So hello world - and thank you for welcoming me at 50!. Arriving at such a milestone is sobering on the one hand and empowering on the other. Those who know me well would expect me to have something to say having arrived at my half century - so here they are - 21 life lessons from a 50 year old...
With over 200,000 having now signed the petition to ban Donald Trump from British soil the debate as to how we live peacefully, respectfully and with tolerance has never raged louder. His inflammatory comments this week enraged many as he has taken national security to fascist extremes and labelled a whole people group as the authors of terror and unveiled his master plan: ban the lot of them. That's right, let’s have a carpet ban on all Muslims entering the USA. Let's not treat people as individuals; lets group them together - lets label them well and lets deny them entry and let's do this until we now 'what's going on'.
Now that is what we call the politics of fear.
That is exposing people's primary fear, twisting it and using it for political advantage.
You want to stop people living in fear? Then encourage people to stop selling guns that might help. America has 89 guns for every one hundred people - the highest per head of any country in the world.
Why not instead Mr Trump use your money to create a fairer and more equal world? Instead of using it to buy influence use it to build freedom and liberation across a global community. Why not fund Academies of Global Reconciliation where we can sit and listen to and talk to each; using debate and dialogue as the means of building communities of tolerance and mutual respect and then, out of that mutuality and shared humanity discuss national security from the perspective of people living together with a sense of shared values, equity and purpose. Perhaps then we would be in a better position to sift out the ideologies of evil that can breed amongst faith communities of all kinds.
Using fear to drive agendas is bad politics, lousy business and dreadful religion and we all need to do better - a lot better. So during this season of Advent let’s take the words of the angel when she visited Mary with the announcement she would give birth to the Christ child. 'Fear not,' not he said, as the young virgin sought to make sense of her life and what was happening. And 'Fear Not' is the message that still speaks from the stable today. God doesn't deal in the politics of fear but of love. He doesn't drive people to respond to him - he woos them, and in a world being divided by fear and hatred that message needs to be heard. So let's be clear - the coming of Christ into the world was not associated with a message of fear but of love and even Donald will find it difficult to trump that.
When, like this week, a nation goes to war the emotions of its people are released – anger, fear, resilience, resignation, defiance – we witness a gambit of feelings breaking out along with a myriad of voices to accompany them. What will be the outcome? Doesn’t violence beget violence? Are the actions just? These are just some of the questions that rise from such actions – and that’s only in my head. Yet out of it all I am sure the majority of us are simply asking: How do we find peace in our time? How do we secure a future for our children that will allow them to flourish? How do we build a world that engenders equality for all?
But is peace in our time simply an illusion – a chasing after the wind. I mean, are we promised it? Is this what the Bible teaches? When the Prince of Peace is born in a stable in a town called Bethlehem, the great liberator and his mission of liberation began. Here the Saviour of humanity would be born to vulnerability whilst its people lived under the dominant rule of the global empire of the Romans. And then some thirty years later when his disciples called for him to take the seat of power and exercise rule as an act of defiance, he would instead take up a cross and die as an act of love. What does this teach me as to how I should act in the world?
As we enter Advent we need to remember that its message is principally one of hope since it is here in Bethlehem’s stable that the greatest liberation is secured, not through a Kalashnikov but a cradle; not through laser guided missiles but, as the story of the life of Jesus unfolds, an old rugged cross. And peace is secured there - for us all. Not peace in the absence of conflict but rather in the face of it. The disciples pleaded that he would rise up as a political leader that their Messiah would lead them to victory over their common enemy but Jesus had a different mission in mind – to liberate the human heart.
Embedded into the Christmas story is the revelation that as we connect with its message, as we internalise its truth, we are changed. And when we are changed, it matters less that our circumstances are changed. When the human heart is liberated it can no longer be held captive to fear or oppression. Terror cannot control its emotions nor determine its steps. Liberation of the heart is what Advent announces – and it leads us to the pathway of love. Not some sentimental simplistic notion that causes nausea or naivety but rather a gritty and principled walk that says love will triumph over evil and I will play my part in that triumph.
Advent is a proclamation. What followed was a journey, one that would take those infant feet on a mission of transforming love – a mission that he started and to which we are invited live out in our life – and in our time and never has that been more important than today.