The Beckly Lecture 2020: Peace, Pandemics and Plastic Bottles – Prioritising the future?

The Beckly Lecture: Peace, pandemics and plastic bottles – prioritising the future?

Revd Dr Inderjit Bhogal OBE

Monday 29 June 2020

7-8:15pm

Revd Dr Inderjit Bhogal OBE is founder and President of City of Sanctuary, a grassroots movement to build cultures of welcome, hospitality and safety for asylum seekers, refugees and other vulnerable people. Inderjit is a former President of the Methodist Conference, was Leader of the Corrymeela Community and is President of the Methodist Peace Fellowship.

Inderjit will be talking from his many years’ experience as a public and practical theologian, about how our world and our churches face the challenges ahead. When it feels as if different priorities are competing, how can we respond with integrity to God’s call for justice and peace?

Inderjit will speak for around 45 minutes, with a chance for Q&A afterwards. The Lecture will be hosted on Zoom.

Register here

CLINTON MCCURBIN: JUSTICE NOT VIOLENCE

Clinton McCurbin died, or was killed, on 20th February 1987, as Police arrested him in the NEXT shop in Wolverhampton town centre. He was making a purchase when the shop assistant suspected he was using a stolen Bank Card. Police were called. Clinton died while he was being arrested. The story going around town was that Police had a knee over Clinton’s neck, in a head-lock, to hold him down during arrest, and he died of asphyxia. This incident unleashed a fury of anger at what was termed “police racism and violence”.

A national march against police racism and violence was organised in Wolverhampton on 7th March 1987. A crowd from all over the country was expected. Many in Wolverhampton stirred up fears of “War in Wolverhampton”. The local Express and Star newspaper carried a front-page headline centred on the fear of violence. Local people were advised to stay away from the town centre on the day of the march for their safety. Shops along the route of the march were encouraged to board up their windows and doors. Faith leaders, of all faiths, advised their communities to keep away from the march, and not support it because it was expected to be violent, and they did not want to be seen to be endorsing violence. Some of them gave interviews on local radio to this end. Members of a Church along the proposed route of the march prayed for snow on the day of the march, hoping this would lead to its cancellation. The fear of violence was real and deep.

I had a town centre office and ministry in Wolverhampton as co-ordinator of the Wolverhampton Interfaith Group at the time. My Methodist leaders, whom I respected greatly, had also asked all Methodist Church members and ministers to give no support to the march. My office was on Queen Street, opposite Express and Star offices, little more than a hundred yards from the spot where Clinton died.

I recall quizzing in my mind as to whether, as a faith leader it would be appropriate for me to go against the advice of my seniors and join the march. Wolverhampton Interfaith Group looked to me for leadership and direction. I decided to join the march, and announced this through interfaith networks, inviting any faith-based person wanting to join me on the march to meet me in the Friends Meeting House half an hour before the commencement of the march.

On the actual day of the march, it snowed, quite heavily! We had blizzard like snow conditions. This drastically reduced the numbers who turned up. Instead of the anticipated 10,000 crowd, around 1000 were there. 

Twelve people turned up to walk with me. I decided to walk in my clerical gear, and wished on this occasion that I was a Bishop and could wear a Bishop’s outfit, and be loud as a faith leader. As it was, in the wintry conditions, with winter coats, my clerical collar was quite hidden. I went out with my coat hood up. To all intents and purposes, I was hidden and anonymous. My companions asked me where we shall be in the march. “Right at the front”, I said, “the media of the world will be here. We will walk at the front, be central to the march and all the walkers, and then we shall also be able to bear witness to the truth of the occasion, and not just rely on media stories. We want to say that there are faith-based people who care deeply about the concerns at the centre of this march, and are against police racism and violence. I am confident that a march against violence will not be violent. We will walk at the front to declare our solidarity”. I wanted to be able to say to all those joining the march, and to Clinton’s family, the Church is here and with you.

We found our way to the head of the march, and walked there. Those participating were predominantly black and Asian people. There was a significant white people’s presence. Many were carrying banners expressing outrage at police racism and violence. Snow was falling heavily as we commenced walking. It snowed all day, quite heavily. This can be seen from photos taken on the day. As we walked past the Church where members had prayed for snow, I was clear in my mind that the weather is not influenced by people’s prayers, if it did, I would pray for rain in drought ridden areas on earth so that people there could grow their own food. Prayer is not about ordering God on how to order the world. I was walking in the march as an act of prayer, expressing solidarity with people’s hurts and hopes. It felt like I was bearing something of the cross of the hurting, exhausted Christ, as a man called Simeon did on the road to Golgotha.

Wolverhampton was closed and quiet on the day, not only because of the snow but also because of the march. But the march was noisy. I sensed a deep anger in the walkers at police racism and violence. There was visibly a heavy police presence. There were those in the march who would have turned violently on to the police, but were remarkably restrained, expressing their outrage verbally rather than physically.

The march slowly snaked around the town, and then halted right by my office. From here the NEXT shop where Clinton died could be seen. Clinton’s mother, Esther McCurbin, wanted to go to the spot where her son died to lay a bouquet of flowers and pause for a moment of silence. This was a real flash point. Marchers were getting agitated. I could see that scores of police officers were lined up here blocking the way to the sacred spot. The police sensed violence and wanted the march to proceed, but no was moving. I was right at the front with Esther. She was determined to lay her flowers and say her prayer outside the NEXT shop associated with her son died.

I went and spoke to the Police Officer who appeared to be in charge, and explained the situation. Taking me to be the leader of the march he said, “get the march moving”. I told him that there would be no movement until Mrs McCurbin could go and lay her flowers where her son died. “Can you promise me the march would move on if I allowed that?” I said, “Yes”. He spoke into a walkie talkie device he had, and like the parting of the Red Sea, the blue line of police officers moved aside to allow Esther to have the personal moment she desired. “Who are you?” asked the Officer in charge, holding what was a recording device in front of my face. “Inderjit Bhogal, I am a Methodist Minister”, I replied.  “Are you the leader of this march?” he asked. I simply suggested to the Police Officer that the march would move, and that Mrs McCurbin should be brought to Lichfield Street by the Prince Albert Statue and that she could join the march there again. This was all agreed. Suddenly I was seen as the leader. It seemed to me that people are like Sheep without a Shepherd. This space is so often occupied by people who exploit it with all kinds of messages and methods, for good and for ill.

The march proceeded. We turned into Lichfield Street. Mrs McCurbin joined us again at the Prince Albert Statue as agreed. But at this point the march stopped again, and stalled. This was the next flash point. From here the NEXT shop could be seen clearly. The world’s media seemed to be gathered on the steps of the Midland Bank on Lichfield Street, from here they would get the best photos of the anticipated violence.

From here too, all the way back to the NEXT shop there was a heavy police presence, beginning with Officers on foot with riot shield to protect them. Behind them Police on horse-back. Behind them Police reinforcements in Vans. The Police had also come expecting war and violence, and so too had the media.

I found myself standing between some black youths, carrying bricks who had come to have a fight with the police, and the heavy police presence, carrying various weapons and riot gear. I recall looking at the photographers lined up strategically. I felt they wanted to show the world images of violent black youths. I was determined there was not going to be any violence and that the media would not get the story and images they were here for. 

I started shouting to the black people in front of me, “you throw one brick and you have lost the battle. Look at those photographers. Their images will portray you as people with bricks and but no brains. You are more than that”.

Then I started shouting, “We want justice not violence”. There was a man with a loud hailer. I took it from him to shout “we want justice not violence”. Gradually others started shouting this too, and it became a chorus and a crescendo. Two or three others came and stood with me between the police and the angry marchers. This chanting went on for about fifteen minutes. It was freezing cold. The snow fell relentlessly. I noticed that the marchers began moving on. Only I and those who stood between the marchers and the police shouting for justice and non-violence were left there, including David a good friend of mine, another member of the clergy who joined the march with me. Gradually every one disappeared, the marchers, the media, the police. I have no idea where or how the march concluded. David and I stood there reflecting on the events. A local Press photographer took a photo of me that appeared in a Newspaper the following week.

It was freezing cold, but I felt very hot just then. I was soaked with sweat and snow, and exhausted. I did feel I had participated in and witnessed remarkable expression of anger at police racism and violence. I also felt I had helped to prevent violence in which there would have been human casualties and property damage.

I walked away from the scene reflecting how critical it is to provide leadership and a voice for non-violence. It is important to offer wisdom of non-violence. I did follow this up in succeeding days and weeks by meeting with the Chief of Police in Wolverhampton to state the message of the marchers, and to talk about racism awareness strategies.

There were those who felt I was a “police collaborator”, some of those who argued this regarded the police as “the enemy” and wore balaclavas over their faces at street gatherings and clearly knew me for they talked with me by my name. I knew who they were. And at the same time, I was asked by my Methodist leaders to explain my actions in joining the march. I explained to them that I may have helped to prevent the “war” that was expected on the day of the march. I don’t know. But in my mind joining the march was the better decision than deciding to stay away. I have always tried to walk for justice and non-violence in my exercise of ministry.

A few days after the march I was present at Clinton’s funeral. I walked at the head of the procession with Paul Boateng MP to the Church in Heath Town. Clinton’s death was a tragedy. He was laid to rest in peace and with respect and dignity.

Inderjit Bhogal

20 February 2020

DUBLIN INTERFAITH ONLINE REFLECTION AND PRAYER

Today is Pentecost Day, when Christians recall a day when God blesses people with the Holy Spirit, and reminded themselves that the Spirit of God is poured out “upon all flesh”.

This day is recognised in churches as the birthday of Church.

The very first message on this day, by the Apostle Peter was exactly this, the Spirit of God is poured out on flesh, God blesses all people, and when Peter said this he was speaking to people of different nations.

The image of the Spirit of God is the breath of God.

The breath of God is the source of all life.

Breath and clean air epitomise our times of coronavirus.

It is sad that coronavirus attacks the capacity to breathe.

We remember all those on ventilators now, and all those who care for them, from cleaners to consultant surgeons.

It is sad also that the words at the centre of news this week are “I can’t breathe”, the last words of George Floyd, the African-American man killed by Police in Minnesota, USA.

I am also saddened by the violence that has erupted following his death. Anger and protest have to be expressed non-violently.

Another sad image of our times is that of war and violence destroying people’s lives and homes, driving many to seek sanctuary elsewhere.

Every day myriads of people set out to cross whatever barrier is in the way to find safety and a better life. When people are deprived of their homes, their families, and familiar surroundings, they will be grateful for welcome, hospitality and safety.

I live in Sheffield.

Poet Laureate Andrew Motion’s words adorn the side of a Sheffield Hallam University building. The good sighted can read the words of the poem as they walk to the city from the railway station:

“O traveller from somewhere to here…to wander through the labyrinth of air,

Pause now, and let the sight of this sheer cliff become a priming place which

lifts you to speculate…

What if…?

What if…?

What if…?”

I like that triple “what if”.

What if we could all work together to bring our diverse population into shared conversations, even if difficult conversations, on how we can work together to build better understandings, deeper relationships of mutual respect and trust, and come to genuinely accept each other as human beings?

What three things can we do?

My three challenges in response to these what ifs are centred on the belief that God’s spirit is poured out on all flesh. We are all human beings made in the image of God. So here are my three challenges:

Be human, and always call others back to their humanity.

Be hospitable, and always call others to express hospitality.

Always challenge hatred. This is done by challenging inhumanity and

inhospitality.

The way ahead for us all now is to widen and deepen relationships across different cultures, creeds, colours and identities, to end hatred, and together to build cultures where all are welcome, and valued. We can be united in building hospitality. We have fantastic opportunities in our multi-ethnic and plural societies to meet and eat with each other, to share our stories and discover our interconnectedness, and link the local with the global.

How we all relate to each other, and in particular to people seeking sanctuary and safety will be central to humanity. How we all treat those who are in greatest need for safety will be the measure by which we shall judge personal, national and international morality and spirituality.

A Prayer:

Holy God, you are our refuge and our hope.

You live in heaven, on earth, and in our hearts.

Your majesty surrounds us in all your creation.

Holy is your name.

Holy are your ways.

We bless you for the honour you give us

By making us all in your image,

By calling us all to share in your work,

And by inviting us all to eat at your Table.

We thank you for Jesus Christ,

In Him You have given the world

New patterns of living, loving, learning, serving and suffering,

And the promise of the fullness of life.

We bless you for giving us the gift of your Holy Spirit,

The breath of life;

The strength to live by each day.

We hold before you

All those who are struggling today, and those who bring care, help and support.

Those who are taking their last breaths, and those who watch and wait and pray with them;

Those who have died, and all who are bereaved.

Grant to us, to the world, and all who are in our prayers, your strength and peace,

And bring us all where you want us to be.

In the Name of Christ.

Amen.

Inderjit Bhogal, 31 June 2020

Communion In Times of Coronavirus: Attention

Part of the Communion in Times of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections
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Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

We are all asked to “stay alert”.

Staying alert requires paying attention.

This is what all good teachers call for.

Pay attention, and this is a pre-requisite to staying alert, and living to your full potential.

In our meditations I began with attention to breathing, and to stillness. These precede attention.

Good attention flows from breathing well and stillness, and will help to provide the clear focus of attention.

We all have many distractions such as unsolicited apps, messages, and so on.

Attention flows from breathing and stillness, being in the present moment, being aware of what or who is there, considering information, reflecting, and resolving to do something as a result.

This is really what research means.

Pay attention, observe, collect data, reflect on it with care, till you have a revelation, your data offers new illumination, new information.

If you are like me you will have had moments when something or someone makes you pause, stop in your tracks, and pay attention in this way.

For example, you pass something regularly, and one day this something, it may be a tree or view for example, catches your breath and stops you. You become present in that moment and place, you really consider the information, you reflect, and you take action, even if it to gasp “wow” in a moment of revelation.

During this time of coronavirus, with less air pollution, there have been some remarkable photos of mountain ranges from massive distance on facebook and twitter.

There was a photo of Mount Kenya that someone took from Nairobi City which is 85 miles away.

Many people living in Nairobi responded that the photo is a fake, you surely cannot see Mount Kenya from Nairobi!

But the photo is a fact.

What is more, that view is actually visible from Nairobi most days, but most people don’t see it.

The man who took the photo says, “the hustle of Nairobi prevents people from looking up. The slowing down is not there”. He said that maybe, the Covid-19 virus has slowed people down, and with less air pollution helped people to see more.

As I said, we can all walk past things many times and miss them.

But there is a moment in which we become aware of something for the first time, and think, I pass this regularly yet I have never been aware of it before.

There is a story in the Bible of Moses who was minding his sheep in a field when suddenly he saw a bush that seemed to be aflame. It made him stop, and turn his attention, and look with more care (Exodus 3:1-12).

When Moses saw the bush that seemed to be aflame, he said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight…” (Exodus 3:3). As he paid attention here, he felt he heard the voice of God drawing his attention to brutality and suffering, and the experience changed his life.

He became the leader he was.    

Young Mary had a moment when she believed an Angel was speaking to her. In the Church calendar this moment is called the “annunciation”. As she paid attention in this special moment, she heard the voice of God, and “pondered” on what she heard (Luke 1:26-31).

She became the mother of Jesus.

Today is 24th May. It is a special day in Methodist Churches.

24 May 1738 is regarded as the day John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, had a special experience.

At a meeting in Aldersgate Street in London, he was listening to a reflection on the Letter to Romans. Then, he writes in his diary, “About a quarter before nine…I felt my heart strangely warmed”. He felt loved by God.

He became the leader of a movement called Methodism.

Six hundred years ago there lived in Norwich a young woman called Julian. Aged about 30 she became seriously ill. At the end of her illness she began having visions., and then spent around 20 years living in a small room and writing her visions which she called Divine Revelations, a book worth reading. Her most famous revelation arises from just observing a hazelnut.

Reflecting on a hazelnut in her hand she writes that it revealed three things to her. “The first is that God made it. The second, that God loves it. The third, that God keeps it.” This simple observation gave her peace, that she can rest in God the Creator, the Keeper, and the Lover. 

The important thing about these special moments is that they happen in the everyday, ordinary circumstances which command attention and become sacred moments and places and people.

Attention can give you rest, and make you more capable and give you more direction for life.

It said to Moses you are more than a shepherd, and to Mary, you are a person of potential beyond your imagination, to Wesley you an assurance of love, to Julian confidence in God.

Attention increases your awareness, and makes you more mindful of yourself and others. It literally opens your eyes and ears and heart and soul. It is an essential quality in leadership.

This is what faith and spirituality is.

Seeing and hearing God in ordinary everyday life, and hearing the voice of God calling you to be the immense and immeasurable person you are capable of being.

Be alert, but more than this, pay attention.  

Inderjit Bhogal

24 May 2020, John Wesley Day

This article can be downloaded for use here
All documents on this topic are located here

Six Words to Live By: Act Justly, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly

Part of the Communion in Times of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections
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Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

ACT JUSTLY

Today is the third anniversary of the Grenfell Tower. 72 people died in the devastating fire there.

The last fortnight has seen angry protests following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota. Most of the protests have been peaceful and I detest violence where it has featured.

It is important to listen to the calls for justice, and to ask what needs to happen.

Or, to put it another way, what does God require of us, not only in this situation, but at any time?

This question features in the Bible in a number of places with significant answers.

One place where the question is asked is in the book of Micah, chapter 6 verse 8 where we read:

“What does the Lord require of you but to act justice, love tenderly, and walk humbly with God”.

 Six words are important there: act justly, love tenderly, walk humbly.

In any situation you have to make choices about how you will respond. The attitude you choose to live by is critical.

The words in Micah are worth pondering.

We can choose to live by those six words: act justly, love tenderly, walk humbly.

I will take these words in two’s to offer reflection.

So, first let us focus on the words “act justly”.

What justice means biblically is that everyone can enjoy the benefits of life. The “fulness of life” (john 10:10), for all without discrimination and deprivation. This is the persistent call of the prophets of ancient Israel.

In the words of the prophet Amos, God longs for the day when “justice (will) roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:2).

Whenever men and women work in favour of justice, understood as simple fairness, and equality among people in things that enhance human dignity and well-being, they are standing on the “foundation stone” established by the God of justice.

This justice challenges the violence of poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia, and every form of domination, discrimination, oppression and war. Consequently, justice will not employ violence, and will address violence non-violently.

Commitment to justice includes working non-violently whether we are speaking of verbal violence or physical violence.

Ending particular forms of injustice is integral to the Kingdom of God, where all enjoy the fulness of life. 

Justice is not about being right or righteous, but doing right and hungering after righteousness.

In Genesis 18: 17-19, justice and righteousness is linked, and mean the same thing, the “way” of God is revealed as “doing what is right and just”. This is what brings about the completion of the will of God. Fairness, equity, and impartiality in the rule of law, and sharing of the benefits of belonging together is what is held together here (Sacks, 2003).

For Moses justice is a good life. He says, “choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19). Justice is the route to a good life.

When the biblical prophets spoke of justice they consistently held up the “widow”, the “orphan” and the “stranger” (Exodus 22: 21-27; Psalm 146: 7-9). These three groups of people represent those who had no means of their own to live a good life, and were dependent on the grace and generosity and goodness of others.

In our times these groups relate for me to older people in care, children in danger, and refugees.  

Biblically, God is the God of justice (Deuteronomy 32: 4; Isaiah 30:18; Psalm 119: 137). It is God’s measuring line (Isaiah 28: 17). Justice exalts God (Isaiah 5:16). It is the worship God respects (Amos 5:22-24).

Act justly.

In all the debates of our times the cry is for justice, rooted in a 400 year history, and spanning Grenfell Tower, Minnesota, and Covid-19.

A cry for justice is the cry of God.

We are to hear the challenge of God to “act justly”.

Inderjit Bhogal

14 June 2020, third anniversary of Grenfell Tower fire

This article can be downloaded for use here
All documents on this topic are located here

Communion In Times of Coronavirus: Wisdom of Breath

Part of the Communion in Times of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections
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Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

It is windy outside today.

I always associate a windy day with Pentecost when the church is born by the breath of God (Acts 2:1-4).

BREATH OF GOD: Wind and air are associated in the Bible with the breath of God.

Everything is brought to life by the breath of God (Psalm 33:6).

Adam comes to life when God breathed into his nostrils (Genesis 2:7). This is the first time the idea of breath is introduced in the Bible.

The first action of the risen Christ is to breathe on his disciples who seem to have lost all life and hope (John 209:22).

The concluding words in Psalms is “let everything that breathes praise God” (Psalm 150:6).

Breath gives and is essential to life.
We are thankful to have breath.
We need to value air more, clean air even more.
We need to give more attention to breath and breathing.
Become aware of your breathing…see how shallow it is.
There are ways to breathe well.

YOGA has come to be respected as an art form, especially the various moves.

But the key to Yoga is breathing.

Yoga literally means inner communion, blending opposites, breathing in, breathing out, turning left, turning right, achieving unity of body, mind and spirit. It is a way to clear the airways, open all the channels, to allow breath and blood to flow well, and enhance wellbeing.

THE KEY TO THIS IS BREATH, the source of life and energy.

Breath is the blending of oxygen and carbon-dioxide, blood and body. Good breaths help the flow of the essence of life in body, mind and spirit. It helps to reinvigorate body, mind and spirit.

If you are not breathing properly the other parts of Yoga are not so beneficial, and you can hurt yourself. Good breathing improves blood circulation, helps to connect body, mind and spirit, and helps to achieve stillness and balance in body, mind and spirit, and manage stress.  

If you can achieve seven good breaths in a day as part of your regular breathing you are doing well.

Good breath is more than the in and out rhythm which can be quite shallow.

BREATHE WELL: Good breath is cyclic. Breathe in and fill the bottom of your lungs, then the top of the lungs; breathe out and empty the bottom of your lungs first and then the top.

When you can do this, you can also use the following two ways to breathe well.

  1. Using the two nasal canals alternatively for seven breaths. First breathe in through the left canal. To do this place your thumb on the right of your nose and press to close the canal and breathe in through your left canal. Breathe out through the right canal. To do this place the “ring” finger on your left canal and press to close it and breathe out of your right canal. Repeat this for seven complete breaths. Use the next suggestion to achieve a complete breath.
  2. Use what is called the 4-7-8 count for a complete breath. Breathe in for 4 seconds. Hold the breath in for 7 seconds. Breathe out for 8 seconds. Try and take seven breaths like this as part of your regular breathing. You can do this any time it is convenient. You can use the “two nasal canals” suggestion for these breaths.

A note of caution. Don’t restrict or force breath. If you feel dizzy or light headed, stop and breathe normally.

Inderjit Bhogal, 10 May 2020

This article can be downloaded for use here
All documents on this topic are located here

Three Pieces of Ancient Wisdom Still Relevant Today

Part of the Communion In Times Of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections
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Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

Here are three pieces of ancient wisdom absolutely critical for consideration and communion in times of coronavirus. These lessons emerged in times of captivity or being in the wilderness. There are simple ways to apply them.

FIRST

God’s very first benediction and calling to humanity: God blessed human beings and called them to be fruitful and do all things with wisdom (Genesis 1:28).

These words follow immediately after the statement that human beings are created in the image and likeness of God. God is revealed in the previous words as creator, who delights in creation declaring it “good”. Human beings are to reflect God.

This reflection is seen, and the earth is replenished when, in creativity, and fruitfulness, human beings do all things with wisdom. God “blessed” human beings with these faculties.   

Human carelessness, and exploitation of nature, has depleted resources and led to degradation of the environment. Greater care for the earth and the environment is essential to clean air and life for everyone. Breath is life.

Appreciate, affirm, enjoy, express gratitude for, and protect God’s creation of what is “good”. There is wisdom and blessing in this.

SECOND

God’s key lesson for life, you shall not live by bread alone (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4)

This was an important lesson for the people of God to learn during time in the wilderness. God walked with people to teach them, “You shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord!”  

These are the words Jesus too affirmed in his days in the wilderness.

Life is not to accumulate more. Our spiritual wellbeing is important also.

Part of this lesson is to learn the concept of having enough for the day, and not stockpiling for another day (Exodus 16:4). Learning in humility to recognise when you have, or have had, enough, especially in relation to eating. The first petition in the Lord’s prayer is “give us our daily bread”, sustenance, but only enough for today. Try only buying what is on your shopping list. Buy less.

Human tendency to go headlong into business, enterprise, work, profit, accumulation of food and goods has to be checked by learning to say “enough”. Selfishness and greed add to the impoverishment of everyone.

Devote time regularly to reading, reflecting, and discerning the word of God.

THIRD

God’s most repeated ethical requirement, you shall also love the stranger

The Bible contains the command to “love your neighbour, as yourself” and this is taken to be the basis of Biblical ethics. Yet it is stated only once in Hebrew Scriptures (Leviticus 19:18).

Jewish scholars have noted that no less than 37 times the Hebrew Scriptures challenge people to “love the stranger as yourself”. There is no other command repeated so often, perhaps because it was the most difficult lesson to learn.

A neighbour is someone who is a bit like yourself, and easier to love. A stranger is someone very different from you, and more difficult to love. The Bible challenges us to love, and to encounter God in the stranger. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus invited his followers to see and emulate the goodness and mercy of the stranger who ensured the avoided, hurting person had the provision of care and healing (Luke 10:37). The stranger shows what it is to love.

The “stranger” is the one most on the outside of your world, the most despised or isolated. Who is that in your experience? The challenge to “love the stranger” needs to be stated again and again. The “stranger” is a teacher too.

Social distance and space have brought new dimensions and challenges to how we handle social difference. Celebrate difference. Resist division. Our future is together, with all our differences, and international.

Learn to see the image of God in those who are different from you (in skin colour, ethnicity, faith, and so on). Find ways to ensure those who are most marginalised are not isolated, but have supportive connections. What is the most loving way to be with anyone hurting the most, stranger or not? Decision making starts here.

Inderjit Bhogal, 28 April 2020

This article can be downloaded for use here
All documents on this topic are located here

Virtual Sanctuary

Part of the Communion In Times Of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections
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Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

BUILDING WELCOME, MAINTAINING CONNECTION WITH REFUGEES

Notes prepared for an interview on Radio Sheffield on Sunday 19th April 2020

What can churches do?

We are all in a very difficult coronavirus situation, but we are not all in the same boat.

We are all in the same sea and storm, but there are different degrees and levels of protection. Some are in well protected boats, others are in fragile boats, some are in dingys, and some people are in the water looking for life belts of rescue. There are people, especially refugees and those seeking sanctuary among us who are more vulnerable than others.

Coronavirus is universal, but the degree and levels of protection are very different. A universal aspect of COVID-19 is isolation, and a very real sense of fear and uncertainty and trauma.

Trauma is a universal, global phenomenon now. It is no longer just the experience of the most marginalised people. No one is privileged or protected in Coronavirus. No one is immune. We all know what it is to be separated from those we love.

Trauma is not new for people seeking sanctuary and refugees, but we can all empathise with them, as we all share this reality.

Coronavirus is now a double jeopardy, trauma on top of trauma, hurt for people who have already been in situations of harm and danger through war, and who already carry with them deep scars of violence.

The danger for many “asylum seekers” and refugees is that loneliness and destitution is deepened and exacerbated. All the familiar structures and support are removed.

People without homes, and people far from homes, people whose homes have been destroyed by war and extreme weather are at great risk.

The media was full of news of refugees prior to 31 January. What is happening to refugees now, how are they faring at the borders of Europe? We need more news from the wider world. We need more information about the most vulnerable.

And it is important to keep before us news and information about people seeking and taking sanctuary among us.   

This week there have been reports of refugees in peril in the Mediterranean Sea.

23 Italian MPs and three MEPs wrote to the Italian Prime Minister imploring him “act quickly to help those who need to be rescued at sea. We hear news of a shipwreck, of boats laden with humanity, desperately trying to reach the European coast”.

Information provided by Non-Government Organisations on Easter Sunday stated that four boats, carrying 258 migrants between them were in distress, in the waters between Malta and Italy.

47 of them were rescued by SMH, a Spanish NGO.

This is the time of the year when the numbers of refugees in the Mediterranean increase. 

In addition, there have been bombings in Libya close the coast where migrants are kept in detention centres, and this pushes them to leave.

Italy says its ports are “unsafe” owing to coronavirus.

Shamefully, Britain maintains a hard line for example in offering welcome to unaccompanied refugee children whose lives are in danger. According to charities working with refugees, such as Safe Passage, the majority of the around 10,000 unaccompanied refugee children who have arrived in Britain since 2010 have got here using dangerous travel methods including hiding in the back of trucks, further endangering their lives. Less than 1000 unaccompanied refugee children have reached the UK through government schemes. Even this week, children who have been legally accepted to join families in the UK remain trapped in overcrowded refugee camps on Greek Islands.

Refugees have practically disappeared from news broadcasts.

Coronavirus is being used by governments as an excuse to say refugees cannot be rescued because it would not be safe to do so.  This is alarming in the face of words of solidarity towards people who suffer the most. Church leaders can be more audible in expressing concern, and calling for justice for refugees. Local churches can intentionally ensure refugees in their localities, and in their prayers, are not neglected.

Build virtual sanctuaries within your virtual congregations, to ensure those in the double trauma I have described above are not isolated. Support then through local sanctuary charities and networks. Search out your local City of Sanctuary group. Donate financial support through their website. Offer other support as you are able in the circumstances.

When we come past Coronavirus, we must maintain the priority of protective hospitality for the most vulnerable while we ensure that care workers, local and those who are here from other countries, have greater justice in terms of worker rights and wages. We must not lift the pedal off the need to love more those who have been valued the least.

I live in Sheffield. I am well aware that the Sanctuary Centre in Sheffield which has provided a hub for meeting and friendship has had to close owing to COVID-19 and government guidelines.

City of Sanctuary Sheffield has over the years built up a vast network of partners, volunteers and supporters. City of Sanctuary is now the single point of reference for refugees and supporters in Sheffield.

We are working with them now to build a “virtual sanctuary” to nurture and sustain the sense of belonging, friendship and support by:

  • Developing ways to keep people connected and supported, and ensure all asylum seekers in accommodation have WiFi connection
  • WhatsApp Groups with personal messages of encouragement and practical tips, food deliveries, financial support and learning languages
  • Maintaining contacts for legal and health matters through remote service delivery, critical in ensuring pathways to justice and guidelines on rights are not disrupted
  • Maintain telephone check-ins
  • Supporting home schooling with teaching support and laptops
  • Directing supporters to online petitions

The COVID-19 Handbook for asylum seekers is being developed and kept up-to-date online by many partner organisations working together.

You and your church and organisation can support work like this with offers of help and donations through the website, and join campaigns like Lift the Ban aimed at giving asylum seekers the right to work. Link up and maintain contact with refugees as you are able to.

Asylum seekers live on £5.39 per day. Many of them are sharing bedrooms with complete strangers, with all the associated fears. Government guidelines for social distance are impossible to follow. Many of them are in this precarious situation longer than expected owing to delays in processing their cases. The need for safe accommodation is acute.

Exorbitant fees are required now from people who people who have been accepted as qualifying for leave to remain in Britain following an application for asylum. These applications used to be free. However, the fees are now up to £2,389 for an application that may cost £375 top process. Fee increases were announced in the budget on 11 March 2020. These excessive fees are paid by people already in vulnerable situations and are used to help fund the immigration system. Vulnerable people should not be subsidising the system. Fees should reflect the cost.  

Within all their other priorities refugees and asylum seekers have a great spirit of helping and surviving. One of my friends, a refugee from Liberia, has mobilised people to form a choir, and arranges worship and pastoral support. He is providing training on mental wellbeing. He is a dedicated worker providing incredible support to other refugees from a knowledge of personal trauma.  He insists need to create empathy more than sympathy.

Inderjit Bhogal

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Easter: Life and Forgiveness

Part of the Communion In Times Of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections
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Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

It is generally recognised in scholarship that the Gospel according to Mark is the first written record of anyone’s memory of Jesus, possibly based on the sermons of the Apostle Peter. It has been argued also that the Gospel according to John may be the written memories and meditations that give us windows into the life and thoughts of the earliest followers of Jesus. They are mostly Jewish followers of Jesus who also remain attached to Synagogue communities. Some in the Synagogues were divided in their responses to Jesus (John 9:16; 10:19). Some of the newest follower of Jesus wrestled with how to be his disciples within the wider Jewish community, and feared being excluded from Synagogues on account of their allegiance to him (9:34,35). Some will have found this difficult. There were many, like Nicodemus (3:2) and Joseph of Arimathea (19:38) who kept their discipleship private. To be excluded from the Synagogue would have been a humiliation (9:34).

We cannot pretend that there were not complex arguments and deep divisions between Jewish authorities and the first followers of Jesus. Christians have to acknowledge that the way John has been read has contributed to antisemitic beliefs and behaviour.  The Johannine text has to be read with care. Jesus was a Jew. It is a contradiction for his followers to hate Jews.

The execution of Jesus by the occupying Roman authorities was followed by the persecution of the followers of the Way of Christ. Life for Jews under Roman occupation was hard too. The Jerusalem Temple was destroyed in AD70.

Life for the small bands of Jesus’ followers was tough. They could only meet discreetly and in small groups. They were fearful of everyone, especially local police, occupying military and figures of authority. We discern in John the life of these small and fragile, almost sectarian, groups of followers of Jesus living as a tiny minority. They trusted no one and would be careful who they opened the door to. They lived and worshipped as excluded communities, behind locked doors for safety. They found strength in each other (see also Acts 2:44-47).

This is the band of people we read of in John 20:19-23. It is just a glimpse into their world. A small group meeting behind locked doors, scared and isolated. It is the first Easter Day.

I wonder if their fears included the stories of Jesus’ resurrection. They had been so scared when Jesus was arrested and crucified that they had denied knowledge of Jesus and abandoned him in his greatest hour of need. Now, Mary has just been to the tomb, found it empty, come to them and announced, “I have seen the Lord” (20:11-18). Their first response to stories of Jesus’ resurrection may have been that they were “afraid” (Mark 16:8). They’ve never known anything like the resurrection of a person. There were many reasons for them to lock the doors, they were probably looking accusingly at each other for letting Jesus down, and their fears have drained them of life.

“Peace be with you”

But their experience also was that Jesus stood among them, in their tiny house. He is aware of their fears and has his own scars he bears, and twice says to them, “Peace be with you” to reassure them. He is the one who was executed, but they are the ones who seem to have lost their life.

It is this frightened band of people who are the first people Jesus commissions to continue his ministry with the amazing words: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you”.

Then he did something and said something quite incredible.

First, Jesus “breathed on them” and said to them “receive the Holy Spirit”. They felt his breath, that’s how close Jesus was to them. These words recall what is written in Genesis 2:7 that God breathed “the breath of life” into humanity. Breath is life. Jesus brings this lifeless group of people to life again, and assures them they will be sustained for life and ministry by the life and strength of God. His message is, do not be scared. Live fully in the world. You are not alone. God’s Spirit is with you.

Second, he gives them one instruction only: Be forgiving. This is the key requirement in the followers of Jesus who are commissioned to continue his ministry. Jesus may have been executed by those in authority, but what hurt and crucified him most was being abandoned by his closest friends. He forgave “those who know not what they do” from his cross, practically his last action before breathing his last. His first action with his followers gathered together is to show he forgives them, speaking words of peace. Now he instructs them to be forgiving. Forgive those who hurt you, and encourage this in others. Start here, forgive those closest to you who let you down, as I forgive you, he seems to be saying. Forgiveness helps to dispel fear and set you free. If you are fearful of those who have hurt you, or those you have hurt, forgive them. Forgiveness is most effective when it is face to face.

The symbols of the Spirit of God are life and forgiveness.

Inderjit Bhogal

12 April 2020, EASTER DAY

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Good Friday: My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?

Part of the Communion In Times Of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections
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Inderjit Bhogal, 2020
Updated May 2020

He was awake.

Didn’t sleep.

It was his time of prayer, around five in the morning, it was still dark.

“Father not my will, but yours”, his constant mantra, and all through the night.

No time for ablutions, not even a wash, and no morning drink.

He is bound, and handed over for trial.

He stands, bound, thirsty, hungry, before blokes who hope they will not be kept long from coffee.

There are false accusations, and inquisition.

There is no charge.

Only the derision of “Crucify him”.

No “Hosanna” here.

The Holy City is trapped in “Jealousy”.

He is no King!

He may be their Saviour, but he is not our King.

End his reign quickly.

Born in a Stable, he is bullied in a Palace;

mocked in fun behind closed doors;

No reassuring hand, no word in his favour;

alone, with witnesses who willed an end to the madness, helpless.

Pilate washes his hands of the whole business, and leaves.

The dictator unable to handle obvious mistakes.

“Then they led him out to crucify him”.

Exhausted, breathing but out of breath,

he needs help to carry the cross.

Witnesses stand around, some look away.

Simeon, just passing by, is “compelled” to share the pain, carry the cross.

Veronica wipes his brow.

Jesus alone will carry the weight and meaning of the moment, every step of the way.

“And they crucified him”, on a hill, for all to see, amid criminals,

and stole and divided his clothes without shame.

It is only nine in the morning.

Others passed by, and mocked him.

“He saved others he cannot save himself”.

A slow six hours of torture, hanging on a gibbet.

“Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?”

 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” his only utterance.

Absorbed, never forgotten prayer of the Son of God.

Then a loud wordless cry, and he “breathed his last” breath.

Pierced and broke his mother’s heart.

She wept and held him at his birth, and now at his death, always her baby.

Joseph of Arimathea, “a respected member of the council” comes forward.

He stood and witnessed this whole tale, helpless,

“he was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God”.

Joseph, his father’s namesake, “asked for the body of Jesus”, and buried him.

Son of God or not, no lavish funeral for Jesus.

Buried with dignity, the evening he died.

Obscure birth and then burial in a cave,

in the company of his mother Mary.

True mother, Jesus was always her son.

Gospel writers mention names of four others who were present at the burial.

No Priest for prayers.

Jesus’ prayer continues.

Your Kingdom come.

Your will be done.

The Kingdom and the Will of God is symbolised in the cross of Christ,

The power that gives life and liberates is the power given away.

Jesus and his Way will live and will give life and direction to others for ever.

Inderjit Bhogal

10 April 2020 GOOD FRIDAY (Updated May 2020)

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