Activism · Climate Change · Ecology · faith · God · Political

Daring, Imaginative, Faithful And Challenging

Continuing thoughts on the prophet Jeremiah.

In chapter 43, Jeremiah has arrived in Egypt – against his wishes.

He had, over a long period, distanced himself from the ruling elite in Jerusalem and preached a message of God’s judgment against Israel. He had urged the leaders to stay in Jerusalem; God would have a future for them if they listened and stayed.

They had not followed God’s word as proclaimed by Jeremiah, but had insisted on going their own way – to Egypt where they believed they would be safe.

Once in Egypt, Jeremiah engages in a symbolic act that continues the message that God’s future for Israel lies not in Egypt but with Babylon.

Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah in Tahpanhes: 9 Take some large stones in your hands, and bury them in the clay pavement that is at the entrance to Pharaoh’s palace in Tahpanhes. Let the Judeans see you do it, 10 and say to them, Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I am going to send and take my servant King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon, and he will set his throne above these stones that I have buried, and he will spread his royal canopy over them.

In this act, Jeremiah not only subverts Egyptian power, but affirms the superiority and God appointed influence of Babylon in Egypt. The large stones that he buries are the foundation for Nebuchadrezar’s throne.

This symbolic act is: daring – a public act; imaginative – seeing the power of the symbol; faithful – to what God has been saying; challenging – both to Egypt and to Israel.

What symbolic acts of resistance have we seen, or might we engage in, that would subvert, for example the power of oil and gas companies, or militarism, or the gun lobby in the USA ?

And behind all of the above there is something to do with that part of our human nature that is driven by fear of the other, and an overwhelming sense of entitlement and privilege.

Song for Today

I Almost Cut My Hair

This morning, I cut my hair and tidied up my beard.

The words of a song came into my head, so I went to my wife and said:

I almost cut my hair
It happened just the other day
It was gettin’ kinda long
I could-a said, it was in my way
But I didn’t and I wonder why
I feel like letting my freak flag fly
And I feel like I owe it to someone

She said … they’re great words – you should turn them into a song.

I broke it to her … sadly they’re not my words. They’re David Crosby’s from his song “Almost Cut My Hair” on the CSNY album ‘Deja Vu’

I almost cut my hair
It happened just the other day
It was gettin’ kinda long
I could-a said, it was in my way
But I didn’t and I wonder why
I feel like letting my freak flag fly
And I feel like I owe it to someone

Must be because I had the flu for Christmas
And I’m not feelin’ up to par
It increases my paranoia
Like lookin’ at my mirror and seein’ a police car
But I’m not givin’ in an inch to fear
Cause I promised myself this year
I feel like I owe it to someone

When I finally get myself together
I’m gonna get down in that sunny southern weather
And I find a place inside to laugh
Separate the wheat from the chaff
I feel like I owe it to someone

I wish I had written it, or even arranged it – the guitar work by Stephen Stills and Neil Young is exquisite.

Bible · faith

We Step Outside The Text

My brain hurts!
I’m reading in Jeremiah … a short passage today (Jeremiah 43:1-7), raises some interesting and challenging questions.

Let me first summarise what’s happening and then think about the intent of those who wrote the text. I guess this is all about how we view scripture and how it comes to us.

Basically this is what’s happened: The forces of Babylon have finally overcome Israel and taken off most of the people into captivity in Babylon. However, there is a remnant who are still left and they are trying to decide whether to give in to The Babylonians or run to Egypt for help.

The prophet Jeremiah has been warning Israel that God’s way, and their only hope, was to surrender to Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon. (The defeat of Israel is God’s judgment for neglecting God’s commands to care for the weakest – the widow, the orphan and the stranger).

Two of the leaders of the remnant group, Azariah and Johanan, ask Jeremiah to pray to God for guidance.

Jeremiah’s answer is that God’s word is still the same. Stay in Jerusalem. If they truly want to learn to listen to God’s way, this is what they must do. But this is not what Johanan and Azariah wanted to hear.

Azariah son of Hoshaiah and Johanan son of Kareah and all the other insolent men said to Jeremiah, ‘You are telling a lie. The Lord our God did not send you to say, “Do not go to Egypt to settle there”’ ….

(In reality, they had probably already decided that they were going to lead the people to Egypt, whatever Jeremiah said, in the belief that they would be safe there).

The outcome of all this is that they ignore Jeremiah’s warning that going to Egypt will end in disaster. They decide to go to Egypt and take Jeremiah with them – possibly of his own free will, or maybe as a captive as he was against the plan – it’s not clear

Johanan son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces took all the remnant of Judah … everyone …. the men, the women, the children and the princesses, and came into the land of Egypt, for they did not obey the voice of the Lord.

Now … let’s step outside the text for a minute. The authors of Jeremiah are among those deported to exile in Babylon. It is during the years in exile that much of the Old Testament is written. They write from the point of view that the exile is indeed God’s judgment, and that they must use the years in exile to reflect on past failures and seek to be more faithful to God’s word.

So, as we think about the intent of the authors, it’s reasonable to suppose that they want to claim that they are the true remnant of Israel and not the group that ended up in Egypt. Their position is that they are the community that God has chosen to take forward.

So now … I’m thinking about the process that brought the text to us … a process that would have included some editing and in the end a decision that this was indeed God’s word to Israel.

Those who considered the book of Jeremiah as having authority, and included it in the Hebrew Scriptures have a particular point of view. That is … it is the voice of Jeremiah that needs to be heard.

We know that all reporting of an event is told from a point of view. There is no such thing as a totally impartial observer. In the same way, the text of Jeremiah witnesses to the conflict between Jeremiah and the Royal house of Israel, but it is not a neutral voice.

The account is presented as both political reporting and theological fidelity. No doubt there are times when political reporting is not faithful to God’s word. I would take the view that Christians who are determined to support the gun lobby, or the interests of oil and gas companies are not being faithful to the teaching of scripture.

The book of Jeremiah is presenting a political point of view and claiming that they are being faithful theologically. The authors are not neutral voices. They take up a particular standpoint. In this chapter it is that those who go to seek refuge in Egypt are being disobedient to God’s voice.

As we read it, we have a choice about what view we take. Do we trust the process that has resulted in the book as we have it ? Do we side with Jeremiah or Johanan and Azariah in this account ?

Perhaps the most important thing we can say is that the values Jeremiah holds are ones that we too want to follow. The word that comes up very often is ‘listen.’ The Hebrew word doesn’t just mean hear with your ears, it means pay attention and act accordingly. Listening is active and leads to being obedient to God’s word.

We might think that hearing God’s voice is tricky … In situations where we need guidance that might be true, but as far as understanding how we are to live, we have quite enough to go on. Perhaps the key is to make sure that we develop practices that lead to all being treated fairly and with compassion.

Activism · Political · suffering · World Affairs

Today It Is Nakba Day

I just read a post from Huw Thomas.

It reminded me that today is Nakba Day. The day when Palestinians remember the forced removal in 1948 of their families from their ancestral homes.
This is not just a past event, but an ongoing horror story where Palestinians are routinely abused and refused;
victimized and minimized;
oppressed and dispossessed.

I wear a bracelet most days that says – Save Gaza / Free Palestine.
It’s a reminder to me not to forget the Palestinian people and their struggle to be treated a citizens with equal rights.

Huw Thomas in his blog points us towards a couple of organisations that have helped him in his thinking about this issue.

There are a couple of organisations that have shaped my thinking on this…

B’tselem

or Peace Now

and Occupied Thoughts is a brilliant Podcast

Amos Trust – worth all the support you can give…
(I echo that thought)

We try to live with hope and send all our prayers to those engaged in the struggle for peace with justice.

Ecology · Songwriting

See How The Water Flows

Another month, another song.

Sometime last year, I heard a talk by theologian Ched Myers. He lives in Northern California, near the coast, and was talking about the way that biodiversity in his area has been affected by loss of water. Further upstream, industry is taking so much water off the river that the river has run dry downstream.
Another story I heard at roughly the same time from a different source concerned the Jordan Valley, and how in a similar way, Israeli farms and industries were using so much of the river water, that there was not enough for people downstream.
As I write this, I thought I would check just to see that I had remembered this correctly. So I googled: Amost Trust
water scarcity Jordan valley.
(I included Amos Trust in the search as I know them as a small civil rights organisation working in Palestine/Israel)
The 6th hit down on the page was here – check it out.

Water scarcity is already a big problem, but it will reach crisis proportions for more and more people as time goes on.

Hearing these stories, I wrote down – And the water’s flowing freely, but never to our door. Water is both a material reality, and metaphor. It felt like I could write a song with that line in that could speak to both the reality of water scarcity and to situations of inequality, where a few have access to resources that are denied to the many.

The line stayed in my notebook for well over a year. Eventually I came back to it and wrote the song, Waterfall. You can listen to the song here.

Waterfall

She wanted freedom -but there’s was nowhere for her to go
It’s hard to choose between a bus ticket and a winter coat

See how the water flows
Freely the waters flow
But never to her door
Never to her door

He always thought – Just stand in line and it would come to you
It might take time, but you would get to the front of the queue

See how the water flows
Freely the waters flow
But never to his door
No never to his door

See how the water flows
Ask if the water chose
For some to have it all
While others are in hell ?

Cool water
Cool, cool water
Water flowing free
Water flowing free

See how the water flows
What if the water chose
To be a waterfall
So no one is in hell.

See how the water flows
Say that the water chose
To be a waterfall
To pour upon us all.

Cool water …



faith · music · Political · Songwriting

The Front Of The Queue ?

Re: My recent post – How to avert the crisis.

I just finished this song that seems to say a similar thing:

Waterfall

She wanted freedom –
But there’s was nowhere for her to go
It’s hard to choose between
A bus ticket and a winter coat

See how the water flows
Freely the waters flow
But never to her door
never to her door


He always thought –
Just stand in line and it would come to you
It might take time, but you would get to the front of the queue

See how the water flows
Freely the waters flow
But never to his door
No never to his door


See how the water flows
It seems like the water knows
Maybe the water chose ?
For some to have it all
While others are in hell


Cool water
Cool, cool water
Cool, cool water
Flowing down

See how the water flows
Could be the water knows
Say that the water chose
To be a waterfall
So no one is in hell.

See how the water flows

Could be the water knows
Say that the water chose
To be a waterfall
To pour upon us all..

Activism · Bible · faith · Political · World Affairs

How To Avert The Crisis

There’s a passage I’ve been reading in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah:

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, after King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people in Jerusalem to make a proclamation of liberty to them— 9 that all should set free their Hebrew slaves, male and female, so that no one should hold another Judean in slavery. 10 And they obeyed, all the officials and all the people who had entered into the covenant that all would set free their slaves, male or female, so that they would not be enslaved again; they obeyed and set them free. 11 But afterwards they turned about and took back the male and female slaves they had set free, and brought them again into subjection as slaves.

This story relates to part of the
covenant that God had made with Israel. It concerned members of the community of Israel who for whatever reason had fallen on hard times. Maybe their crops had failed and they had been forced to sell their land to make ends meet. Or even worse, they had been forced to live as slaves to pay off a debt. Every 7th year, according to the law of Israel, their debt should be cancelled, they should no longer be slaves, and land that was forfeited should be returned to them.

The context for this passage from the book of the prophet Jeremiah is that Israel has strayed from God’s ways. They have gone after other gods to worship, and have neglected the laws concerning the care of the poor,
particularly widows, orphans and foreigners.

God’s judgment on Israel is that they will suffer the consequences – and be invaded by Babylon and many of the population be taken into exile.

For much of
the time, the leaders in Israel – the ruling elite of kings and priests, ignore these warnings.

But the
crisis deepens. Invasion looks likely. It seems that Jeremiah’s dire warnings are true.

What to do in a such a situation. For the leadership in Israel this means
trying a last ditch attempt to avert the crisis by obeying the law that God had given them and setting free the slaves that should have had their freedom in the 7th year of their slavery. It’s a cry to God to say -“OK, we’ll do as you commanded. Now please come to our help and stop this invasion.”

What happens next is that king Zedekiah reverses his decision and makes them all slaves again ! The reason is not given. It’s possible that the threat from Babylon went away, and Zedekiah thought he could get away with going back to business as usual –
oppressing the poor.

Or maybe the economic situation got worse – so bad in fact that landowners needed slave labour to survive and put pressure on the king to reverse the decision.

Whatever it was, Jeremiah’s verdict is that once again the King and the
ruling class have ignored God’s commands and will be judged.

That’s a long, but necessary preamble …

This incident makes me think of the Coronavirus crisis that we have lived through, and still are to some degree. In the early days, our government put in place measures to reduce the negative impact on the population by
introducing the furlough arrangements, whereby the government would pay businesses to keep people on the payroll while they were not able to carry on trading. (Eg – restaurants that had to close completely in the pandemic).

Now the direct threat from Covid has reduced because of the success of the
vaccination programme. It’s back to business as usual. In the immediate aftermath of Covid, the pressure was off … but the government needed to recoup as much of the financial outlay as possible. So …

We are seeing increases in National Insurance contributions, and other ways that the
government are seeking to increase revenue.

Then comes another crisis … Ukraine and the consequent increases in oil and gas prices as well as effects from the grain harvests in Ukraine being disrupted.

What do we see from the
government – a £150 rebate on council tax … with another sum – that will need to be paid back. For an average household, that £150 will go in two months in their increases in gas and electric bills.

Meanwhile we still read of massive bonus payments to some, while others are sitting with hot water bottles and blankets to keep warm, and relying on
food banks for essentials.

Can you see the parallels ?

What
happens to nations, businesses, organisations in general when those at the top are sitting pretty while the poorest struggle to survive. In the end those nations, businesses, etc will fall.

A
settled social order relies on justice for the poor. Without economic justice, society eventually collapses.

What do we need ? Justice for the poorest. When do we need it ? Now !

community · faith · Prayer

In Ordinary And Hidden Moments

We’ve been watching the series ‘Pilgrimage’ on BBC TV this week.
In previous years, the programme has followed a group of celebrities on a pilgrim route – one year it was Rome, another was Compostela, another was Istanbul.

This year, they are following the journey of the 6th century saint Columba as he set up Christian communities across Ireland and Scotland.

The group this comprises 7 people, with different stories, and differing degrees of faith from Agnostic to Committed. We hear about upbringing in Christianity, Sikhism, Judaism, Islam and how that has shaped their lives.

The moment I want to reflect on comes at the end of their third day of pilgrimage. It’s been a tough day, with challenging walking, and they have arrived at the hostel where they will stay the night.

It’s Friday, the days when Jews will mark the beginning of the Sabbath with an evening meal. Over the last three days, actress Louisa Clein has talked about her Jewish heritage, and her increasing confidence with talking about her faith. She is keen to share the experience of Shabbat and hosts the meal.

There’s a point where she takes the Sabbath bread and breaks off pieces and shares it around the table. A simple ritual that speaks of the importance of faith and community. It’s one of those moments where you sense that something important is happening. There’s a closeness in the group that is cemented in a way that goes beyond words.

We have really warmed to this group of pilgrims as they have laughed and cried together. Laurence Llewelyn Bowen is an unlikely leader of the group. We noticed the times when he opens up conversations about faith, and when something he does or says holds the group – like when he addresses them as family. Each person contributes in their own way, from encourager to questioner to faith defender. We love it. I would love to gather a similar group from my locality to do a pilgrim walk together and share our stories …. I wonder …

Going back to the Sabbath meal in Pilgrimage – it reminded me of one of the stories of Jesus. It takes place after the resurrection, when two people are walking home from Jerusalem and Jesus joins them as they are walking. They talk as they walk – much as the seven pilgrims have done in the BBC programme. They share the things that are deep in their hearts.

In the Bible account, the two reach their home and invite Jesus to stay with them. As they sit down to their meal, Jesus takes the bread and breaks it, and in this moment they realise that it is Jesus. A moment of profound realisation that happens in the everyday action of breaking bread.

Today I read this:
”The big thing is not to treat today as a step towards what you are hoping for some day in the future, but to accept that this day contains the seeds of all that you hope for. This is it ! Now this particular day might not feel special, in fact it might be important that it does not feel special. We need to allow ourselves to be drawn under the skin of the day and into its earthy mystery.”
(Running over rocks, by Ian Adams p. 106.)

I confess to finding this a challenge. I have a tendency to be always looking forward to the next thing. My mind is in the future. Future projects and possibilities. So I need something to earth me in the present moment. For me it’s a daily time of reading and prayer. But there are many other ways to include this ‘welcoming the day’ into our lives. It might be to create a simple ritual that we can repeat each morning to remind ourselves of the importance of living in the present.

It could be a song, or a prayer, or an action …

One of the prayers I have used and found helpful is the Morning Prayer by Padraig O Tuama.
You can find it in his book “Daily Prayer”

Morning Prayer

We begin our day alone,
Honouring this life, with all its potentials and possibilities.

We begin our day with trust,
Knowing we are created for loving encounter.

We begin our day with hope,
Knowing the day can hold love, kindness, forgiveness and justice.

A reading followed by a time of silence

We recall our day yesterday,
May we learn, may we love, may we live on.

We make room for the unexpected,
May we find wisdom and life in the unexpected.

Help us to embrace possibility, respond graciously to disappointment and hold tenderly those we encounter.
Help us to be fully present to the day.

A short silence

We pray for all those whose day will be difficult.
We name them in our hearts or out loud
May we support, may we listen, may we change.

We resolve to live life in its fullness:
We will welcome the people who’ll be a part of this day.
We will greet God in ordinary and hidden moments.

We will live the life we are living.

A short silence

May we find the wisdom we need,
God be with us.

May we hear the needs of those we meet,
God be with us.

May we love the life that we are given,
God be with us

Bible · faith · Grace

The Last Shall Be First

I’ve been reading Jeremiah 31 today. The promise to Israel that they will return from exile.
The story of exile and homecoming is one of THE MAJOR THEMES in the Bible. A couple of things I noticed:

There are various literary devices used in scripture. Among other things, they are designed to make the message memorable, or emphasise certain aspects of the text.

For example – repeating an idea but using different words – sing, shout praise …
Or having a refrain as in Psalm 46 … ‘God is with us’

Another, perhaps less recognised literary device is to do with a mirror image structure called a chiasm

In a chiasm, you have a structure that goes something like this from Milton’s Paradise Lost:
A. Adam,
B first of men
B` to first of women,
A` Eve

There’s a nice chiasm in Jeremiah 31 that you can see here

One of the points about a chiasm is that the whole thrust of the passage is often to be found in the centre of the chiasm.

In the case of Jeremiah 31, the centre of the passage has these words.

8 See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north,
and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth,
among them the blind and the lame,
those with child and those in labour, together;
a great company, they shall return here.
9 With weeping they shall come,
and with consolations I will lead them back,
I will let them walk by brooks of water,
in a straight path in which they shall not stumble;
for I have become a father to Israel,
and Ephraim is my firstborn.


These words show us God’s heart and God’s intention for Israel. That is to restore them and bring them home. But the remarkable thing that struck me was those who are specifically mentioned as coming home. The blind and the lame, the pregnant and those in labour. That is, the most vulnerable.

God promises to become like a father to these most vulnerable of his people. They will be like the firstborn.

What an amazing thing to read and understand. God’s concern is for the weakest. As Jesus would himself demonstrate throughout his life – “the last shall be first and the first shall be last.” Or, as American priest and writer Robert Farrar Capon often wrote – God’s concern is for ‘the little, the lost, the least and the last.’

Are we able to see ourselves here in this company? Because we all need to find our way home. And maybe part of that journey home involves becoming vulnerable and surrendering our impulses to be strong and in control.

Wherever you are on this journey. Grace and Peace.

Jesus · Song for Today

Resurrection Morning On Robinswood Hill

It’s 8.20 am on Easter Day.
We’re not long back from our Easter Dawn gathering on Robinswood Hill.
Our practice over many years has been to wake before dawn on Easter Day to meet with other Christians and proclaim Christ’s Resurrection.

The traditional ‘Easter Shout’ says it all:
Alleluia, Christ is risen
He is risen indeed, Alleluia.
Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
He has given us new life and hope
by raising Jesus from the dead.
Alleluia. Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

We sang a song as the sun rose … Beautiful Things, by Gungor.

All this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change at all
All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found
Could a garden come up from this ground at all

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found in You

You make beautiful things …
You make me new, You are making me new
You make me new, You are making me new