Paris Attcks: We shall not be moved. Nous restons en place. 14 November

November 14, 2015

After the murderous bombings in Paris what now?

The day after the July 7 bombings I was in London, sitting on a near empty Tune train, pulling into one sparsely peopled station after another. I felt afraid, as did everyone else. There was hardly any talking between us few passengers.

From somewhere inside me came the old protest song ‘We shall not be moved.’ I sang it quietly to myself. ‘We shall not, we shall not be moved.’ The song bolstered my confidence, quietened my fear, strengthened my determination to keep travelling where the bombers had attacked. ‘Just like a tree that’s planted by the riverside, we shall not be moved.’

 The thought of singing out loud came to me. I wasn’t bold enough to do it. Apart from having a notoriously bad singing voice, I worried that the scattered few passengers would think me odd, at least.

 Now I wish I had sung out. Maybe someone would have understood. Maybe it would have helped a fellow passenger as it had done me. Maybe it would even have spread…

 WE SHALL NOT, WE SHALL NOT BE MOVED. We shall not be moved from eating out in our city centres. We shall not be moved from going to concerts and football matches. We shall not be moved from living in a free and open society. We shall not give in to the terrorists’ aim to make us terrorised. We shall act as unterrorised, as normal, as free.

 The public response after the Charlie Hebdo killings was the same. People took to the streets, holding pens. We shall not be moved from publishing and reading satire, of anything and everything.

 Now the French Government is calling people to stay indoors. Communal events are closed. No street demonstrations are allowed until Thursday. Is this the right response?

 I understand the need to keep people safe. Parisians must be stunned by shock. Eating out now, celebrating over food, could feel disrespectful to the many dead and injured.

 Yes, let those who need to stay at home and mourn do so. But, please, let those who want to go out, who want to find and create solidarity, who want to sing ‘We shall not be moved…’ also do so, as they did in Paris and other towns at the beginning of this year.

Please keep the friendly football match between England and France on Tuesday. Maybe the stadium will resound, maybe even in French as well as English: ‘We shall not, we shall not be moved!’ ‘Nous restons, nous restons en place!’

Roger Harper

PS I’ll be at Wembley on Tuesday for the match!

Please look after this migrant: 18 September

September 18, 2015

In June I went to America for a cousin’s wedding. On the way I watched the film ‘Paddington.’ It’s brilliant. After a natural disaster, the young bear is sent to Britain because his family know that British people are kind and welcoming. He stands alone on a London station. ‘Please look after this bear.’ One family take him in. Then adventures begin! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=licqTv20QxM

In America I met the bride’s grandmother, Renate. After years of Nazi persecution she was sent to Britain because her family knew that British people are kind and welcoming. She arrived at Liverpool St station. All the others on her train were collected first. She alone was left – until a woman, who had taught briefly in her home town, came to collect her. Renate’s life began again. She made a valuable contribution to war administration. She married and her husband took her to Canada, then America.

In my parish of Burton Joyce near Nottingham I have heard about the war evacuees. Children from the cities were welcomed here, given homes, given a community. There were many of them and their ways were often different; it was not easy for the locals. People here made sacrifices so children in danger were safe here.

Once again we need, as a nation and as a community to welcome refugees.

We can welcome refugees firstly as guests. Guests live with us, work with us, but they are not members of our national family. Many may, after a while, be able to return home. Others may need in time to become part of our national family. We then teach them our ways, language, history. When they show themselves serious about this, they become fellow citizens.

We also need to cooperate with other nations. We share the responsibility with the rest of Europe. We need also to share with the Commonwealth. Maybe some refugees will be better in Malaysia or Uganda and we can help finance this?

Can this country once again be a place where children, families, are safe again and can begin a new life? Such a welcome would not be easy, but adventures would begin!

Charities helping refugees:

Refugee Council assisting refugees in the UK

https://www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/donate

Christian Aid assisting refugees in the Middle East and Europe

https://donate.christianaid.org.uk/refugees

Barnabas Fund resettling Christian refugees, initially in Poland

https://barnabasfund.org/osh

Phoenix Community caring for Unaccompanied Minors in the UK

http://phoenixcommunity.org/vulnerable-adults-unaccompanied-minors/

Home for Good arranging foster placements for unaccompanied minors in the UK

http://www.homeforgood.org.uk/get-involved/responding-refugee-crisis

Citizens UK arranging for landlords to register to house refugees

http://www.citizensuk.org/help_find_homes_for_syrian_refugees

Roger Harper

UK Government plans to extend Sunday trading can be stopped: 24 August

August 24, 2015

The UK Government is asking people to give their views on its proposal to give local authorities the freedom to allow longer Sunday trading hours where they want. You can read the full Government rationale at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/451376/BIS-15-359-consultation-on-devolving-sunday-trading-rules.pdf 

Our Government quotes unsupported prediction that extended Sunday trading will bring economic benefit. Keep Sunday Special show how fabricated this claim is: http://www.keepsundayspecial.org.uk/evidence/mythbuster How can shops paying more for staff time, heating buildings for longer, mean that prices will be lower? How can local authorities take on this extra administrative role without diverting stretched resources from other areas? 

Our Government disregards the detriment of extended Sunday trading – social, environmental, spiritual. Allowing this proposal to go ahead means saying ‘Possible economic benefit is all that matters to us as a nation.’ More families will be unable to find time to meet when no-one is working. More carbon will be released into the atmosphere. More people will feel their only worth is economic.  

The present rules on Sunday trading are widely regarded as a good British compromise. The last attempt by Government and large retailers to break this compromise, in 2006, was defeated by a targeted campaign. This year’s attempt can also be defeated. We must not allow a good working compromise to be replaced by division and dissension between and within local authorities.

Please can I encourage UK readers to return the Response, by 16 September, with a clear ‘No?’ https://bisgovuk.citizenspace.com/ccp/devolving-sunday-trading-rules

Please encourage others also to respond. 

To write to you MP go to https://www.writetothem.com/

If you would like to do more, including going in person to the Minister concerned, please comment. 

Roger Harper

PS How strange that this consultation is taking place in holiday season when many UK Christians are already much involved countering the Bill in Parliament to allow Assisted Dying!

Proof of Hades? The Experience of Eben Alexander: 8 July

July 8, 2015

‘Darkness, but a visible darkness – like being submerged in mud yet also being able to see through it… Consciousness, but consciousness without memory or identity – like a dream where you know what’s going on around you, but have no real idea of who, or what, you are… My consciousness wasn’t foggy or distorted when I was there. It was just … limited.’ (p29f)

This was the first part of Eben Alexander’s Near-Death Experience in November 2008 as related in his book Proof of Heaven (Simon and Schuster 2012). His Experience is significant in that his brain definitely had no functioning at all, nor any possibility of functioning. As a neuro-surgeon, he concludes that his brain could not possibly have been giving him the Experience in some kind of hallucination. The only explanation he can see is that his soul was truly experiencing life beyond this life.

Eben calls the place where he first found himself ‘Underworld’ or ‘The Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View.’ ‘… like being a mole or earthworm, buried deep in the ground yet somehow able to see the tangled matrices of roots…’ (p30)

The Old Testament’s answer to the question ‘Where do people go when they die?’ was ‘To Sheol – a place of darkness and semi-consciousness, a gloomy half life.’ ‘…for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.’ Ecclesiastes 9:10 ‘… the underworld was not a particularly important concept for the Israelite writers… Descriptive details are very sparse, but suggest a somnolent, gloomy existence without meaningful activity or social distinction…’ (Philip S Johnston Shades of Sheol – Death and Afterlife in the Old Testament, Apollos IVP 2002, p85) Sheol was synonymous with ‘The Pit’ or ‘The Grave;’ the dead were understood to be half-living down under the earth – very much like a mole or earthworm.

Jesus talked of Sheol with its Old Testament understanding. When the New Testament was written, in Greek rather than Hebrew, the writers used the Greek name Hades as the translation of Sheol. (This is clearest in Acts 2 where Peter quotes Psalm 16.) Hades in the New Testament is the same place as Sheol in the Old Testament.

Jesus spoke of Sheol as a place to which people are brought down, a place of darkness and also a place of affliction. The deeply unpleasant nature of (semi-) existence in Hades / Sheol was one of Jesus’ additions to our understanding of it. Jesus also spoke of ‘the outer darkness where there is weeping wailing and gnashing of teeth’ implying that there may be different sections of Hades / Sheol with different degrees of darkness and affliction.

For Eben Alexander the Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View was deeply unpleasant. He was immersed in sound, ‘a deep, rhythmic pounding, distant yet strong … like the sound of metal against metal, as if a giant subterranean blacksmith is pounding an anvil somewhere off in the distance: pounding it so hard that the sound vibrates through the earth, or the mud, or wherever it is that you are.’ (p29) ‘Grotesque animal faces bubbled out of the muck, groaned or screeched, and then were gone again. I heard an occasional dull roar. Sometimes these roars changed to dim, rhythmic chants, chants that were both terrifying and weirdly familiar – as if at some point I’d known and uttered them all myself.’ (p31)

‘How long did I reside in this world? I have no idea… When I was there, I felt like I (whatever “I” was) had always been there and would always continue to be.’ (p29f) Eben Alexander uses the word ‘aeons’ or ‘aeons and aeons’ (in a talk recorded for Youtube) to describe how long he was in the Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View.

Revelation 14:9-11 describes people in Sheol / Hades in affliction ‘to ages of ages’ (to translate the Greek literally) or ‘to aeons of aeons.’

Although Eben felt like he would always be in the Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View, he was rescued from it. First came ‘a feeling like I wasn’t really part of this subterranean world at all, but trapped in it.’ (p31) This made the experience worse, the rhythmic pounding more brutal, the faces more ugly and threatening, now with reptilian bodies he could feel rubbing against him. He could now smell a stench of death. ‘Whoever or whatever I was, I did not belong here. I needed to get out. But where would I go?’ (p32)

‘Even as I asked that question, something new emerged from the darkness above…’ (p32) ‘Turning slowly it radiated fine filaments of white-gold light, and as it did so the darkness around me began to splinter and break apart. Then I heard a new sound: a living sound, like the richest, most complex, most beautiful piece of music you’ve ever heard… The light got closer and closer, spinning around and around… Then, at the very center of the light something else appeared… An opening. I was no longer looking at the slowly spinning light at all, but through it. The moment I understood this, I began to move up…’ (p38)

Eben was lifted up out of the darkness, with its brutal noise, into a place of light, colour, and beautiful, permeating, music. He calls this place ‘The Gateway.’ It sounds like Paradise as talked of by Jesus and Christians. The beautiful music, the same as made by the spinning light, came from innumerable immense beings which he calls the origin of the human understanding of angels. The spinning light which rescued him from the Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View was, in our terms, an angel.

Jesus proclaimed to John in Revelation 1:18 that He has the keys of death and Hades. Nearly everyone understands these words to mean that Jesus has the authority and power of entry and exit to and from Hades. Jesus also has angels working for Him. When Jesus rescued Peter from prison in Jerusalem, He sent angels. Peter saw angels taking him out of prison, not Jesus, but he understood they were acting on behalf of Jesus, in answer to the fervent prayer being made for him. (Acts 12) Jesus can bring people out of Hades Himself; Jesus can also use angels to bring people out of Hades, as He did with Eben Alexander.

Eben describes fervent prayer for him. Firstly, his own prayer. Just before he became completely unresponsive ‘out of nowhere, I shouted three words. They were crystal clear and heard by all the doctors and nurses present… “God, help me!” ‘(p24) Secondly, the prayer of many Christians, family and friends, including his neighbour, Michael Sullivan, an Episcopal priest. They were asking Jesus to help Eben and Jesus did.

Later Eben returned to the Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View and, through remembering the angel and the music, was able again to be lifted out. Then he returned to the Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View without being able to be lifted out. This time, however, he was also aware of ‘countless beings … surrounding me, kneeling in arcs that spread into the distance.’ They were murmuring, a quiet version of the same glorious permeating sound of the angels in The Gateway / Paradise. ‘Looking back on it now, I realize what these half-seen, half-sensed hierarchies of beings, stretching out into the dark above and below, were doing. They were praying for me.’ (p103)

Revelation 14:9-11 not only describes people in affliction in Hades for ages and ages, but also ‘the holy angels’ present with the people in Hades.

Together with the angels praying in the Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View Eben saw faces. ‘Two of the faces I remembered later were those of Michael Sullivan and his wife, Page. I recall seeing them in profile only, but I clearly identified them after my return when language came back. Michael had physically been in the ICU room leading prayers numerous times, but Page was never physically there (although she had said prayers for me too.)’ (p103) Six other faces, saying things, also appeared, faces of people he later identified as his wife, her sister, friends and his son.

In Matthew 16:18 talks about building His Church, ‘and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.’ Gates serve to restrict or prevent entry and exit to a place. Jesus is saying here that nothing will restrict or prevent His Church from entering and leaving Hades. As the angels join with Jesus in His mission to seek and to save the lost in Hades, so His people, those called out to belong to Him and His Father, also join with Jesus in that same mission. The Church’s role begins in this life and continues in the next. Even now, Christians, through prayer, can ‘enter’ Hades. The prayer of Christians is heard in Hades.

This ministry to the dead, prayer for the dead, is, doctrinally, most controversial. It has been much abused over the years and was a trigger for the Reformation. Yet, in the simple way Eben describes, we see confirmation of the simple extrapolation of the words of Jesus. The gates of Hades will not, do not, prevail against the Church. Hades cannot keep the Church out. Hades cannot keep the prayers of the Church out.

It is not only this aspect of the nature of Hades / Sheol that seems to be confirmed by Eben Alexander’s Experience, but every aspect. Eben knew nothing at all of the understanding of Hades / Sheol. (Very few people know of Hades / Sheol because people have instead been wrongly taught or have heard about ‘Hell.’ See The Lie of Hell for an explanation, www.laddermedia.co.uk) Eben simply describes what he saw and felt. Even now he seems puzzled by what this Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View is. He coins his own name maybe because he is aware of no other name. His focus in the book and elsewhere is on other aspects of and conclusions from his Experience. He may well be surprised to learn that his Experience ties in so closely with the teaching of Jesus and the Bible about Hades / Sheol. He may also be pleased that the Bible shows clearly that Hades will one day be emptied and disposed of, together with all that is evil, all that works against life and the author of life.

Eben Alexander’s Experience could not possibly have been an experience in his human brain. He sees it as proof of heaven. It also looks remarkably like proof of Hades / Sheol.

Roger Harper

 

 

Voting for high wages not an option: 6 May

May 6, 2015

The UK has long been a low wage economy. But will any political party recognise the problem and address it?

I live near the market town of Southwell, famous for its Workhouse. Built in 1824, it became the model for many others. One problem the Workhouse was addressing was that farm labourers were earning less than they needed to live on. Each parish had the responsibility of caring for the destitute and the burden was unwelcome. (The parishes were given this responsibility after the closing of the monasteries, which, until then, had provided help.) Instead of each parish paying each farm worker a supplement to their wages, a central provision was established where the poor would live and work under strict supervision. Workhouses quickly became intensely feared by working people, and objects of the ire of Charles Dickens and others.

Why were the landowners / farmers not instead told to pay their workers a decent wage? Such interference in the affairs of the well-off was deemed out of the question. Instead of the employers paying more, the burden was shared among all parishioners. Low wages were the accepted norm, with a more or less harsh ‘safety net’ for those unable to live on such wages.

The UK today operates a variation of the same system. Instead of each parish caring for the poor, sometimes united in the provision of a workhouse, our Government cares for the poor. Those on low wages are supported by the general taxpayer through personal allowances and tax credits. Surely it would be better for the employers not to pay such low wages? Why should tax payers effectively encourage and support employers in not paying decent wages?

The standard answer is that companies need to make profits and these profits are more of a priority. Company profits are mostly for shareholders. The interests of the shareholders are deemed more of a priority than those of the workers. Between 1824 and today the landowners and farmers have been replaced by shareholders. The underlying understanding is the same. Low wages are ‘good for business’ ie good for shareholders.

UK shareholders do very well out of this system. The priority of shareholder entitlement to profit means that the UK has the largest and most widening gap between the rich and the poor in the Western world. The Sunday Times Rich List recently elevated the chief shareholders of Primark, Home Bargains, and B&M Bargains to high places in the list. Investors in decent companies, not spectacularly innovative ones, see their wealth increase far more than the wealth of workers is the same companies. The huge wealth of the US investment guru Warren Buffet has been built on this simple understanding. This is great for shareholders but can in no way be deemed to be loving your neighbour as you love yourself.

The widening gap between shareholders and the rest is also not good for the country as a whole. Such inequality is closely correlated to, and probably contributes to, poor health, greater crime, increased unhappiness. (See http://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/resources/spirit-level-why-equality-better-everyone)  Our nation as a whole does not benefit. The common good is undermined by what is good for shareholders. Yet our nation subsidises shareholder profits massively through allowing limited liability. Shareholders are allowed to walk away from debts incurred through failed business while enjoying in perpetuity the benefits of successful businesses.

The UK model is not the only one. In Germany all companies have to be governed by a Supervisory Board composed of both shareholders and workers. Strategic decisions are made with the interests of both shareholders and workers in mind. As a result Germany has a high wage economy with much greater local manufacturing, much greater investment in development, and shareholders who are content with their level of return over a longer rather than shorter term.

The UK Government, whatever party is in power, has long encouraged a low wage, high shareholder return, economy. The clearest recent encouragement was the decision by the Tory / Lib Dem coalition to sell the Post Office to shareholders alone instead of investing ownership substantially in the workers, probably alongside shareholders. With workers having no more influence on company decisions than in any other shareholder company, Post Office wages will fall to the level of their competitors while the new shareholders will benefit as do those of their competitors. Post Office workers who cannot manage on the low wages will need Government support. (See https://rogerharper.wordpress.com/2013/07/15/uk-government-promotes-low-uk-wages-15-july/) When Labour was in power over many years a Minimum Wage was introduced at a low level but the basic system of prioritising shareholder returns was left untouched.

I would love to vote for a high wage UK economy at last. But tomorrow that option doesn’t seem to be on offer.

Roger Harper

The Anglican Communion, dominated by extremists: 7 February

February 7, 2015

Anglican extremists? The two words seem incompatible. Except about gay marriage.

Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, was talking on Desert Island Discs, BBC Radio 4, 26 December. His reply to a question about gay relationships included: ‘It’s something that, as you go round the Communion, and having visited all the provinces, I’m very aware of this, it is seen by many as an absolutely central understanding of obedience to Christ in both directions either in favour or against.’

Some people, our Archbishop says ‘many’, see gay marriage as a Primary Issue. It has to be either promoted or resisted as a matter of priority. Not to promote or resist means disobedience to Jesus. It is impossible for these Anglicans to compromise on this. Here they stand, insisting that they can do no other

How can either camp be so sure that they are on Jesus’ side on this issue, when it is clear to them and to everyone that fellow Christians, fellow Anglicans, disagree strongly with them? The plain fact that not everyone sees things the same way ought to be enough for them to tone down, pipe down, climb down, at least a little. Add ‘but, of course we might be wrong…’ But no! The extreme, either YES or NO must be proclaimed.

Where does Jesus say in the Gospels that gay marriage is either absolutely necessary or absolutely forbidden? Nowhere so clearly. Some of what Jesus said points one way, some the other way. (See the detail at  https://gaymarriagemaybe.wordpress.com/listening-to-jesus/) On what do the Anglican extremists base their differing views of what Jesus is saying?

Paul and Leviticus give the clear impression that we should not develop gay marriage, but their view is not necessarily the view of Jesus for all time and places, notably for this time and place. Jesus said there were other things he had to say which his hearers at the time could not bear. ‘You need to welcome Gentiles to become part of God’s people, without insisting that they keep the whole Jewish Law.’ ‘Slavery is not part of life as God wants it, but something to be outlawed.’ We know now Jesus has indeed said both of these since speaking before his death, Both of these are also against the recorded view of Paul and Leviticus etc. How can the extremists be so categorical that Jesus is or is not speaking about gay marriage in a way that we could not have borne before?

Part of me wants to shout these questions and more to the extremists. ‘Stop being so dogmatic, so blinkered, so arrogant, so extreme! You’re Anglicans for goodness sake. Take yourself with a pinch of salt.’

I am learning, though, that the approach of gentle curiosity is more Jesus-like and more effective. I need to control the anger at both sides callously tearing apart the body of Christ, and, without threatening, invite them to explain. ‘This is an absolutely central part of you being obedient to Jesus. That’s a bit of puzzle to many of us in the middle. Please can you explain it a bit more?’

The conflicting extremes dominate at present. The puzzled middle ground, where even more Anglicans stand, needs to resist and question both extremes.

Maybe Justin Welby can follow up his listening with some questioning along these lines.

Roger Harper

The Qu’ran vs. Jesus: 18 January

January 18, 2015

The Qu’ran has always been at odds with Jesus. We need to live Jesus’ way

Sebastian Faulks wrote in the Times a while ago, as I have quoted before:

‘With the Koran there are no stories. And it has no ethical dimension like the New Testament, no new plan for life. It says “the Jews and the Christians were along the right tracks, but actually, they were wrong and I’m right, and if you don’t believe me, tough — you’ll burn for ever.” That’s basically the message of the book.’

The claim that Mohammed is the last and greatest prophet is in clear contradiction to the claim that Jesus is the prophet who is more than a prophet, God’s Son. The Qu’ran was written partly to correct or contradict the Jesus of the Gospels.

The opposition is clear.

The Qu’ran is intolerant of mockery.

Jesus accepted people mocking Him. Jesus said ‘Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.’ Jesus taught people to invite more slaps on the cheek!

The Qu’ran’s enemies are ‘the infidels / unbelievers:’

Jesus’ enemies are not flesh and blood, but unclean spirits, ideologies, systems, ‘principalities and powers in the heavenly places.’

The Qu’ran is militaristic. Before receiving the messages recorded in the Qu’ran, Mohammed was a trader. Afterwards, he became a warrior chief. In the last 10 years of his life, Mohammed either led or sent out 65 military campaigns (according to the Introduction to the English rendition of the Qu’ran published by the UK Islamic Mission Dawah Centre.)

Jesus led no military campaigns. Jesus refused to use violence. Jesus instead allowed himself to be a victim of violence.

The Qu’ran teaches retaliation: ‘There is life for you in retaliation , O men of understanding, that ye may ward off (evil.)’ (2:179) ‘And fight not with them at the Inviolable Place of Worship until they first attack you there, but if they attack you (there) then slay them. Such is the reward of disbelievers.’ (2:191) ‘and fight them until persecution is no more and religion is for Allah.’ (2:192) ‘And one who attacketh you, attack him in like manner as he attacked you.’ (2:194) (Surah 2 is seen by Moslems as a summary of the whole Koran.)

Jesus teaches no retaliation – ever. He tells his followers to love enemies, to pray for those who persecute them, to look to God to bless enemies, change them.

Looking at the history of Christianity and Islam you wouldn’t know that their origins are so different. Christianity followed Jesus faithfully for about 350 years. Then came the great compromise between Christianity and the Roman Empire. Christianity embraced, and restricted, militarism and retaliation. When Islam emerged, it copied and countered a State Religion with a powerful army.

The Christianity of the Crusades, of military retaliation, was far from following the teachings of Jesus. The ‘Christianity’ of the invasion of Iraq, the bombing of IS etc. is far from following the teachings of Jesus.

Christians need to return to the teaching and Spirit of Jesus, especially in responding to terrorist attacks:

No retaliation, ever.

No military response. No relying on weapons, on the ‘security’ industry.

No deeming people evil. People can be infected and misguided by evil but there are no ‘evil people.’

No giving up the freedom to mock and be mocked.

No further restriction on the welcome we give to strangers, despite the differences and the dangers.

Christians need strength, inner strength, not to retaliate, to keep loving. We need strength to fight fear and anger / vengefulness etc. etc.

Christians need to encourage and strengthen each other:

We shall not be moved…

We shall not give up our civic freedoms. We shall not give in to the fear of strangers, of immigrants. We will not cower behind more and more security, more weapons. We will go out into the streets and squares of our towns, lighting candles, carrying pens. We will not be moved from being an open, democratic, welcoming, fair, just society.

Just like a tree that’s standing by the waterside…

To have the strength not to be moved, we need a river to feed into our roots. Europe has never seen a wholeheartedly Christian country, rather various compromises between the State and Jesus. Yet there has been a river flowing from Jesus which has watered, influenced, the roots of Europe. We need to keep drawing from that river.

The Qu’ran has always been at odds with Jesus. We need to live Jesus’ way, now more than ever.

How British Leaders Ruined the 20th Century: 5 January

January 5, 2015

Two great myths shattered in front of me as I read the Church Times before Christmas.[i]

Myth One:    The Christmas truce of 1914 was only day-long, a spontaneous idyllic but impossibly unrealistic moment in contrast to the real world of warring nations.

Myth Two:     The British have reason to be proud about decently fighting and winning two 20th Century world wars into which they were dragged by other more violent nations.

The Christmas truce of 1914 lasted, in some places, for weeks. One British soldier swapped a tin of bully beef for a German soldier’s spiked helmet. The German soldier then explained that he was on parade next day and would give it to his new mate afterwards, which he did. ‘In some cases … troops contrived to shoot over the heads of their opposite, or simply managed not to engage in warfare at all for considerable lengths of time. Major Buchanan-Dunlop, in a letter to his wife on 3 February 1915, mentions that the fighting where he was based had only just resumed. Captain F. E. Packe, in a letter on 19 March 1915, mentions an “absurdly quiet” time in a spot they had relieved where a truce had taken place.’

Each time the fighting resumed, the British started firing. Sgt George Ashurst, 2nd Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers, recalled chatting with his ‘oppos’ until British artillery started shelling German lines, endangering him and his mates.

The Christmas truce was not entirely a spontaneous outbreak, but part of a serious effort to return to negotiation instead of fighting. Pope Benedict XV, and others, had asked the warring nations to agree to a truce. The Germans and Austrians had agreed. The British, and presumably the French and Russians, had refused. General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien had issued an order explicitly prohibiting Christmas ceasefires. He, and other Generals, knew that ceasefires were a distinct possibility, which they needed to countermand.

The German soldiers who put up Christmas trees for their enemy to see and shouted Christmas greetings and sang Silent Night for their enemies to hear, and were the first to step into no-man’s land, were South German, Bavarian, Catholics. (One German soldier told his new British friend that they were being replaced by North German, Prussian, Protestants, and asked the Brits to give the Prussians hell, because they hated the Prussians too.) It is probable that the German Catholic soldiers’ initiative was an attempt to support the serious diplomatic initiative of the Papacy, most likely with support, or at least acquiescence, by the local German officers and maybe by some of their High Command. One British subaltern drank champagne at the local German HQ, well behind the trenches before returning safely to his own lines.

The Christmas truce was a ‘real world’ initiative. This was a serious opportunity for the nations to negotiate for a while, always able to return to fighting should they consider it necessary. There was a serious, even if slim, opportunity for a negotiated German withdrawal from Belgium. If the Germans were not willing to make compromises, they would not have agreed to the Pope’s initiative. The Crowned Heads of Europe, so interrelated, could have come into their own as natural mediators. The First World War could have finished in December 1914. It could have been all over at Christmas, in the real world.

No Battles of the Somme and the Marne. No Gallipoli. No Russian Revolution. The Communist Bolsheviks took advantage of a Russian population desperate to end the war which the new democratic government was committed to continue. No Stalin. No Hitler. No Second War. It is generally agreed that the humiliation of the ending of the First World War and the punitive demand for Germany to make reparations created the conditions for Hitler to grow Nazism. No Holocaust…

The 20th Century could and should have been hugely different, a Century of evolution towards widening democracy and negotiation of disputes. It would not have been perfect. There may well have been wars, battles, as the old Empires learnt slowly to allow smaller and newer nations to grow strong. But it is unlikely that there would have been slaughter on the scale seen in the First and Second World Wars, in the Soviet forced collectivisation, in the Holocaust.

The German leaders in 1914 were willing to at least talk about the possibility of resolving the dispute by negotiation. The British leaders in 1914 were unwilling. They insisted on fighting. They deliberately re-started the war after Christmas 1914. Far from being the 20th Century’s reluctant, decent, warriors, the British were the original violent militarists, creating the conditions for other aggressive militarists. British leaders ruined the 20th Century for everyone.

[i] Church Times 19/26 Dec 2014 The day the war stood still by Andii Bowsher and Nick Megoran with material from Silent Night: The remarkable Christmas truce of 1914 by Stanley Weintraub

A Parable of Christmas: 23 December

December 23, 2014

Once, in parallel universe, there was a signpost, a signpost like no-one has ever seen before or since. Tall and firm, big enough to be seen for half a mile. It was carved and moulded and painted wonderful colours, red and green and silver and gold. Some said it looked rather Eastern, others thought it was Celtic. It was amazing.

People were so happy to have a signpost. They didn’t have to muddle through wondering where they were going. They had a signpost. They didn’t have to worry that they were all on their own. They had a signpost, which someone, somewhere must have given for their benefit. They didn’t have to worry about other people. The signpost was not hidden, it was open for all to see. It was a signpost for everyone.

Everyone celebrated the signpost. Once a year people came together to remember the signpost. They gathered at the darkest time of year, when people were wondering what lay round the corner. They put up copies of the signpost in their homes and sand special songs, had special sweets which they shared around, and families came together to eat a special meal.

Adults loved this Signpost Time. Children loved this Signpost Time. One little girl, Andreya, all dressed up for the special meal was so excited, but also a little puzzled. She had been awake really early because it was such a special day. She remembered previous years and how lovely it was to all be together over a great meal in a specially decorated house. But she had a question which kept niggling away in her head.

Just as the meal was coming to an end Andreya’s father turned to her, in front of everyone. ‘You’ve been a little quiet,’ he said. ‘Do you have anything on your mind?’ The girl was bit embarrassed, she didn’t think anyone had noticed. Now she had to speak in front of everyone. But the question had grown and grown inside her and she had to speak it out.

‘You know this,’ Andreya said, waving her hand over the table and the room. ‘This is, like, all about a signpost, right? And it’s great, it really is. It’s, like, magic. But..’ she hesitated a little. ‘Where is the signpost pointing to? Isn’t that, like, what signposts are for? To point us somewhere? So… where is it? Not the signpost, the place the signpost is pointing to?’

Around the table there was silence. Andreya’s father laughed. ‘Trust you to come out with the deep questions! That’s one you can ask your teachers at school. Who’s having coffee?’

A couple of weeks later Andreya managed to see her school teacher on her own, and she asked her the question. ‘Well,’ said the teacher, taking a deep breath. ‘Well, some people think that’s an important question and they have read the signpost and they’re trying to go in that direction. But most people don’t think that’s really the thing. Most people think it’s really all about signposts in general, or directions in general. Maybe about having the humility to be given directions, or about all of us finding the direction that suits us. You see? 

Andreya nodded, because the teacher actually looked a bit worried. But it didn’t make sense. People didn’t celebrate all sorts of different signposts, it was one particular signpost. And signposts don’t say ‘Go in the direction that suits you.’ That’s just silly! Surely the signpost was pointing somewhere particular. It was more likely that it was pointing somewhere which didn’t suit people. They were happier going in directions that suited them. Or maybe they just weren’t interested or bothered.

Then Andreya remembered what the teacher had said about some people who thought her question was an important question. They had even read the signpost, and were trying to go in that direction. It was great to hear that. The girl decided to keep an eye out for these people who were not just celebrating the signpost, but actually going where it was pointing.

Roger Harper

The US Church – The Good, The Bad, and the Divided: 1 November

November 1, 2014

The Church is America is stronger than it has ever been. At the time of the American Revolution and early in the 19th Century only about 15% of the population were church-going. 19th Century Canadians were much more church-going, peaking at nearly 90% of the population. In the 20th Century Canadians turned away from church dramatically, as did Europeans. Canadian church-going is now well under 20%. Through the 20th Century more Americans turned to the church. American church-going is now about 40% of the population. A huge number compared to the UK.

The US Church is a free-market Church. Churches, like everything else, have to compete in the marketplace. This raises the standard of communication and organisation. To attract members church leaders need to communicate clearly and engagingly. To retain members churches need to make people feel part of something good. We in the UK learn much from the US and have more to learn.

The large US Church contains all sorts and much that is excellent. Recently I came across Greg Boyd, Pastor of Woodland Hills Church in Minnesota and founder of ReKnew, an organisation and website for developing a post-Christendom Christianity, Jesus-centred, non-violent, open-minded. Here’s part of their Manifesto:

It’s our conviction that the fearful, dogmatic rigidity that characterizes so much of contemporary Evangelicalism reflects an idolatrous relationship with beliefs, which in turn causes many to become hostile and unloving when debating doctrinal issues. We are convinced God is more concerned with the love with which we debate than the content of what we debate. (See more at: http://reknew.org/2012/07/a-reknew-manifesto/#sthash.JDj7K9a8.dpuf)

‘Yes, yes, yes!’ I want to shout. Greg speaks and writes intelligently, engagingly, forthrightly. He and his church are definitely among the good.

Rachel Held Evans is a very popular US Christian blogger and book writer. She too communicates great truth intelligently and winsomely. Sometimes she harps on humourlessly about her main topics, but most weeks she has something well worth reading. She’s a good ‘un.

Other Yank good ‘uns more well known in the UK include Tony Campolo, Bill Johnson, Jim Wallis, Richard Foster, Philip Yancey, Mark Virkler, Bill Hybels and, (of course if you’re a regular reader) Edward Fudge. I have learnt and continue to learn great things from these good inspiring people. Please add to the list through the comments.

There is another side to the US Church. Greg Boyd set up ReKnew partly to counteract the strident Conservatives. Greg refers particularly to Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church, Seattle. Mark has been a champion of muscular Protestantism – focusing on the call to repent above all else. He has been refreshingly gutsy, with a likeable cheekiness. He has attacked anyone who questions hell as eternal torment. He has argued that care for creation is irrelevant because the planet is going to be trashed when Jesus returns. He has insisted that women submit to their husbands. Mark came to the UK and was interviewed by Justin Brierley on Premier Radio and Christianity magazine. Mark was bombastic and aggressive to Justin, and then aggrieved when Justin broadcast the interview.

Mark Driscoll has run into mounting criticism, especially of his leadership style. On October 15 Mark resigned from Mars Hill Church, confessing ‘to past pride, anger and a domineering spirit.’ http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/october-web-only/mark-driscoll-resigns-from-mars-hill.html Yesterday Mars Hill Church announced it is disbanding. The 13 churches in its network will either run independently or will close. http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2014/october/goodbye-mars-hill-multisite-church-dissolve-mark-driscoll.html May this be a warning to those who promote hard attitudes and hard doctrine.

Gay marriage is causing a deep crisis in the US Church. Rachel Held Evans is all for it. Mark Driscoll is all against it. Many more people are lined up on either side. (I can’t see anything Greg Boyd has written about gay marriage, which would be interesting.) The conflict seems to be fierce. The conservatives are targeted and tarred as ‘hating’ gay people. The liberals are targeted and tarred as pseudo Christians. My guess is that there are a large number of Americans, as there are Brits, who are unsure about gay marriage, not happy with either extreme. The middle ground needs to gain confidence, and speak up. I hope http://gaymarriagemaybe.wordpress.com can help.

I hope the US Church in general will continue to thrive, and will find a way of uniting, in spirit, around Jesus.