The Old Evil
In recent days, Israel and Jewish identity has been in the news. The main headlines have been for the author Sally Rooney, who refused to allow her Israeli publisher to translate her latest novel into Hebrew, because she felt it did not dissociate itself from the actions of the Israeli government. But, as a university teacher, what I noticed was that Bristol University has dismissed one of its professors for harassing Jewish students.
There can be difficulties in opposing the actions of any government without targeting all those who live in that country. It would be wrong of me to comment on the specifics of these cases as I do not know the full facts. But I am uncomfortably aware that all too often the Christian Church has been complicit in acts of discrimination, particularly against Jews, on the totally spurious basis that they somehow killed Jesus. Jesus lived and died a Jew; the first Christians considered that they were Jewish. As Christians, we accept the authority of the Old Testament, the Jewish bible. There can never be any excuse for anti-semitism. It was not the Jews who killed Jesus, it was a religiously-minded mob, orchestrated by their priests. And, as a priest, that is an uncomfortable truth I have to face whenever I put on my dog collar.
Rev David Poyner
Nobel Prize Winners
This time of year is always of interest to me, as it marks the announcement of the Nobel Prizes. Yet again, inexplicably, I’ve not had the phone call from Stockholm… But I take some reflected glory from, over the years, having met/known prize winners and on one occasion, actually publishing with one. I’ve also met a number of people who fall into the category of “why-have-they-not-been-given -Nobel-prizes”; the judgement of the committee is always subjective and I suspect had one person been able to give better lectures, he would have had a prize.
This fleeting acquaintance with scientific greats has made some mark on me. It has shown me what a really great intellect looks like; an important lesson in humility for myself and a useful guide for identifying those who think they have a first-rate mind but actually don’t. The people I have met also have another characteristic. Not all scientists are noted for their modesty; sometimes you have to take this side of their personality alongside the merits of their work. However, the Nobel laureates (and the near-misses) that I have known do not have this edge. Perhaps I have been fortunate, but they have all been modest and thoughtful individuals. Whilst I do not think any would consider themselves remotely “religious”, they may have grasped that compared to the wonders of the natural world, or what I would loosely term “creation”, personal humility is the only appropriate response.
Rev David Poyner
Lessons from the Garage Forecourt
As I write this, I am possessed with the smugness that comes from having a full tank of petrol in the midst of a fuel crisis. Just a couple of hours ago, that is not at all how I was feeling…
There is nothing like a panic about shortages to show us truths about ourselves. On Friday (tank full), I lamented the short-sightedness of those queuing at the pumps when the crisis was all media-hype which would surely be over in the space of a few days. On Sunday (tank not full) I was taking furtive glimpses at filling stations as I went past them, so I could surreptiously fill up. I still had over half a tank, didn’t really need the petrol, but I wasn’t wearing my dog collar and frankly my greed was more important than others need. Lesson 1; living in the Kingdom of God is not easy. And lesson 2; I am a hypocrite (see previous Thought for the Week).
Today, I learnt lesson 3, via Thought for the Day on Radio 4. The speaker, another vicar, confessed to exactly the same reactions as mine. But she turned to the Bible, to Jesus’s teaching on anxiety. Famously he told his listeners to think of the lillies of the field, which neither toil nor so, but which God still cares for. He told his followers not to be anxious about what the day would bring, because God cares for them. Significantly, he did not tell them they would not run out of petrol, or indeed more serious things would not happen. And the peasant-labourers to who he was speaking did really have far more pressing things to worry about than a full tank of petrol. But Jesus was telling them to live in the present. The future is always unpredictable and belief in God is no protection against harm. But his message is that we can afford to live in the present because whatever happens in the future cannot cut us off from God and his love.
Rev David Poyner
For some reason , on Wednesday morning, I kept the radio on longer than usual, even though I had already started my day’s work. I had to go into the kitchen, where the radio lives, and was stopped in my tracks by a piece about an English Heritage initiative, to encourage people to be silent when they visited ruined monasteries, to just look and listen. It was introduced by a recording of bird song from Rievaulx Abbey and Stephen Fry waxing lyrical on the virtues of entering into the experience of the medieval monks and nuns. There was then a longer interview with one of the chief building specialists from English Heritage; I lost count of the number of times he used the word “spiritual” as he talked about the scheme. You can experience this peace yourself if you go to Buildwas Abbey, but you can also find it far closer to home, in any of the churches or churchyards in our locality. Coincidentally, on Thursday I led a short service of words, music and silence in Billingsley churchyard. Spirituality, that part of us that responds to the peace in places of worship, has nothing to do with whether you believe in God or not; Stephen Fry is an atheist. It is something all of us have, deep inside and which shapes our core values. We need to recognise this and nurture it. I cannot improve on the words of the English Heritage speaker; “Spiritual nourishment speaks to people of all faiths and none”.
Rev David Poyner