Even a Genocidal Enemy has Humanity
Jesus, a Jew, told his followers to love their enemies. What happens when your feel your enemies are committing war crimes? Some challenging words from Peter Pomerantsev, a Ukrainian-born journalist, quoted in the Church Times, 29th April 2022, who writes from a Jewish perspective, drawing on collective memory of genocide against Jews from before Jesus’s day to the Second World War.
“Many Ukrainians I speak to worry that the war will brutalise them, that they risk becoming so full of hate it will eat them up inside. There’s a passage [in the Talmud, a Jewish commentary on the Old Testament] describing how when the angels wanted to celebrate the drowning of the Egyptian army, God stopped them. How could they sing when His creations were dying? Even a genocidal enemy has some humanity. But if I’m honest, I celebrate every incinerated Russian tank. I tried to think about the soldiers inside them at the start of the war but I lost that moral battle by week two. At breakfast…. I suddenly find myself weeping over boiled eggs and coffee. That’s how you recognise Ukrainians these days, they’re the ones crying in public for no apparent reason. Like [President] Zelensky, I may be angry at God, but religion helps; the ever-returning catalogue of mass murder imprinted in Judaism puts this current evil into a context of pain and ultimate resilience”.
Rev David Poyner
I have never really had much interest in what two consenting adults do in the privacy of their home; I suppose I share in a common liberal consensus. However, Christiana Emba, a columnist for the Washington Post, in a recent book, “Rethinking Sex, A Provocation”, has challenged the view that consensual sex is purely a private matter. More exactly she argues that even when the activity is consensual, it is not always good for individuals or society. The ethics of sexual intercourse has been largely forgotten, leading to a corrosive morality where it is regarded as simply a matter for personal gratification, with no consideration of what might be the effect might be on others. The long-term effect this has on society may not be good. Interestingly, a recent survey of UK sexual habits has shown a sharp decline in “one-night stands” during Covid. A social commentator who was interviewed as part of the report suggested this was not just due to lock-down; there was a longer-term decline in frequent, casual, sexual encounters. People now craved lasting relationships, not just a string of casual encounters without any commitment.
The early church placed significant emphasis on sexual morality, seeing it as more than something to be indulged purely for self-gratification. It recognised its importance in forming and shaping personal relationships which are pivotal for a healthy society. I am not about to start lecturing anyone on what they may or may not do in their private life, but it does seem to me that a renewed recognition of the importance of love in sexual relationships can only be welcomed and is entirely consistent with the values of the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed.
Rev David Poyner
Daddy’s Hat Concert
I have just helped to host my first Daddy’s Hat concert, at Billingsley on St George’s Day. A group of local musicians come to a church, to provide an hours worth of music; at the end, a hat is passed round and the collection is used to cover expenses. Normally I will get between 2 and 5 people for the 8am eucharist (yes, some people do prefer the early start), perhaps 10 or 12 for the monthly evening service. For the concert, we had 23 people, including 2 children; 24 if you count the dog. Now, most were not from Billingsley, despite me doing a leaflet drop and advertising it on Facebook. And this was not anything like a traditional service. I did sneak in a prayer for St George and we gave a spirited rendition of “When a knight won his spurs”, taking some of us back to our schooldays. But “Leaving on a jet plane” and various numbers from musicals are not usually associated with church; guitarist Sam’s original song “The bronze age” celebrated pre-Christian culture. So why did I come away thinking the Holy Spirit was moving in the church? Our gathering was not religious, but it was spiritual. The music touched our emotions, in a setting made holy by 900 years of prayer. In fact, perhaps nearer 4000 years of prayer, for a ritually deposited bronze age axe has been found just a few hundred yards from the church. And it was again Sam, the guitarist, who sang about when a crack appears, light can shine in.
We live in an age when a majority do not identify with any recognised religion, but we are hard-wired to be spiritual beings. God is no less real just because people do not believe in him/her. The Holy Spirit still hovers over the face of waters, the face of the planet, the faces of all people. My job as a priest is to give people the eyes, the language, the hearts to recognise and respond to this. I am not particularly bothered what they want to call the Spirit; I am certainly not bothered where they come from. On St George’s Day, the music in Billingsley Church opened a crack and The Light shone in.
(On Saturday 28th May, the next Daddy’s Hat concert will be at Glazeley, at 3pm)
Rev David Poyner
The Archbishop and the Minister
On Easter Sunday, Archbishop Justin Welby claimed that there were “serious ethical questions” about the Government initiative to send single migrants to Rwanda for their asylum cases to be processed. In turn, government supporters defended the policy. For what it is worth, this seems to me to be all part and parcel of ethical and political debate that is the hallmark of a free country; there are some places where this could not possibly happen. Whilst I share the Archbishop’s reservations about this particular policy, I can understand arguments that we need to take action to stop the people traffickers and the deaths that happen as a result. Indeed, many who defended the policy made this point. But what struck me was the response of one MP, Ben Bradley, at least as his words were quoted in a national newspaper.
“I think we separated the Church from the state a long time ago, so commenting on government policy is not Justin Welby’s job. He’s usually way out of tune with public opinion and he undermines the role of the church when he comes out with daft statements like this. This will prove to be a very popular policy with the British public”.
Leaving aside the sub-text that politics should only be left to professional politicians, Mr Bradley seems to be of the view that the church should do only what is popular. Perhaps he needs to reread the account of the crucifixion, where Pontius Pilate, the professional politician in charge of Jesus, knew what he should do with an innocent man, but instead followed the wishes of the crowd, released a murderer and executed Jesus. Which of course, was very popular, for a while.
Rev David Poyner
This is inspired by a reflection by the Rev Malcolm Guite, published recently in the Church Times.
The blossom is starting to appear both on hedges and trees. In my garden I have a damson tree, which is now white; fortunately it has so far escaped the April frosts. Once it has gone, it will be followed by the pinks and whites of the apple and pear tree blossoms. We live in a region of renowned for fruit growing; Longmore House in Billingsley takes its name from a pear tree orchard, in the 19th century, Highley was noted for its cider orchards and the countryside around Bewdley has numerous cherry and plum orchards. All of this makes for a colourful spring. There is something quite uplifting about early spring; how trees that have been cold and apparently lifeless over the winter come back to life, promising renewed life and raising our own spirits as we anticipate the finer weather to come. I paraphrase the words of the Rev Guite; “as I thought of new life coming from the old blossom trees, I pondered again how at Easter 2000 years ago, life sprang from a tree cut into a cross, on a hill overlooking Jerusalem”.
Rev David Poyner