Archive for November, 2010

Kings and armies: 25 November

November 25, 2010

God never wanted His people to have Kings, partly because they need standing armies. (1 Samuel 8 ) Standing armies become a burden on the people.

The British Government is cutting the expenditure of all departments by 15%, but military spending is to be cut by only 8%. The proportion of our tax that goes on weaponry and its operators will increase. Why do we need to spend more, proportionally, on the military? We used to be threatened by a massive Red Army ready to march across Europe. That threat has gone. We now face threats by small bands of terrorists who we cannot fight with large armies. There are good and effective ways of responding to terrorism and making our children and grandchildren safer – sending in the troops is not one of them.

‘If all you have is hammers, everything looks like a nail.’ Rowan Williams at his best. If you have a standing army, it will clamour to be used sooner or later. Otherwise the soldiers’ raison d’etre withers. Here’s a stark, documented, example: ‘One of the most shattering revelations about the bombing [of Laos] was discovering why it had so vastly increased in 1969, as described by the refugees. I learned that after President Lyndon Johnson had declared a bombing halt over North Vietnam in November 1968, he had simply diverted the planes into northern Laos. There was no military reason for doing so. It was simply because, as U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission Monteagle Stearns testified to the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in October 1969, “Well, we had all those planes sitting around and couldn’t just let them stay there with nothing to do.” (p. 484)  Fred Branfman http://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2010/11/02/a-cry-for-humanity-from-laos/

Having all those planes and tanks and soldiers is a comparatively new American phenomenon. Alistair Cooke, the great BBC correspondent in the US, wrote:

‘… one of the most dogged traditions of the United States through its first 160 years was a distrust of a large armed force, and in the beginning an actual prohibition of a standing army, navy, and marine corps. Until the Second World War Americans looked on war not as a profession but as an emergency disruption of life; once the war was over, the soldiers got out of uniform, and all but the smallest stock of weapons was scrapped.’

‘In all former times the piling up of armaments has in itself ensured that one day they would go off. We are now told that, on the contrary, they offer us the comfort of ‘a balance of terror.’ ‘

Alistair Cooke America BBC / BCA 1973  p335, 358

Now America has joined Britain in making the military a key part of the political and financial establishment. This is a characteristic of an Imperial Power – Britain now pretending to, America relishing their global role.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, in his Farewell Address of January 1961, spoke of the ‘military-industrial complex, with a ‘total influence – economic, political, even spiritual – felt in every city, every state-house, every office of the federal government.’ He deemed this necessary: ‘We can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense’ but warned that its influence would need to be checked by an alert public. Since 1961 the influence of the military-industrial complex has only grown, despite the end of the conflict which was its justification.

There are countries whose economies do not depend on military industry – and they are not struggling as much as we are: eg Sweden, Germany, Japan. These countries are also safer from terrorist attacks. Cutting back military spending would, in the end, make Britain more prosperous and more secure.

Military spending needs to be cut drastically. Do we really want soldiers more than nurses? We cannot afford enough of both; a choice has to be made. At the moment our Government is favouring the soldiers. We, the people, we, the Church, need to press for fewer trained killers, more trained carers. It’s what God has always wanted for His people.

Roger Harper

Praying in the Spirit: 17 November

November 18, 2010

Praying in the Spirit, our midweek course at church, continues to bring encouragement. Our key text is Ephesians 1:17-19:

‘I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in coming to know Him, illuminating the eyes of your heart, to give you knowledge of the hope to which He has called you, the riches of glory to which He has called you among the saints, and of the immeasurable greatness of His power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.’

Your Bible probably reads ‘give you a spirit of …’ The Greek reads ‘give you spirit of …’ in the same way that in John 20:22, and other places, Jesus says ‘Receive Holy Spirit…’ I think that Paul in Ephesians is deliberately echoing and rephrasing Isaiah 11 – ‘the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might…’ So the best translation in English is ‘give you the Spirit…’ Otherwise what does it mean? What spirit is Paul praying for here? Are we anywhere encouraged to pray for any other spirit than the Holy Spirit?

Having explained all this in Burton Joyce, I found myself praying with someone away from Burton Joyce, someone who had not heard any of the above teaching. We began with him looking to see Jesus’ arm round his shoulder, a picture he can go to easily. He saw Jesus’ fingers curled round the top of his right shoulder. As he relaxed, he also saw in front of him a figure in a long robe standing in a farm gateway looking away from him. He recognised this was Jesus, in a somewhat cartoon-like picture. Next to Jesus was a little boy about 12, dressed in blue, whom he understood to be himself. He looked to where Jesus was looking and saw a dove sitting on the fence of the field in front of Jesus. The dove was in no way a cartoon, no stylised dove, but a sharply real dove with beady eyes, looking round jerkily and shifting from foot to foot. He understood that he was being invited to focus on the Holy Spirit.

We invited the Holy Spirit to come closer. This invitation is always worth issuing. He usually waits our invitation: ‘Come, Holy Spirit.’ Adrian Plass says that this is a silly prayer implying that the Holy Spirit is sulking in the porch. No so. We need to restate again and again our desire for the Holy Spirit to come closer, despite the many ways in which our unholiness has pushed Him away. We need to live consciously aware of the light, inviting the light, not assuming it is there all the time.

Having prayed, ‘Come, Holy Spirit’ I saw my friend put his arms round his tummy as though hugging himself for comfort. ‘What’s happening?’ I asked. ‘I’m cradling the dove,’ he replied, his head bent over his chest. As he cradled and embraced the dove, the whiteness and the liveliness of the dove started being absorbed into him. Later, as we reviewed, I named this white and lively influence the ‘doveness’ – the doveness of the dove flowing into him. The name didn’t seem right to him. ‘Can we call it the blubbly? It feels lovely and bubbly.’ At the time, welcoming and embracing the dove, the blubbly slowly filled him, radiating through his body from his tummy. ‘Receive the Holy Spirit,’ said Jesus. We need actively to take Him in.

After the sense of being filled, he began to see cloud-like purple curtains, rising and falling in front of him. We welcomed this new vision and looked for more. After a while, he saw what looked like heaven. He tried to describe what he was seeing but it was too complicated, too difficult to put into words. I encouraged him simply to look and enjoy.

I sat contented, enjoying what the Holy Spirit was doing. It occurred to me that here was an enactment of Ephesians 1:17-19. The Holy Spirit had come to him afresh, the Spirit was revealing things to him, through the eyes of his heart, revealing to him the ultimate hope to which we are called, the riches of the glory of heaven. Having spoken much about Paul’s prayer I would have been pretty thick not to notice the connection. I said ‘Thank you Father for sending the Spirit of wisdom and revelation.’ My friend started visibly. I asked him what was happening. ‘Three seconds before you spoke, I was thinking that I was being given wisdom, wisdom in making decisions in life. Wisdom was uppermost in my mind, and then you said “Thank you, Father, for the Spirit of wisdom and revelation.” ‘ Alleluia!

Roger Harper

Community and White Poppies: 5 November

November 5, 2010

Burton Joyce continues to reveal itself as a great community. Our Vicarage has a largish Bramley apple tree in the front garden. (The Bramley was developed in this area.) I have put the decent fallen apples in a box by the pavement for people to take. They have all gone. People here don’t mind blemished apples which need some work. Then a parcel arrived in our porch – an apple pie! A lovely community.

Part of the inspiration for putting out the apples was that I was told that in living memory Nottingham people used to come on the train to Burton Joyce for a Sunday out, especially in early autumn. Many houses had apple trees and many residents put apples out in boxes. A few were hurled around the streets by youths. Most were collected happily. Families all over Nottingham enjoyed extra apple crumble.

It’s good to maintain the attitudes and actions which make a community good. Aldridge, where we lived from 1997 to 2002, was also a notable good community which people didn’t want to leave, or returned to as soon as they could. All the churches in Aldridge are at least three times stronger than you would expect. Aldridge has a tradition of caring for orphans. There used to be several children’s homes and the villagers welcomed the children in their families for Christmas lunch. (The last children’ home was opened by Princess Diana and is now a couple of housing estates.) I think the care for orphans has attracted God’s blessing on Aldridge. What is the source of the good community of Burton Joyce? Through our church – community magazine, I am asking locals for their answers.

In the magazine I have also explained why I wear a white poppy alongside a red one. Red poppies stand for remembrance and gratitude. They say ‘We will remember them, and we will care for them.’ I have talked with war veterans, some of whom could hardly speak of their experiences – what they saw and what they had to do. I have tried to bring them God’s comfort and forgiveness. They didn’t ask for these experiences, they went because our government required them. We will remember them, we are grateful to them. The red poppy expresses this.

White poppies stand for peace. They say ‘Never again.’ The Great War should have been the war to end all wars. Never again will we decimate a generation because we cannot find other ways to settle differences. But we have had other wars since, and now our soldiers are fighting and dying in Afghanistan. We must find other ways. We must learn to be true peacemakers. We must learn to beat our swords into ploughshares. The white poppy expresses all this, and more.

White poppies were first produced in 1933 by the Women’s Cooperative Guild. For them the red poppy was too much tied in with not only remembering the soldiers who had died, but justifying maintaining and using potent armed forces today. Today they are produced by the Peace Pledge Union as part of their work for peace education. (See http://www.ppu.org.uk/whitepoppy/index.html  See also the entry on this blog on November 2nd last year.)

A few years ago some of us decided that it is better to wear both poppies. We want to honour the contribution of servicemen. We consider that the best contribution to future generations is to find solutions other than war. We consider that the best support we can give to our troops in Afghanistan is to bring them home as soon as possible.

The red poppy on its own now seems to mean ‘We are grateful for our soldiers, our current armed forces. We are ready to take up the fight again today.’ The Festival of Remembrance at the Albert Hall celebrates and, in a British understated way, glorifies current servicemen and their role to kill others in defence of the realm. The British Legion this year in its publicity quotes a poem by John McCrae: ‘

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders field.’

No! We refuse to take up the quarrel. We refuse to look for and engage in quarrels in the same destructive old way. We keep faith with those thousands who died needlessly in Flanders Field by saying with them and with their relatives ‘Never Again!’

Roger Harper