God is crying mid the carnage – a hymn at the time of Ukrainian Christmas

God is crying mid the carnage 
of a thousand broken bones; 
in the dust and fallen rubble 
of our long discarded homes.
Where our children play out stories 
of the visions they have seen, 
God is weeping over losses, 
knowing just what might have been.
What if love instead of horror 
filled the passion of our lives, 
could these stories be re-written 
where humanity survives?
God still with us, God among us, 
sow new seeds of love through grace; 
help us look at one another 
building hope in every place.
Andrew Pratt (8/1/2023)

Words © 2023 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England copyright@stainer.co.uk . Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd

Tunes: CROSS OF JESUS (Stainer); LAUS DEO (Redhead)

Written after listening to the BBC Radio 4 Sunday Service on 8/1/2023 ‘The message that Ukraine is trying to convey to the world as it celebrates its own Christmas Day’.

The programme posed the question, 'Where is God' in this war?

See also We hear the news in anguish
- Thoughts on pacifism
- God's on our side

Thoughts on Pacifism

I was once Chair of the Methodist Peace Fellowship. I sought to be a pacifist. I was aware that my pacifism had never been tested. Many members of the Fellowship had had their pacifism tried. At least one argued that our commitment to pacifism must be held even when there was injustice. My opinion then was that there could be no peace where there was injustice.

I was trained for ministry alongside an Anglican who had left the Army to train for the Priesthood with the intention of returning as a Chaplain. He had been disheartened by Chaplains who, in his opinion, had not known what it was like to be serving in the regular Army. He was, in no sense, arrogant. I trusted him and valued our conversations. I think my recollection is correct, that he believed that the world would never be free from war. Reflecting now I believe that we are genetically determined to enable our own survival. We are programmed to fight if we ae threatened. Biologically my friend was probably correct. To be pacifist is against our natural instinct.

The Spirit infects every word, every labour
of those who will follow, of those who will go,
through life full in step with the one some called ‘Master’,
the gentle word crafter of all that we know.

This golden tongued preacher, this living believer,
vivacious in Spirit, courageous in life,
in patient humility waited his moment,
to interpose love in the focus of strife.

And those who had heard him, and ones who came after,
would make the assertion, they’d looked in God’s eyes;
and if we can take up the challenge to follow
this Spirit will graciously love and surprise![i]

Reflecting on the gospel records of Jesus’ execution it seemed, and it still seems, to me that Jesus approach to violence was to interpose himself between the aggressor and the victim. This he did pre-eminently when his embodiment of love met those who would have him dead. He did not resist. He did not fight back. He forgave those who ‘knew not what they were doing’. To do otherwise would be a denial of the love with which he beheld his persecutors. For me this is the seemingly impossible expression of pacifism to which we are called.

It seems inhuman, who could kill
a single mother’s child?
What bitter hatred fires a man?
It seems they had run wild.

Good God, could you not intervene?
Yet once upon a cross
you interposed your human life
and suffered utter loss.

Is this the answer that you give:
use love to counter hate?
And have we courage, dare we risk,
before it is too late.

These children died as martyrs to
the violence we can spawn,
and still we pray, but will we act
to bring a peaceful dawn?[ii]

I remember a previous Chair of the Fellowship, Norwyn Denny, saying that if we were to emulate Christ we would go into wars as human shields. Emulating Christ we would put ourselves in the place of danger. The idea is utterly foolish, in no way expedient, yet I found this to be compelling. After all, the cross was not expedient.

 I pause…

I still believe in my heart that pacifism is an ideal to which I should aspire. Intellectually I would wish to be pacifist.

But I found a get out clause of sorts. Peter, the apostle, failed Jesus. This was not his intention. He said he would stand beside Jesus, yet he denied him. Jesus’ response, following the resurrection, was not to criticise or condemn Peter, but to extend peace to him and offer him a vocation. I still believe that our intention is the most important part of our Christian vocation. But we are human. We will not always succeed, We should intend to be pacifist, understanding that we will probably fail in our pacifism. Yet God will not abandon us.

And where am I now? Conscious that my own sense of pacifism is both frail and probably likely to fail. Conscience says to me that I cannot live in the political climate that pervades the world without offering some sort of resistance.

The question remains, just how passive can my response be? How long can I simply be a bystander in a world of injustice, simply writing, simply waiting? Just watching…

We hear the news in anguish to know what has been done, 
the cameras and recordists show hatred being spun, 
the sound of rockets falling fill broadcasts round the earth, 
Great God, what are we doing while children come to birth?

Our aspirations shudder, our hopes become as dust, 
through war machines are broken, dismembered, turned to rust. 
Our conversations stutter, our talks of peace – hot air, 
Great God, may acts of justice grow from the seeds of prayer.

No place is ever neutral when hatred fuels the fire, 
humanity unites us, let love be our desire.
Join hands across the barriers that other hands have made, 
until your world is mended and violence has been stayed. [iii]

[i] Andrew Pratt

Words © 2016 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England copyright@stainer.co.uk . Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd.

[ii] Andrew Pratt

Words © 2014Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England copyright@stainer.co.uk . Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd.

[iii] Andrew Pratt 28/2/2022 Written while watching the Russian-Ukraine conflict.

Words © 2022 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England copyright@stainer.co.uk . Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd.

The illogicality of faith

The illogicality of faith – Andrew Pratt 20th March 2022 first published Theology Everywhere 28/3/2022

It has been said that the earliest Christian creed was ‘Jesus is Lord’. It carried with it the understanding that for the Christian Jesus was the definitive model for human life and living. To say the words is easy but, for the most part we don’t take this seriously. If we did, finding out how Jesus lived in relation to people and mirroring that in our own lives would be our priority.
Beginning with that creed, we have built a religion predicated on the affirmation of beliefs rather than on ways of being. The consequence is that faithful living has become equated with this affirmation rather than on a recognition of the enormity that follows from embodying those beliefs. When they are attacked we spend time defending them and trying to diminish our detractors rather than demonstrating through our lives and actions that we accept Jesus as Lord. Our loss is that we dismiss this opposition often without hearing what its proponents are saying. Richard Dawkins, especially, I think largely because of his aggressive tone, has been side-lined. Some of what he has to say ought really to be understood if we are to recognise how difficult the call to faith actually is. This calling is unnatural.
A starting point for Jesus was not adherence to a creed, but with a call to love, demonstrated to the uttermost in how he lived and died. Deuteronomy 30:19 states: ‘I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore, choose life, that both you and your seed may live.’ If Jesus did have a creed, this was it. This choice of life is not referring to life after death, though you might want to define it as ‘eternal’ as being so utterly different from ordinary human life as to be ‘other’. The choice is existential, determinant for the very existence of humanity and love is at its centre. This is what I believe Jesus was pointing towards.
Dawkins in The Selfish Gene writes of his understanding that life continues from generation to generation by preferring aspects of living things which preserve them. Self-survival is hard-wired into out very being. That is why being selfless is so difficult. It is, by definition, unnatural. Human nature is counter to what Christians are supposed to espouse. Dawkins is, however, subtle. He addresses altruism. ‘Altruism’ may have advantages. It can make us feel good, but it can have other benefits which are not individual. He points out that care of another, in the long term, can help the whole population. This is simply utilitarian. It relates to the long-term survival of a species, in our case, humanity.
This, if we could see it, brings us back to Jesus Lordship. When we frame our statements as to what defines being Christian we need to be conscious that what is being asked of us is, firstly, apparently running counter to a strand of our being which is fine-tuned to self-interest. This demonstrates itself, for instance, in the uncritical development of hierarchy in the church. We have an inherent drive to survive and the higher up we rise, the greater the likelihood of survival.
It seems that Jesus is conscious of this, but his understanding reaches beyond the individual, beyond the tribe to encompass all of humanity. Jesus demonstrates not what to say, or believe, but how to live in a way which chooses life.
Two, illustrations undergird this. In Mark 1 Jesus is moved to reach out and touch a leper. This opens him to condemnation. It is physically and socially isolating, the opposite of being self-protective. In terms of the Greek words describing what is happening, he is viscerally moved so that he feels the person’s alienation as his own. This motivates him far more strongly than simply seeing it. He has to do something about it even if it is personally deleterious. Secondly, the Good Samaritan is moved to help in the very same way. The same language is used. Following this example puts us at a disadvantage but ultimately makes the body of humanity stronger, more inclusive, more likely to survive.
If we take Jesus as Lord, this is our model. It is not natural, in the sense of our biology, it works against our own existential longing, yet it offers salvation for humanity as a whole. The outcome enables the continued life of those despised or damaged. Finally, on the cross, those who have taken Jesus’ life are offered forgiveness. Had they been condemned, and such condemnation been our creed, humanity would have been diminished.
Moving to immediately current events, the events of war. I am conflicted. For whom do I feel compassion? The answer must be obvious. But Jesus interposes himself between those who espouse hatred and those who are hated to save both. He becomes victim to save both.
And can I follow? This is never as easy as giving assertion to any creed or belief.
This is no cheap grace.
© Andrew Pratt 2022