space in the hearts and minds” of people for refugees. See some resources at the end for fostering such space at a local level.
April 23, 2015

 By Thomas Albinson, WEA Ambassador for Refugees, Displaced and Stateless People

Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to a city to dwell in;
hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way till they reached a city to dwell in.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love…

Psalm 107:4-8

Background

The capsizing of a boat carrying an estimated 850 desperate men, women and children from Libya to the shores of Southern Europe has once again put the dangerous human migration route across the Mediterranean into the public spotlight. Only 28 lives were rescued.[1]

Assuming that this devastating death toll is confirmed, a total of 1,600 lives will have been lost in the waters between 1 January and 20 April, 2015. During this same period, more than 36,000 people reached the shores of Southern Europe. In 2014, 219,000 migrants survived the voyage. 3,500 migrants died at sea.[2]

The United Nations, governments, humanitarian agencies and faith leaders are struggling to come up with a satisfactory response to this unprecedented crisis in the region.

Perspective – The Global Backdrop

The Mediterranean is one of the great crossroads of the Refugee Highway – the well-worn routes forcibly displaced people travel in search of safety, peace and a normal life. The map below documents such routes to and across the Sea.[3]

Some voices frame the Mediterranean crisis as a threat to the security and economy of Europe. Such a perspective identifies the flow of migrants as a problem to be stopped. They fear that rescuing migrants at sea will only serve to embolden others to attempt the crossing and further escalate the crisis. Perhaps they believe that the people boarding the boats in Libya have other options from which to choose. But do they?

Why people board the boats

People board the boats because they do not believe they have any other viable option.

There are presently over 51 million forcibly displaced people on the planet to whom the world offers only three possible “solutions”.

1.       Solution 1: Return to your country of origin. But refugee producing conflicts are increasingly protracted. Many go on for decades. 21 nations are presently engaged in such violence with no end in sight.[4]

2.       Solution 2: Integrate into your country of refuge. The trouble is that 86% of the world’s uprooted people are hosted by developing countries.[5] These countries cannot possibly absorb and integrate all of the people seeking refuge within their borders.

3.       Solution 3: Be resettled to another country. In any given year, less than 1% of the global refugee population is resettled.

It is clear that these “solutions” fall far short of offering any real hope to the majority of uprooted people in the world. The lack of effective solutions has led to the average time of forced displacement to now be 17 years.[6]

That is why hundreds of thousands of forcibly displaced people come up with a forth solution – risk everything to try and reach a stable country in which they can find refuge and rebuild their lives. It is this dangerous hope that fills boats headed to Europe with human cargo.

Who is on the boats?

At risk of oversimplification, we can imagine people pay smuggler’s fees and board overcrowded boats headed to Europe’s shores for 1 or more of the following 3 reasons.

1.       Many of those found on the boats are refugees – people forced to flee their countries. The majority of the 850 who were on the capsized boat last weekend were refugees from Eritrea (fleeing persecution), Syria (fleeing war) and Somalia (fleeing a failed state).[7]

2.       Many sub-Saharan Africans migrated to Libya looking for work. But violence between political factions has erupted once again and ISIS is gaining a foothold in the country, where they have begun executing Christians from sub-Saharan Africa. It is no wonder that many of these migrants now feel compelled to flee Libya. They are faced with the option of a dangerous desert crossing back south, or a dangerous sea crossing to Europe. Many choose the sea in hope that Europeans will understand their predicament and give them refuge.

3.       There are likely others who make their way to the Mediterranean with the aim of reaching Europe in order to improve their lives. They were not uprooted by war or persecution, but rather by economic despair. Unable to imagine a better future in their impoverished homeland, they risk everything to try and reach Europe. Often their families wait back home hoping to receive remittances to improve their lives.

How should Christians see this migration drama in the Mediterranean?

As Christians, we need to avoid falling prey to those trying to manipulate public opinion by inciting fear. When we picture the women, children and men coming across the sea, we must not envision them as potential terrorists and criminals. The truth is that the majority are seeking refuge from terrorists, violence, war and persecution. They are the threatened ones.

Putting a face on the numbers

Alice[8] is originally from Eritrea. Like many others, she fled her homeland because of political and religious persecution. She received asylum (i.e. refugee status) after arriving in Europe by sea. While in Malta, Alice told the story of her Mediterranean crossing to Paul Sydnor, Europe Regional Director of International Association for Refugees (IAFR).

I was on a boat in the Mediterranean with about 30 other people, both Christians and Muslims. After three days at sea, our motor failed. We were adrift. Some of those on the boat knew that I could sing and pray. So whenever the seas grew rough and we grew afraid, they held me up so that I could sing and pray for everyone to hear.

By God’s grace, a rescue boat found us. I was standing at the front of our boat when it began to sink. I got stuck as the boat filled with water. I was pulled under. Everything went black. I knew that I would die. I called out Jesus’ name from under the water. I looked and saw a light. I swam to it as fast as I could. That is how I was saved. I know that it was God’s strong arm that saved me.

Thank God that Alice was rescued at sea and that Europe formally recognized her as a bonafide refugee. Human life was saved. Human dignity was preserved. Human rights were honoured.

Divine Mandate

As Christians, we need to prayerfully seek God’s perspective concerning this crisis. God’s Word is filled with perspective that can help us.

Christians carry a divine mandate to love the alien[9] and to welcome the stranger[10]. Our response to human desperation and migration is not to be fear, but love. The default posture of our hearts is to be open, not closed.

Jesus laid out some of the marks that identify those who are of his kingdom in Matthew 25:35-36.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat,
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
I was a stranger and you invited me in,
I needed clothes and you clothed me,
I was sick and you looked after me,
I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

As uncomfortable as it may make us today, his words make for a good description of the people trying to reach Europe’s shores.

Antonio Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, has asked church leaders to play an important role in the global refugee crisis – that of “creating humanitarian space in the hearts and minds” of people for refugees.[11] He made this plea after hearing Christian leaders unanimously confirm our divine mandate to love and welcome the stranger.[12] The United Nations is hoping that we will prove ourselves to be true to our calling and play an important part in assisting with the present crisis.

Biblical perspective on forced migration

“From the divine banishment of Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:23,24) to the final book of the Bible penned by John while in exile on the island of Patmos, stories of forced displacement run throughout Scripture. Sometimes the causes are simple and other times complex. Some people were forcibly displaced as a result of their own choices and actions (Adam and Eve, Cain, Moses, etc.), while others were driven from their homes in response to climate change/natural disaster (Noah, Lot), conflict (Hagar, Joseph), famine (Jacob, Abraham, Naomi), war/exile (the nation of Israel, Esther, Nehemiah, Daniel) or persecution (David, Jesus, Philip, Aquila and Priscilla, Peter, the early church).”[13]

Because the refugee narrative flows from cover to cover through the Bible, we can see that God is often powerfully at work in and through the lives of forcibly displaced people. It is this truth that can help us not become overwhelmed and paralyzed in the face of this present crisis. We need to assume that God is at work along the Refugee Highway. And we need to make ourselves available to God, should he call us to join him.

For a list of many refugees in the Bible, see the related resource available at www.iafr.org/toolbox/articles-handouts.

What is Europe’s responsibility regarding the death of so many people?

The Mediterranean has become a giant reflecting pool, exposing the unrelenting evil and despair that is loose in our world. Trace the steps of those on the boats and you will find your way back to wars, failed states, persecution, oppression and hopelessness.

Europe has no choice but to respond to this crisis. There are no easy choices to be made. Nevertheless, we will be responsible for the choices we make.

Perhaps the following European and International voices offer a helpful way forward that is both necessary and realistic.

Value human life above other agendas

During a recent radio interview, Hernan del Valle (Doctors Without Borders), pointed out that “there is only hope if what we’re calling for is first and foremost politicians in Europe need to put the lives of human beings above other considerations at the moment.

Embrace solutions that include integration

During the same interview, Mark Micallef (Times of Malta), warned that we need to avoid believing that there is a quick fix to a crisis like this – “…there isn’t one. This is a very, very, complex problem that we are going to be facing for the next couple of decades, possibly. The first thing we need to be doing is to stop knee-jerk reactions… This is a very complex problem that needs multidimensional solutions managing the integration of these people in our economies and in our societies.”[14]

Create real alternatives for refugees – and increase burden sharing

The United Nations has welcomed the initial EU response, but challenges the EU to expand measures to include “…developing a robust search-and-rescue operation which places an emphasis on saving thousands of lives; making a firm commitment to receive a significant number of refugees for resettlement in the EU; providing legal alternatives, such as enhanced family reunification, private sponsorship schemes, and work and study visas, so that people in need of international protection do not need to resort to such dangerous voyages; providing support for those countries receiving the most arrivals (Italy and Greece), and; greater intra-EU responsibility sharing to avoid the current situation where a few countries are receiving most asylum-seekers, mainly Germany and Sweden.”[15]

What can local churches do?

Pray

The issues raised in this article offer many points for prayer concerning this crisis. We must pray concerning the root causes of forced migration. We must pray for those who have been forcibly displaced. We must pray for the governments and societies on the front line that have no choice but to respond to the boats in their waters and the people arriving on their shores. We must pray for the church in Europe – that our divine mandate to love the alien and welcome the stranger would demonstrate the love of God in the midst of this humanitarian crisis.

Perhaps God will use Scriptures like the following to help us as we pray.

o   Psalm 107:1-8
o   Psalm 142
o   Psalm 146
o   Psalm 5:11
o   Matthew 25:34-40
o   Exodus 2:15-22
o   Acts 8:1-8
o   Acts 18:1-4
o   1 Samuel 23:9-16
o   Ruth 1:22 and 2:11-13

Get Informed

Many Christians are poorly informed concerning the refugee crisis. Local churches can play an important role in helping their faith communities better understand the realities and challenges related to the crisis. World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) has created a series of user-friendly resources and links to help.

See: www.worldevangelicals.org/refugees for more information.

Network together – The Refugee Highway Partnership

No single government or institution has all that is needed to respond to this crisis. As Christians, we need to work together and encourage one another. The Europe Region of the Refugee Highway Partnership is a network that brings together a wide variety of Christians with a burden to serve refugees. The annual European Roundtable of the RHP is an important opportunity to network together.

Learn more at www.refugeehighway.net/regions/europe.

Raise awareness – Demonstrate solidarity

World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) established World Refugee Sunday as a way for Christians worldwide to demonstrate our common concern for the welfare and protection of forcibly displaced people. The Refugee Highway Partnership (WEA Global Partner) offers many church-friendly resources to help observe this important day of the year.

You can find the resources at: www.refugeehighway.net/resources/world-refugee-sunday.

Hospitality and Integration

As has been mentioned already, the solution to this long-term crisis is going to include creating place within our societies for the wave of people arriving on our shores. Such place is created by welcoming the stranger and helping them integrate into our cities and neighborhoods. What community is better situated for this purpose than a local church?

Governments and social agencies have much needed expertise to provide helpful services to these new arrivals. But they do not offer community or relationship. That is to be a hallmark and strength of a local church.

More church-friendly resources at www.iafr.org/toolbox/articles-handouts.


[1] “UNHCR welcomes EU Mediterranean plans, but says more needs to be done”, 22 April 2015. Source: http://www.unhcr.org/553623109.html

[2] “UNHCR calls for urgent action as hundreds feared lost in Mediterranean boat sinking”, 20 April 2015. Source: http://www.unhcr.org/5534dd539.html

[3] Map from BBC, “Mapping Mediterranean Migration”, 15 September 2014. Source: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-24521614

[5] UNHCR Global Report, 2013, page 6

[6] CBC News, “Three Reasons the Number of Refugees is as High as it is Today”, 23 May 2014. Source: CBC News: http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/three-reasons-the-number-of-refugees-is-as-high-as-it-is-today-1.2651327

[7] “UNHCR welcomes EU Mediterranean plans, but says more needs to be done”, 22 April 2015. Source: http://www.unhcr.org/553623109.html

[8] Her name is changed to protect her identity. Alice was ultimately resettled from Malta to Australia.

[9] Leviticus 19:34

[10] Matthew 25:35-36

[11] “Closing remarks as delivered”, High Commissioner’s Dialogue on Protection Challenges, Theme: Faith and Protection (12-13 December 2012), Antonio Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

[12] At the request of UNHCR, faith leaders (including representatives from WEA) later drafted “Welcoming the Stranger: Affirmations for Faith Leaders”. Download the document at: http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/home/opendocPDFViewer.html?docid=51b6de419&query=welcome%20the%20stranger.

[13] “5 Reasons Followers of Christ Seek the Protection and Welfare of Refugees”, by Thomas Albinson. Complete article available at http://www.iafr.org/toolbox/articles-handouts.

[14] The Takeaway with John Hackenberry, 20 April 2015, “Mediterranean Becomes Mass Grave For Hundreds of Refugees”. Source: http://www.thetakeaway.org/story/hundreds-feared-dead-in-mediterranean-shipwreck/

[15] “UNHCR welcomes EU Mediterranean plans, but says more needs to be done”, 22 April 2015. Source: http://www.unhcr.org/553623109.html

Hope, faith and lymphoma – a friend’s story

30/04/2015

This post fixes a gaping lacuna in this blog by adding a Page.

Tim Page is a dear friend with whom it has been a privilege and fun to journey with for .. well let’s say quite a while. Here’s Tim’s typically honest reflection on facing reappearance of aggressive lymphoma and a subsequent life or death stem-cell transplant. Glad to aid and abet a patient ‘on the run’ from doctors for a day.

“There either is a god or there is not; there is a ‘design’ or not.” ~ Christopher Hitchens

16-December-2013.  Tomorrow, I enter Belfast City Hospital for stem cell transplant, following three months of chemotherapy for relapse of aggressive lymphoma.  Today, without seeking medical permission (!), I’m taking ‘A Dublin Day’, in a more physically precarious state than I’ll admit to anyone, to buy Christmas presents in Dublin’s Kilkenny Shop.

On the train, I read the late Christopher Hitchens’ book ‘Mortality’.  Eloquently, he shows that people of faith have no monopoly on appreciating beauty or railing against injustice.

A life that partakes even a little of friendship, love, irony, humour, parenthood, literature, and music, and the chance to take part in battles for the liberation of others cannot be called ‘meaningless’ except if the person living it is also an existentialist and elects to call it so.’

I meet Patrick Mitchel, Director of Studies at Irish Bible Institute.  Patrick is my oldest friend, since Sullivan Prep in Holywood, 1967.  We have lunch in Trinity College before he returns to work.  I go shopping.  Mindful that this may be my last Christmas, significant thought and budget go into fitting gifts for the women in my life!

I get a taxi to the Institute around 5-ish.  Exhausted, I’m given soup and bread before a tour around the impressive college.  I’m a manager in BT, not a theologian.  However, provoked by traumas personal and global, I ask Patrick my perennial question ‘So, does everything work out OK in the end?  Does Love win?’  We don’t arrive at a tidy answer.

Patrick gets me onto the Enterprise.  Half an hour later I discover he has slipped a gift of ‘Surprised by Hope’, by Anglican Tom Wright, into the Kilkenny Shop carrier.  Unexpectedly, the understanding expounded in this book sustains me through the months ahead.

17-December-2013, and back into hospital for high-dose ‘conditioning’ chemo, which kills the immune system, before bags of previously harvested stem cells will be returned on Christmas Eve.  Ascending in the lift up to Ward 10 North, I recall David Tennant’s final words before his Doctor Who regeneration, ‘I don’t want to go!’ and say to Ruth I’m quite OK if we go home right now.  Ruth says we’re heading for ‘Tim Version 2’ and, hand-held, I’m firmly guided back across the threshold of 10 North into isolation Bay J.  I say to the Nurse that I’m terrified of the procedure – possible risks and definite side effects.  ‘That’s easy.  All you have to do is keep breathing.’

During this challenging month, physiologically and emotionally, my ‘shields are down’.  Mindful of suffering on the Ward and suffering of friends, I can’t cope with news items such as Hurricane Agaton in the Philippines.  Instead, on recommendation of my son Downey, I listen to Mumford & Sons sing ‘Ghosts That We Know

So give me hope in the darkness that I will see the light
Cause oh they gave me such a fright
But I will hold on with all of my might
Just promise me that we’ll be alright

I do hold on, but will we be alright?   Or does each life end only in putrefaction or crematorium ashes?

As Tim version 1.0 recedes so that, hopefully, Tim version 2.0 can emerge, I share day-by-day the dying Christopher Hitchens’ heartfelt appreciation of friendship, love, irony, humour, parenthood, literature and music.

And also, over time, Tom Wright’s exposition of the implications of Jesus’ resurrection sinks in.

The night before He dies, Jesus says: ‘Because I live, you also will live.’

On Sunday morning, Mary goes with spices, expecting to anoint a decaying body.  Instead, she is first to see the risen Lord, but misperceives Him to be the gardener.  Somehow, His appearance is changed.  His resurrected body represents both continuity of life and God’s ‘future-arrived-in-the-present’ (p.57).

With the church at Colossae, Paul used the phrase ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’.  Until now, I had thought of that in terms of each individual’s private experience.  However, as Tom Wright says

‘When God “saves” people in this life, by working through His Spirit to bring them to faith, and by leading them to follow Jesus in discipleship, prayer, holiness, hope and love, such people are designed – it isn’t too strong a word – to be a sign and foretaste of what God wants to do for the entire cosmos.  What’s more, such people are not just to be a sign and foretaste of that ultimate “salvation”; they are to be part of the means by which God makes this happen in both the present and the future.’ (p212)

Now, writing late in 2014, I’m back to health, work, church and the gym.

Tim Version 2.0 has a firmer hope that there is a designer of this world created as good, with a plan to make all things new again, inaugurated via an empty tomb.

However, I have no tidy answer for people suffering abuse, disease, poverty, severe learning difficulty or in conflict areas.

Since re-entering normal life, I have been in the presence of people who have suffered beyond imagination and yet have shown courage, cheer and somehow a generative approach for others.

Jesus calls us friends, not servants.  But, ‘Hope’ is a verb, an action word.  As we pray for His Kingdom to come, what might we do to work out our prayer?

Published in the Irish Methodist Newsletter, Jan 2015 issue.

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