Monthly Archives: April 2014

The Oklahoma Execution

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The overnight news from Oklahoma about a prolonged execution is both disturbing and distressing, whatever one’s views upon another country’s policy on the death penalty.

Even its most ardent advocates will be generally unhappy to hear how long it took to execute Clayton Lockett by lethal injection, and there has been a necessary delay in the next scheduled execution whilst an inquiry into the efficacy of the concoction of the drugs is undertaken. It will be making headline news across Europe.

Mercifully, it appears that Mr Lockett had lost consciousness after ten minutes, having been initially sedated, nevertheless the subsequent events are distressing even if one is not unduly squeamish. The process took over 40 minutes, the man spoke three times, albeit incoherently, and at the end a curtain was drawn to exclude the witnesses from viewing his end.

Brother Ivo notes that his end was a better one than his victim: he had shot 19-year-old Stephanie Neiman and watched two accomplices bury her alive in 1999. The Oklahoma Governor Mary Falling said “Our goal is to make sure justice is served. The courts have ruled, and there is no doubt as to the guilt of the perpetrators of the crimes.”

The death penalty is a controversial subject and it is hard to imagine it being re-introduced in most countries where it has been abandoned. It is worth recalling, in passing,  that for all the modern disapproval, its abolition was effected against the wishes of the majority in this country.

Our media reports the events with ill disguised disapproval of the policy, and yet we simultaneously end the lives of our pets by lethal injection, and many are pressing for the right to elect to end their days by a similar  “merciful”  means. We sell military equipment to all kinds of regimes, many of which kill non combatants in horrible ways, and if the EU attempted to withhold the sale abortifacients to other countries, all hell would break out.

As we read the story we should remind ourselves that peaceful just ends came to many convicted murderers in the USA before the European Parliament prevented the sale of the execution drugs to the USA. By that decision a less than satisfactory outcome has resulted.

If we are tempted to move to judgement, ought to be ready to accept our role in this. Whether one approves of the death penalty or not, things have become worse as a result of our representatives decision.

As we contemplate its consequences, we ought to be asking whose interests are being served by this policy. Compassion comes in many forms as our progressive friends regularly tell us in support of a number of non-Christian ethical positions.

Brother Ivo is of similar mind to William Shakespeare’s Othello.

“If ‘t were to be done, tis better to be done quickly”.

 

Is Nigel Farage the UK George Wallace?

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Brother Ivo generally thinks well of his fellow man.

He has met extreme selfishness, foolishness and even a few psychopaths who were so removed from normal human empathy as to be significantly dangerous to ordinary society. Yet, by and large, he finds it relatively easy to love his fellow man.

He has been involved in a number of controversies, professionally and within voluntary organisations, not least, for many years, the Church, yet he has always assumed his opponents to be good people who have not yet been convinced or won over. Even those who can never been persuaded have rarely been such thoroughgoing scoundrels as to be regarded as truly monstrous.

In short, Brother Ivo regards himself as a very traditional British kind of person.

As a result of this experience,  he never regarded the growth of a movement and party which wished to resume the Constitutional autonomy over governance of our country as anything inappropriate or indicative of deep moral failure.

He does not believe that the majority of Her Majesty’s subjects (a term he cheerfully embraces as part of his cultural identity) are hateful, intolerant, inward looking, or xenophobic, and so perceives the growth of support for UKIP as many things, but certainly not symptomatic of incipient racism, homophobia, mysogeny or narrow minded isolationism. The country which produced Adam Smith, William Wilberforce, Emily Pankhurst and Winston Churchill has earned the right to a fair hearing for its peoples on such matters. All expressed a minority view at some points in their careers.

We are also a people that has taken forward the puritan legacy into its democratic institutions. We tolerate income inequality because by and large, alternatives which do not, function less well than our own imperfect system. Our dominant Parliamentary Chamber is the prosaically named ” House of Commons”, entry to which has admitted a wide variety of folk over the years including many of non-standard backgrounds.

We may not be perfect but we have tended to be comfortable enough in our attitudes of mutual respect for many to like us  enough to wish to join our society despite its and our imperfections.. They still wish to come in significant numbers which is both a testament to our virtues, and a practical conundrum which will have to be balanced and resolved.

As Mr Farage began to earn an audience for his small party’s proposals to leave the EU, we gave him a hearing, and because of a rather plucky persistence, he began to earn a respect which grew when he delivered a rather insulting address to Herman von Rumpoy in the European Parliament.

Mr von Rumpoy is a pretty inoffensive fellow yet represents a political class  both within Europe and within this country which had seen both itself and its project, grow, and continue to grow. In recent times, many in the UK have concluded that that class ought to be diminished. Such rejection shows itself in many forms.

There is a shareholder rebellion against bankers bonuses. We are seeing a distrust of the complacent safe seat MP whose sinecure is under threat from the recall proposals of Zac Goldsmith and open primary selection proposed by Douglas Carswell. In Labour ranks the dynastic successions for the Kinnocks, Straws, Blairs and Prescotts attract suspicion. Toby Youngs Countryb4Party initiative is a similar manifestation.

We all hate the financial gravy train of the serial quangocrat and the highly paid Charity/ NGO merry go round, especially because frequently they are dependent on Government largesse dispensed by political friends. This offends the ordinary working voter.

Many of those voters are at the sharp end of free competition and immigration entry: they do not have the funds to opt out of public services which may be free at the point of delivery, but can come with a worryingly lengthening queue.

Into this pool of resentment Mr Farage dipped a toe, took a few steps and then pronounced

“Come on in, the waters lovely”.

He is set to do well. He has earned it, for like Boris Johnson and Ken Livingston, he has a cheerful and populist personality which survives most of the insults hurled at him.

If Mr Farage unsettles the political class however, it is because he may resemble another politician far more damaging to their interests.

Brother Ivo likens him to George Wallace.

This is in no way to accuse him of racism with which George Wallace was undoubtedly tainted, but Mr Farage isn’t.

The history is worth a few moments thought.

Wallace entered public life as a rather liberal judge. In the racially segregated South he was liked and respected by black lawyers because when fancy northern advocates came down with high ideals but disinclined to speak directly to them, Walkace showed the local men courtesy and consideration, if only to irritate the Yankees. As a Governor he received a significant black vote, for, whatever his racist rhetoric, he was known to give black schools an equal book budget, and many disadvantaged parents saw education as the only chance in life their children had.  THe They voted for him in large numbers on the ” better the devil you know” principle.

He had once narrowly lost an election to a more extreme segregationalist and famously resolved that he would never be ” out-niggered” again. Late in life, after he had been shot and paralysed, he returned to his roots and openly apologised to the victims of his former rhetoric and was forgiven, perhaps with a significant degree of Christian graciousness which acknowledged that there was more to him than that.

His defining sin was not racism – but ambition.

None of this applies to Nigel Farrage,  but as his opponents on all sides round on him, seeking to pin the racist tail on the populist donkey, they are finding that onlookers are not as pliable as the ruling parties and bien pensant commentators assume.

In the coming Euro elections it looks as if UKIP will not only do extraordinarily well, but might indeed tear up the assumptions of the party strategists and spin doctors.

The UKIP vote may draw out the previously electorally dormant. That will be an achievement beyond the capacity of the established parties. It may well reach across the community divide to draw in second or third generation immigrants who can tell the difference between ordered immigration entry and racism.

What will be particularly interesting, and will seal the Wallace comparison, will be if UKIP detaches a significant portion of the ” blue collar vote” from its lifelong habit of voting Labour. THis is not certain to happen but it is not impossible.

George Wallace was a game changer who never held national office. His failed attempt at third party politics paved the way for the Reagan landslide as the South turned Republican in a seismic change in electoral history. That had once been unthinkable.

Subsequently, the US South moved on from its history of racial tension far more successfully than its Northern victors. The fastest growing city economies today are largely in those Southern States, notably Texas Georgia and The Carolinas.

Mississippi -for all its continuing problems – has more black elected officials than any other State in the Union.

Conversely, the racial and poverty divide is now most deeply to be found in the North, in cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Washington.

Wallace triggered a political change that brought with it economic resurgence. He almost certainly never foresaw or planned it; he had some pretty bad supporters along the way and yet his intervention in mid-20th century history has proved beneficial in breaking the mould of politics. He was far more significant in this than our own comparison, the SDP -which also never quite made it.

Brother Ivo is not blind to the deficiencies of George Wallace: he was possibly Brother Ivo’s first political “hate figure”, growing up as he did during the Civil Rights years and thrilling to the words of Dr Martin Luther King”. Yet Dr King worked with Lyndon Johnson to achieve lasting beneficial change despite Johnson being every bit the racist as George Wallace.

Johnson calculated that his “Great Society” welfare programmes would earn the support of the American black voters for generations. It did, but it also consigned them to generations of dependency poverty from which they have never escaped, despite persistently voting Democrat, and all the efforts at PC correction.

Conversely it was in Wallace’s South that the economy powered on, and it is in that environment that we are seeing the free market black conservatives making their mark with people like like Alan West, Herman Cain and Conoleeza Rice.

It would however, be foolish to make too close a comparison between either the men or the context.

History does suggest however that every so often a figure catches the wave of public opinion and discontent with the status quo , and changes the political landscape decisively. Nobody would have predicted that about George Wallace and he was rightly criticised for his obviously immoral rhetoric.

He did however prove one of Brother Ivo’s favourite principles that it is always better to be under estimated.

If things turn out as Brother Ivo suspects, Mr Farrage will have a contribution in the reconfiguring of future politics. Come what may, the others will have to react. UKIP will have been be part of a movement to put down the mighty and the complacent from their seats.

How one reconciles biblical prophesy and Schadenfreude is above the pay grade of this humble commentator.

“The Jew who died for you”

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There is a topical controversy over the release of a video released by the organisation “Jews for Jesus” entitled “The Jew who died for you”

As taste of both the problem and the video itself may be viewed ”here”

Brother Ivo almost hesitates to get involved. Theological discourse within the Jewish culture may be above his humble pay grade, and it does feel rather like intruding into an argument between a recently divorced couple. The dispute is probably overhung with regrets, disappointments, misunderstandings and recriminations, and so one ought not to be surprised that raw nerves are touched.

On the one side, stands a community defending the memory of a horrific past from any taint of perceived desecration, whilst on the other, a group with a clear mission imperative to take the name of Jesus to every corner of the earth wishes to take Christ even into the darkest of places to bring his message of hope and redemption. Why wouldn’t they want to take the Good News into even the worst parts of their cultural history if it has been helpful to their understanding of almost incomprehensible evil?

Brother Ivo wishes the Jewish community nothing but good. His family has historic ties of friendship and obligation to them. He had a Jewish Uncle. His father, as a young man, welcomed the children off the Kinder trains at Liverpool Street Station, and worked for Jewish companies for much of his working life. Brother Ivo worked in an equal partnership with a both a Jew and a Muslim. He is an unapologetic supporter of the right of Israel to exist.

He finds it slightly uncomfortable to set these matters out, but sometimes it is helpful to present the credentials of warmth and respect before addressing such a difficult subject. If he blunders, it is through foolishness not malice.

In the interests of full  transparency, his church has welcomed Jews for Jesus in their teaching capacity, not to tell us how to evangelise Jews, but  rather  to present from their unique cultural perspective an explanation of the Jewish Passover customs, so that our Maunday Thursday understanding of the Last Supper might be better informed.

He watches the dispute with sympathy  both ways.

The holocaust is uniquely powerful in its power of warning. One can see how the Jewish Community wants to keep it untainted as a sacred memory to those who were lost; yet whilst it was overwhelmingly targeted at the Jews, it was not exclusively so.

Christians have also found that our most precious of symbols, the image of the crucified Christ, has been used and abused both commercially and “artistically”, most notably in the notorious “Piss Christ” that placed a crucifix in a tank of urine.

It is not easy for Brother Ivo to place that image at the top of this post, but it is intended to illustrate his own willingness to face the uncomfortable as he invites others to do so.

Many Christians find that image  incredibly offensive though not all; the prominent art critic Sister Wendy Beckett was more sympathetic to that piece than Brother Ivo, and used it to point to the utter rejection of Christ by the world. To her, he very desecration made Christ’s redeeming love even more transformational. more amazing.

Brother Ivo is not entirely sure he agrees, but he sees her point.

So our Jewish friends may at least be assured of one thing and that is that their Christian brothers and sisters, – even the Jews for Jesus variety – have some understanding of their discomfort over the tampering with a sacred idea/image.

Brother Ivo watched the offending video  “The Jew who died for you”and can see the point of its makers.

There are four component parts.

We are reminded of the fate of the Jews. That footage  and cinematic iconography looks no different from that of Schindler’s list.

We see the awful point of selection where some turn one way towards a living hell, whilst others are directed to the gas chambers. There is undoubtedly something of Pilot in this moment of decision. The choser has power of life and death which he can exercise arbitrarily; the victim stands powerless. That is historically accurate and disrespects none of the victims.

The difficulty begins with the depiction of Christ within the line of those to be judged. Yet no Christian can be in any doubt that Christ would place himself on the side of the oppressed and the outcast. Even some Jewish scholars might accept that Christ’s teaching, set as it was entirely within a thoroughly Jewish context and life, would hardly place himself with the oppressor. He is rejected as “Just another Jew”.

If that so offensive? To the Nazis who rejected Christ and his followers as “weak” and soft on the  “sub-human”, was Christ not equally rejectable, no better that the other victims and undeniably Jewish? To them, the oppressor – who has since been overthrown – their false doctrine may be described  plainly but safely precisely because  it has itself been comprehensively rejected.

There then comes a written quotation from the Jewish Scripture, Isaiah 53 4-5

“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”

Some have taken this intrusion to suggest that the Holocaust is been justified by the video, as if the Jews were being punished ( as Jews) by God.

That surely is seeking offence where none is intended.

Atonement is a very Jewish concept. Christians, including Jews for Jesus, cannot be criticised for telling the truth as they have received it,  that Christ is the fulfilment of the scriptural promises of the Messiah and that he carried his cross to the point of agonising death to atone for all mankind’s sin, notably the separation from God. In our understanding, how could Christ not be there in the line, in the rejection, in the suffering?

Surely, it  is not simply the video that some critics complain of, but that central message, yet Christian’s can no more backtrack from that, than Muslims from the idea that Mohamed brought the final revelation of God to the world.

Our Jewish friends do have an important right to respect for what the Holocaust means to them, but within the experiences there were indeed redemptive acts notably that of Maximilian Kolbe the Catholic priest who volunteered to take the place of a condemned Jewish family man and like  Christ embraced self sacrificial suffering that others might live.

You can’t take the Holocaust out of Jewish history; but you cannot take Christ out of it either.

Our scriptures, both those which are shared and those which are separate, speak of those events and help us to make sense of them. The evil of the Holocaust was overcome in history and its meaning is transformable from the intentions of those who perpetrated it  by the very scriptures that we share.

Psalm 10 expresses this in a Jewish context

 1 Why standest thou afar off, O Lord? why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble?

2 The wicked in his pride doth persecute the poor: let them be taken in the devices that they have imagined.

3 For the wicked boasteth of his heart’s desire, and blesseth the covetous, whom the Lord abhorreth.

4 The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts.

5 His ways are always grievous; thy judgments are far above out of his sight: as for all his enemies, he puffeth at them.

6 He hath said in his heart, I shall not be moved: for I shall never be in adversity.

7 His mouth is full of cursing and deceit and fraud: under his tongue is mischief and vanity.

8 He sitteth in the lurking places of the villages: in the secret places doth he murder the innocent: his eyes are privily set against the poor.

9 He lieth in wait secretly as a lion in his den: he lieth in wait to catch the poor: he doth catch the poor, when he draweth him into his net.

10 He croucheth, and humbleth himself, that the poor may fall by his strong ones.

11 He hath said in his heart, God hath forgotten: he hideth his face; he will never see it.

12 Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up thine hand: forget not the humble.

13 Wherefore doth the wicked contemn God? he hath said in his heart, Thou wilt not require it.

14 Thou hast seen it; for thou beholdest mischief and spite, to requite it with thy hand: the poor committeth himself unto thee; thou art the helper of the fatherless.

15 Break thou the arm of the wicked and the evil man: seek out his wickedness till thou find none.

16 The Lord is King for ever and ever: the heathen are perished out of his land.

17 Lord, thou hast heard the desire of the humble: thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear:

18 To judge the fatherless and the oppressed, that the man of the earth may no more oppress.

Brother Ivo principally observes from his Christian perspective, but it is surely no offence to the lost to remark that God can and does  transform even those darkest of times.

“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”

The ” controversial” video testifies to that truth.

As we Christians would say –

God is

He is  as He is in Jesus Christ

So there is hope.

Out of the mouths of babes….

Those of you who read Brother Ivo’s Good Friday post will know that his church explored the harrowing three hours of the crucifiction through its colours. Before that service, a children’s service used the same approach.

The presiding priest had been sent a quotation earlier in Lent which asked ” What does hope look like?”

She had kept it with her throughout Lent and prayed with it. She had not quite reached a conclusive answer as she talked with the gathered children at their service, taking them through the symbolism of the colours.

At the end of the service a little seven year old approached her confidently and told her that there was a colour missing.

The Priest encouraged her by asking which one, to which the little one pointed out that between black and white, there was gray.

“And what might that stand for?” she  asked?

Without hesitation, before cheerfully skipping off, the little girl replied “Hope”

Out of the mouths of babes.

Perhaps hope looks something like such a little child.

Her name is Grace.

If you are having a bad day, Brother Ivo hopes this helps, and invites you to give thanks that hope is indeed brought to you by Grace.

The Ecology of Political Institutions

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David Cameron’s attempts to build bridges with those parts of Christian community opposed to the re-definition of marriage by praising the faith has opened up another wound for him, as the monstrous regiment of the priggishly offended, duly lined up behind the writers of the oppositional letter to the Daily Telegraph, shrieking like maiden aunts at a Chipperfields Review.

Actually, Brother Ivo takes that back; some of the broadest minded, most tolerant people he has known have been somewhat severe looking ladies whose observations on the follies of the rest of us were acute incisive and instructive.

What is intriguing is that those who are complaining  about  the PM’s. assertion that Britain is a Christian country, would almost certainly be equally assertive that they are “friends of the earth” ( capitalised or uncapitalised). How strange it is that they do not apply their thinking logically and broadly across the disciplines. Only connect.

Let Brother Ivo explain through a seemingly divergent illustration.

Researchers in the United States were recently tasked with improving the flood risk in a part of the country which was suffering rather like our own West Country. After much study they reached the conclusion that things had started to go wrong when the wolf had been removed from the local ecology.

The wolf had predate on deer. In its absence the deer population had expanded. The growing population was no longer wary of grazing the riverbanks, and both ate and trampled young riverbank saplings. The absence of saplings had resulted in decline in the beaver population which no longer dammed the rivers and created flood plains.

In short, taking out the top predator had disastrous consequences downstream. The presence of a wolf population had its downsides not only for deer, but farmer’s livestock, and yet the costs of their absence to the ecology both near and far was devastating.

Those who signed the letter calling for the removal of Christianity from public life, decrying its historic naughtiness, would of course, be equally united in decrying the removal of wolf from its role as top predator in the ecological pyramid. Ask them to explain and protect the complex web of relationships in the natural world and they will have both energy and understanding,  protesting to maintain the smallest variant of of an obscure weed rather than give way to a road by-pass.

So why the blind spot?

Why the seemingly total incapacity to understand that the Constitution of Britain, and indeed all the Constitutions and Institutions of the Anglosphere and the other political environments which evolved from the Protestant Reformation,. are themselves illustrative of the much approved principle ” survival of the fittest”.

Those who seek to preserve the natural world in aspic are frequent the same people perversely cavalier in tearing down the finely tuned political ecosphere which is responsible for the happy free and once tolerant society in which they have lived.

In Britain, our Established Church is an amazingly successful coalition of Catholic, Liberal, Evangelical and Charismatic views. We frequently contend seriously and passionately on deeply held issues. We do not share, still less enforce, much doctrinal orthodoxy and yet a bloody history of contention has taught us much an this has passed by osmosis into the body politic.

The tolerance we learned to accord each other, based upon good Queen Elizabeth I ‘s disinclination to “open a window on men’s souls” influenced the political sphere so that we are greatly blessed that traditionally, our political leaders have been opponents not enemies.

That is currently under threat from the doctrinaire ” progressives” and other heirs to the more European forms of the “Enlightenment” – the wonderful folks that brought you the French Revolution, Marxism and Fascism, whilst dear old fashioned Britain stuck with a Constitutional settlement that bemuses the narrowly logical in the same way that an ant cannot appreciate what goes on beyond its programmed allegiance to its narrowly understood community.

It is should be a historical joy that somehow we have benefitted from this guided evolution. At many decision points, there has been intelligent design -and those intelligent values have been predominantly Christian.

Instead of scrapping the past and building afresh on atheist logic -the North Korean and Albanian model –  we have traditionally and pragmatically built upon our Reformation and Restoration past,

In this distinctly British political ecology, the Lion has learnt to live with the Unicorn, and the lambs have been happy to prosper in that same environment. It is why Ed Milliband’s father was able to find refuge here, though he did tend to ungraciously bite the hand that fed him.

Why did so many faiths find a home here if not because they could prosper under the penumbra of our Christian Establishment?

Once, there was strict legislation against Catholics, Jews, and Non-Conformists but isn’t the point that our Established Church and associated Institutions have demonstrated the capacity to both evolve and nurture that which is not itself?

What the Telegraph signatories do not seem to take into account ( or more worryingly not even to know) is that in an environment it matters who the top predator is.

Mouthing words about “diversity” whilst sawing the trunk of the tree under which you -and it -have flourished is simply crass.

Many of course are the same folk using their free speech to promote Government regulation of the press.

Diversity, of itself does not develop tolerance or peaceful co-existence. Syria is diverse, so is Lebanon. It is secular “liberal” France that has banned the veil, and secular America that hounds Christianity from the public space through litigation.

If you want to see what happens when you remove institutions in diversity rich countries you may go to any number of failed states which struggle to bring together suspicious factions.

Those willing to break the institutional eggs to make a diversity omelette actually have no idea how they will put Humpty together again.

Building a tolerant free country is a long slow process. Our country went through that difficult and costly centuries ago and whilst the architecture of its happy outcome is hardly characterised by its clean logical lines, it still manages to hold us together.

Those who believe that there is a functional alternative might usefully put their talents to the test by building some prototype institutions which demonstrate similar resilience and strength to that of Christian Britain. Good luck bringing the gay, the Islamic, the vegan and the tribal into your Ark.

In contrast, we already have within our Established Church, huge diversity. In our Christian Monarch we have a wise Queen welcomed as Head of State or Commonwealth across the largest network of family and political ties in the world. Our Parliament holds multi party, multi faith views: none of this was designed, but came about by the very natural selection that the National Secular Society is anxious to teach in our schools.

How strange therefore, that they and the Metro-liberals who distain the Established order never pause to reflect that this country remains amongst the best to live in precisely because the Christian faith, analogous to a ” top predator”,  has shaped the environment for the benefit of all, whether they know it or not.

To those who signed the Telegraph letter, Brother Ivo remembers and adapts the old First World War Bruce Bairnfather cartoon of the soldier Old Bill.

” If you know a better political ecology -go to it”!

The Colour Purple

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Here is Brother Ivo’s part of a Good Friday Service, watching  at the foot of the cross

This afternoon we shall be observing the time of Christ’s death upon the cross and considering its significance through six separate reflections. The scheme of these reflections this year is to do so through the colours of the story, an approach which is inspired by a series of paintings commissioned by Blackburn Diocese.

It falls to me to begin our time together reflecting upon the colour purple.

A theme I shall develop is that the colour purple had  a number of important cultural resonances within the Jewish culture which we shall see at various points of the bible

There are, of course, within our own culture, a number of similar cultural references around the colour purple which we may also call to mind.

There is a Pulizter Prize winning novel by Alice Walker “The Colour Purple” which is all about someone at the very bottom of the social scale , an abused and ill-regarded outcast.

We shall find this, here, at the foot of the cross, where Christ has been rejected by the crowd and given over to the authorities to be crucified on the municiple rubbish dump, in place of a common criminal

In our culture we speak of ‘Purple patches’, which were originally a figurative reference to florid literary passages, added to a text for dramatic effect. They were the literary equivalent of adding a patch of purple material to an otherwise undecorated garment. Jesus is treated as a fraud: he may wear a purple robe, but it is only for the purposes of mockery, it convinces nobody and serves only to enhance their contempt for one who said he was theMessiah – but wasn’t.

Traditionally,  if one was “born in the purple”  you were within a category of members of royal families born during the reign of their parent. This was later loosely expanded to include all children born of prominent or high ranking parents.The parents had to  be prominent at the time of the child’s birth so that the child is always in the spotlight and destined for a prominent role in life. A child born before the parents become prominent would not be “born in the purple.” The color purple refers to Tyrian Purple restricted by law, custom and the expense of creating it to royalty.

Jesus was plainly “born in the purple” , born during his father’s reign and entitled to be accorded the greatest of respect – but He does not get it. He does not claim it as His due. Rather than speak and take his birthright, he remains silent in solidarity with the poor, the outcast, the rejected and the condemned.

Finally in this modern section , some of you may know the famous poem by Jenny Joseph called

Warning

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.

Jenny Joseph is giving a warning to all who has expectations of her; they will all be proved wrong. Assumptions shall be turned upside down when she takes to herself the colour purple.

I suspect that as we examine the Biblical references to the various colours we shall find that all is indeed not as we expect.

So as we pass through the service let us be prepared to be wrong  footed. We are entering a reflective time of paradox, we are almost passing through the looking glass and will find things transmute and surprise.

In our Exodus passage, selected by me for this part of the service, from Chapter 27 Verses 12-19, we hear who God sets out what His Temple should look like and how it is to be constructed. It is palatial. The specifications are precise and lavish. in the chapters leading to this one He sets out how the chest, table, lampstand, dwelling and courtyard are to be configured.

9-11 “Make a Courtyard for The Dwelling. The south side is to be 150 feet long. The hangings for the Courtyard are to be woven from fine twisted linen, with their twenty posts, twenty bronze bases, and fastening hooks and bands of silver. The north side is to be exactly the same.

12-19 “For the west end of the Courtyard you will need seventy-five feet of hangings with their ten posts and bases. Across the seventy-five feet at the front, or east end, you will need twenty-two and a half feet of hangings, with their three posts and bases on one side and the same for the other side. At the door of the Courtyard make a screen thirty feet long woven from blue, purple, and scarlet stuff, with fine twisted linen, embroidered by a craftsman, and hung on its four posts and bases. All the posts around the Courtyard are to be banded with silver, with hooks of silver and bases of bronze. The Courtyard is to be 150 feet long and seventy-five feet wide. The hangings of fine twisted linen set on their bronze bases are to be seven and a half feet high. All the tools used for setting up The Holy Dwelling, including all the pegs in it and the Courtyard, are to be made of bronze.

Care is taken over the screen as a prototype of future Temples. Its colours are rich and ornate, regal and impressive

Later, Solomon’s Temple will also screen the holiest part of the Temple the Holy of Holies with a veil, this veil will be ripped in two at the moment of Christ’s death. even the holiest and richest site of worship constructed by human hand and invested with generations of prayer cannot withstand the power and blasphemy of what happens when Christ is crucified.

Riches and respect, sanctity and sacrifice will be rejected in that moment of ultimate sacrifice. Your rich cultural icons will be as of naught at that moment rejected and broken just as your Lord has been rejected and broken.

This is not the only cultural reference to purple we may find in the Bible

In the book of Estha the heroine of the story is an orphan Jewish girl who becomes Queen and  saves her people with the help of her cousin Mordecai who foils a plot against the King; Estha’s husband, the King, honours her people and Mordecai.

Mordecai walked out of the king’s presence wearing a royal robe of violet and white, a huge gold crown, and a purple cape of fine linen. The city of Susa exploded with joy. For Jews it was all sunshine and laughter: they celebrated, they were honored. It was that way all over the country, in every province, every city when the king’s bulletin was posted: the Jews took to the streets in celebration, cheering, and feasting. Not only that, but many non-Jews became Jews.

The Jewish festival of Purim was thus established – by one being honoured in Purple.

At Calvary the story is turned upside down.

He who wears the  purple is not honoured. The Jewish people are venomous towards the saviour. At this point of the story there is no celebration or cheering.

We are seeing a mirror image  of God’s saving of the people.

We, as people of the resurrection times, may know the next step in the story, but for now, we must see and understand how mankind exercises its free will to disorder God’s benificence towards us.

In the book of Daniel, King Belshazzar  needs an inscription translated and Daniel can do it. He is rewarded

“Belshazzar did what he had promised. He robed Daniel in purple, draped the great gold chain around his neck, and promoted him to third-in-charge in the kingdom.”

So here again we see the purple used as a reward, a mark of distinction and favour.

In the Song of Solomon there is another symbolism to the colour purple, less regal but in this context, shockingly dissonent

1-4 Restless in bed and sleepless through the night,I longed for my lover.

I wanted him desperately. His absence was painful.

So I got up, went out and roved the city,
hunting through streets and down alleys…..

King Solomon once had a carriage built
from fine-grained Lebanon cedar.
He had it framed with silver and roofed with gold.
The cushions were covered with a purple fabric,
the interior lined with tooled leather.

11 

Come and look, sisters in Jerusalem.
Oh, sisters of Zion, don’t miss this!
My King-Lover,
dressed and garlanded for his wedding,
his heart full, bursting with joy!

Here,  the women of Jerusalem are being invited to come and admire the bridegroom, to marvel at his opulent status symbol carriage.

How this jars with the purple draped whipped figure, standing in his near nakedness.

Yet he too also about to consummate his destiny in a totally different, shocking manner,

As St John tells us, he too is garlanded – with a crown of thorns

He too is bursting but not with joy, rather with compassion sadness. He too is presented to those who have come to see; he too is greeted – with violent humiliating rejection.

  1. John 19:1-3  So Pilate took Jesus and had him whipped. The soldiers, having braided a crown from thorns, set it on his head, threw a purple robe over him, and approached him with, “Hail, King of the Jews!” Then they greeted him with slaps in the face.
  2. John 19:4-5 Pilate went back out again and said to them, “I present him to you, but I want you to know that I do not find him guilty of any crime.” Just then Jesus came out wearing the thorn crown and purple robe. Pilate announced, “Here he is: the Man.”

Earlier I said that Jesus could have claimed his birthright, could have claimed his due. I said that he did not,  but by the end of our watching with him, by the end of our reflections, I think we shall find that paradoxically, he does.

In a very real sense, he does in fact claim His birthright which is to be the redemptive sacrifice, the sinless perfect lamb who is slain.

I suggested that as we considered the significance of the crucifixion, we should need to be prepared to enter the world of paradox, where things are not as they seem

So it is with the colour purple; it is a colour of privilege  but it is offered to him in mockery.

He will confound the expectation of all who mock him. He will turn upside down everything they think they know about the Messiah.

They expected a warrior on a charger, they got a simple working man on a donkey.

They thought he would establish a kingdom of this earth, He establishes one for eternity.

He is however His Father’s Son, born in the purple, and a warning to all who think they have made God in their own image,

He is fulfilling His Father’s redemptive purpose.

He is entitled to the colour purple because he is the Servant King.

Who will you pray for this Holy Week?

Some months ago, the CEO of the Church Army, Mark Russell, wrote that he had a photograph of each of his staff members, and that he looked at them and  prayed for each in turn, each day. This is a good discipline for those in authority. The Patriarch, the Liege Lord, the Abbott, all in authority should have acted as the good shepherd from historical times and the CEO is but the latest incarnation. It applies to the Head Teacher, shift  supervisor, Police Sergeant or anyone else.

How much easier is it to be a right relationship of authority towards others than to pray for them, and when is a better time to do this, than in this most serious time of the Church Year?

With brother Mark’s example in mind, Brother Ivo has been praying throughout Lent for members of the congregation with whom he worships weekly. Most he knows by name, but inevitably in a largish and thankfully growing congregation, there are some he can only call to mind in a partial way. “So and so’s wife”, the old man who sits by the door, the children in our 30 strong children’s choir. Yet this is still a good practice and discipline; they are, after all, “known unto God” if not the deputy, assistant, under-shepherd.

He also has been praying for those he knows who are sick and in special need. High on that list has been Catherine Wybourne  aka “Digitalnun” as she has undergone surgery which inevitably has limited the ministry of encouragement she has developed in the new media. Please join in those prayers.

These are in many ways the easy folk to pray for. We know them personally or distantly, and like them. Holy week offers a separate challenge.

Archbishop Justin recently spoke of how he managed to build relationships with hostage takers when he undertook the difficult and dangerous work of negotiating the liberation of captives. He explained that he started by trying to find something her truly liked or admired in the perpetrator’s character, and this helped him move beyond a natural revulsion for their acts.

Is that not what Jesus did for us in Holy Week?

All of us will, and should, be keenly aware of our unworthiness of his sacrifice in this sombre time as we contemplate the lead up to the day of crucifixion.

Last night, Brother Ivo walked his way through the stations of the cross led by a young fine African Minister who punctuated his reflection of each of Christ’s painful stages with the reflection “This is for me”.

It was profound, and pronounced with encouraging certainty.

If you have not yet engaged with Holy Week, or not yet achieved an engagement in a satisfactory way ( it happens ) then take that short statement to heart and try contemplating any one of the cruelties or indignities inflicted upon Our Lord and Master, suffering he accepted voluntarily for us.

He fell three times, yet each time got up.

Brother Ivo found himself asking, “Why?- why get up? Why do what his tormentors chose?

The answer came back clearly. “Because He chose to”.

So, “This is for me”.

And so Brother Ivo reflects on another teaching.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus tells us to ” Go and do thou likewise”.

He does not ask all of us to follow him to crucifixion, though many in this world are persecuted for His sake. Yet if he pressed on for us with patient determination in the face of our unworthiness, perhaps we can take a little of that and use it in our Holy Week prayers.

Perhaps we should be following Archbishop Justin’s thought and christian discipline, finding someone we don’t care for or approve, identifying why we might wish to make make a small sacrifice of prayer for them, and then pray for them in these closing days to the day of redemption.

Maybe you can pray for Michael Gove, or Vladimir Putin, Mo Answar or Russell Brand. This can be your sacrificial choice.

Brother Ivo can testify to how this can be transformative..

At the time of the 9/11 attack, he vividly recalls the newsreel of how George  W Bush received the news whilst reading a story to school children and how he decided that his chosen staff would be capable of managing things whilst he finished the story without worrying the little ones.

Brother Ivo had not wanted him to become President, and yet in that moment and subsequent times, realised that whatever his earlier views, or the President’s inadequacies, real or imagined, here was a man in need of prayer. So Brother Ivo prayed for him then then and subsequently; he prayed for one he did not approve and it changed his perception and hopefully his state of grace.

When you pray for someone, it is hard to remain hard hearted or indifferent towards them, it breaks the impasse, and liberates us to move forward, which is why we need to do this regularly. The prayers will help the other person, Jesus has promised that, but it will also help us, our intolerances, our sense of superiority, our anger.

Should you find yourself questioning why you are praying for an unworthy specimen of humanity, remind yourself that it is part of you Holy Week discipline and that you will be blessed as you call blessing upon those with whom you are not yet in a state of love and charity.

If all else fails, repeat these words and focus on the figure dragging himself to calvary for you.

“This is for me”.

 

The wisdom of the “Historic Problem”

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When Lady Thatcher made the decision to hand Hong Kong back to China, nobody was more surprised than the recipients of her legalistic approach. She was a person who was culturally programmed to honour a legal agreement and so, when the lease of the territory expired, it was second nature to her to honour the terms of the original treaty.

The Chinese Government was reportedly pleased, but surprised and unprepared for such straightforward dealing, for they had mentally  resigned  themselves for a diplomatic impasse.

For them, a failure to honour the agreement was expected, and they had readied themselves to see the issue kicked into the long grass; they had a politically cultural concept called the “Historic Problem” which was tailor made for this kind of difficulty. They wanted an outcome, but were quite pragmatic and patient if it did not come about at any given time.

It is a most useful concept, and one we in the West would do well to understand and adopt.

This last week has seen a number of issues and occasions where it might come in useful.

The Queen has welcomed the first Irish President on a State visit. That is a historic first, but equally important she welcomed Martin McGuiness, a former IRA commander, to a white tie and tails reception.

She has been welcomed by the Pope and for the first time wore lilac instead of the customary black. The Pope has acknowledged her spiritual status and asked her to pray for him. There is no ready healing of schism, yet the two can walk together in fellowship.

In another small first, Archbishop Justin has taken part in an LBC radio phone -in explaining the problems which the Church has in recognising gay marriage. This and women bishops have huge implications for Anglicans in an African context where people can die in such controversies. He explained that he has to be very circumspect in what he says for important pastoral reasons.

Sajid Javid has succeeded Maria Miller as Culture Secretary, becoming the first Cabinet Minister of Muslim origin and, as an opponent of Gay Marriage, is stepping into the shoes of one who piloted that legislation through.

In each of these cases a recourse to the idea of the “Historic Problem” is a wise course of action we can do well to adopt.

Our cultural mindset is always to resolve problems swiftly, to contend, to vote, to triumph. Yet some problems will never be solved in that way. Even a triumph does not always make the problem go away as the Ulster context readily demonstrates.

Her Majesty provoked some surprise and criticism for inviting Mr McGuiness to break bread wither her, given his terrorist background. Having said that, no doubt Mr McGuiness will have received similar criticism for accepting her invitation. Both have lost close family or friend in the lengthy conflict.

Her Majesty has experience of bringing a long spoon with her to such meetings, having  necessarily entertained a long succession of tyrants and dictators whilst discharging her duties on our behalf. Mr McGuinness cannot have been a more distasteful guest to someone of her generation than Emperor Hirohito, or any number of post-colonial despots who have crossed her threshold.

If she can cope, then so must we.

There will have been significantly less tensions at the meetings between the Queen, the Pope and the Archbishop. That this is the case, only goes to prove that patience and time draw the sting from the recollections of past controversies. One can intellectually re-fan the flames, but the wise do not do so, anymore than the father of the Prodigal Son began his greeting with a litany of his son’s folly and ingratitude.

So it needs to be as Mr Javid takes up his ministerial brief.

Brother Ivo does not know the degree to which Mr Javid maintains his family faith; Brother Ivo is with Queen Elizabeth I on this one – disinclined to make a window into men’s souls. It is perfectly reasonable for Mr Javid to hold to his views whether they are religiously based, culturally based or even out of respect for the family and culture from which he comes.

Brother Ivo hopes that in this country we follow the Chinese example of long term tolerance: if that is culturally dissonant we can always pray in aid Nelson with his telescope who famously “saw no ships”.

There is a time to see a problem, there is a time to lay it aside for another time. The more militant gay activists have yet to learn this wisdom, as they complain at his appointment, but we can be patient ourselves and have recourse to the lovely teaching of Ecclesiastes that “To every thing there is a season”.

Put another way, not every historic problem needs to be resolved today.