This week I heard first hand some of the deep feelings held by people as they observe and engage with the ongoing European Refugee Crisis and it wasn’t pretty. Resentment spilled over into anger and anger boiled over in language best left out of an article such as this. My response was to listen, to seek to understand and finally to speak. ‘I’m in the compassion business,’ I replied, ‘and my first response is humanitarian,’ whilst realising that a humanitarian response is only a small part of the solution.
I came away pondering the conversation, wondering what is the barometer for making good judgements in a situation such as this? The anger that spilled over in both language and posture was clear – the source of that anger, well that is the real issue. We have to listen beyond the anger, the language and the posture to discover what’s really going on. It’s only then that we can choose our response. As I see it anger is driven from one of two things – fear or prejudice, but we have to identify which if we are to find ways to release it in a way that brings peace rather than hostility.
On the other hand I found myself applauding the bold audacity of Giles Fraser, Parish Priest in an inner city Parish, South London and writer for the Guardian, when from a profoundly Christian basis he released a broadside telling us to ‘Let them all in, every last one of them.’ Inside I agree – this has to be the way, an all-encompassing embrace of broken humanity whose plight is simply to search for the security that was mine by accident of birth. And then I sit down and think that through. What does that mean to my family at 8.30am on Tuesday morning when the house is at fever pitch preparing for the day ahead, and I bump into hypocrisy greeting me as I walk out of the front door.
Although I can identify with the idealism of Fraser’s, ‘Let’s dig up the greenbelt, create new cities, turn our Downtown Abbeys into flats,’ I equally realise the liberality of such gestures are easily spoken when they have no grounding in reality and I am torn between idealism and pragmatism and of living with the burden of knowing that at this time the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places whilst leaving others outside of the security I too easily take for granted. It feels so easy when all that is required of me is to like a certain page on Facebook, sign an online petition and pay my few quid to the Red Cross. It all seems so easy, so immediate, so proactive this activism stuff as long as I can contain it to my iPad. But what of the words of Jesus who says to me, ‘To he who is given much, from him much is required.’ Now that’s a real challenge.
Perhaps we’ve had it easy for too long, exploiting the world to our own advantage, building off the inheritance of imperialism, building our wealth and therefore power at the expense of those who have neither voice nor choice. Maybe the mass migration of peoples to the shores of Europe will stand out as the abiding image of our time reminding us all that we are simply guardians of the world, custodians of the planet and equality has to be the agenda for the global community.
History teaches us that the oppressed will not live in their oppression for ever. We need to work for a world when the powerful release the oppressed and not simply contain them. Our hierarchy needs to flat line, our power structures be clothed with humility and those who lead us with sufficient compassion to work in a world where everyone is our neighbour.
Our lobby should be for order in this newly emerging world that has justice and liberty at its heart and we should use the best brains, finance, philosophy, medicine and technology in this quest. We should not simply be recruiting for MI5 to bolster our main land security but interviewing those who can act as reconciliatory peacemakers across the globe having formed a new Office of Reconciliation.
The church must engage the prophetic imagination and join the debate with both creativity and conviction taking the broadsides of the Frasers of this world and using such provoke as medicine for our mission. Instead of trying to change the world for Christ we should seek to walk the world with Him. We should be the champions of such virtue as shown by Canon Andrew White and get people like him to train a generation of young men and women who will flood the world with love and grace – working hard to birth a movement of peacemakers.
We need to unearth attitudes that will allow for a different conversation that is based in grace and generosity. The pain of people’s brokenness allowed to be the voice of a new move that celebrates those who triumph through adversity and allow their experience to be shared as equal in value to any grade given in an examination hall.
We should realise the falling power of governments to bring change and recognise that true influence lies in the cathedrals of a modern world that are adorned with the emblems of capitalism and materialism and driven by the god who goes by the name of mammon. It is those doors we should knock at, those CEO’s we should petition; for the strings of the world are pulled by those who defy the monopolies commission to form conglomerates whose balance sheets would embarrass those of small, and not so small countries. The power lies where the money sits –and it is those who have access that should be leaned against heavily to use their wealth philanthropically in the world.
The pictures on our screens are not simply those of a people seeking refugee but rather the turning of a tide driven by globalisation and the internet of things. The world is repositioning and we need to have conversations that take us back to the heart of what it means to be human and what it means to have a truly human response and not simply a humanitarian one to the issues she brings. When people live without hope and face only fear, anger may be a justified response but when we think that our rights subjugate another person’s humanity we have strayed far from the heart of the Christ who died to bring reconciliation and surely the Church’s voice should be amongst the clearest in living and showing what it means to both model and live to that agenda and provide a means by which all peoples can live with equity.