Wednesday, 25 December 2013

A Song of Prophets and Angels

It's Christmas time when angels sing
Their song of offered joy
And prophets call in desert lands
Their hope-filled words deploy

We like the blue-eyed Christmas angels
The ones with tinsel in their hair
But to stop and listen to their words of love
Is something we seldom dare

As profits out-shout the prophets
Whose oft-heard words have lost their power
And the angels’ song is strangely silent
At the magical midnight hour

We’ve closed our ears to hearing
The heart-felt justice cry
We seem to be somehow blinded
To a love no money can buy

But even in our world today
Angels still sing their song of love
And prophets old and new still share
Their messages from One above

So in amongst the Christmas sparkles
Take a moment, try to hear,
A whispered message meant just for you
Live in love, live in hope, have no fear

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

I am here

And following on from my previous post... Having struggled to put into words my experience of St Chad's Sanctuary, I wondered if poetry might express it better. I don't know quite what I was aiming at, but it turned into this, written as if from the perspective of an asylum seeker. I'm not sure, really, I have the right to write from the perspective of an asylum seeker, after all, what would I know? But with that proviso, and in the hope that those who have lived the experience for real would understand that I hope to express something in support of them, not belittle their experiences, here it is:

I am here

And in amongst
The cold grey concrete
Is a silence
Which does not sing
Like the warm red dust
Of home

That offered hope
That does not seem
So golden as it looked
When glimpsed
From in amongst
My shattered
war torn

And will you look
And try to see
That I am me
Just me

Or will you turn
Your eyes away
From all I’ve lived
And loved
And lost

And will you hear
My children’s tears
For what they hoped
And dared to dream
That cannot be

Or will you turn
Your ears away
From faltered words
That cannot say
All I have brought
And wish to

And all is cold
So cold
As I stand hunched
Against harsh grey skies
And biting wind
And bitter, angry fear

You hold
A hand out to me
And speak
A whispered breath
Of warmth
And welcome

When you notice
That I
Just I
I am here

Sunday, 15 December 2013

I was a stranger and you made me welcome ...

As part of our community agreement, we have made an active commitment to volunteering in the city:

"Living as a Christian Community allows us to experience the love of God and the love of others, a love which inspires us to a ministry of service. Our community must be outward looking and mindful of the poor." 

As part of that commitment, I spend one day a week teaching English at St Chad's Sanctuary, a centre supporting refugees and asylum seekers.

I have wanted to write a post about St Chad's Sanctuary for a while. It has proved more difficult than I anticipated. There have been numerous false starts, and even now, I am not entirely convinced by the results. But at some point I just have to click publish and hope it makes some kind of sense.

I think the difficulty lies here: my day a week at St Chad's is a life-giving and positive experience. I want to write in celebration of something which I have come to value very highly. But those who come to St Chad's are among the most vulnerable of our society: people who have lived horrific experiences in their home countries, and who continue to suffer trials and exclusion here. How do I write of my joy in being with them, without appearing to glory in their suffering? How do I explain why a place where my students' descriptions of their lives can bring me close to tears, is a place of joy and life?

My students come from all over the world. Most have very little and they have often left much behind. Often they have come alone, leaving their families and bringing only their fears for their wellbeing. But for all their struggles, they are on average, the most motivated students I have ever taught, coming as they do with a deep desire to learn, to be able to be part of society here, and with a belief that something better is possible.

Perhaps ultimately, my love for St Chad's Sanctuary is very simple. It is a place that gives me life because it is a place of hope. In spite of everything in their past and their present, my students are people of hope. Perhaps because they know what real suffering looks like, they also know the meaning of true hope: a hope which is tangible, even if it is hard to explain. And I feel hugely privileged that they are able to share a part of that hope with me.

Monday, 9 December 2013

A sense of anticipation

Although it is now December, and we are well into the Season of Advent, it is not yet Christmas. I say this as a reminder to all those who may not have noticed. You could, after all, be forgiven for thinking Christmas was already here. I'm sure, for example, the Birmingham Christmas procession was lovely...but it was a Christmas procession and it happened ... ON THE SEVENTH OF NOVEMBER!!!

It seems to me this desire to begin our celebrations of Christmas early, rather than waiting for the 25th December and then allowing the celebrations to continue after it, is part of a wider culture, in which we have, collectively, lost our ability and our desire to anticipate. We have forgotten how to wait, forgotten that the end will be infinitely better precisely because of the waiting which precedes it.

Its not just about Christmas either, although it does become overwhelmingly obvious at this time of year. I have seen nursery and primary children "graduate", complete with cap and gown leaving little to look forward later; I recently heard of a family having a three-tiered cake for their baby's first birthday (and couldn't help wondering what their wedding cake would be like); "youth groups" which once catered for teenagers seem increasingly to be the domain of younger children; and I'm sure there are a multitude of other examples.

The most dangerous aspect of it is undoubtedly the credit culture, where a whole culture telling you that you don't have to wait has led to a spiralling personal debt crisis about which the entire establishment seems to be keeping its head firmly buried in the sand. It may sound like an exaggeration to equate putting up your Christmas tree on the first of December with the growth in the pay day loan industry, but I wonder if somewhere along the line they are symptoms of the same culture.

I am not saying I have got the balance right myself, in fact, I am fairly certain I haven't. Because although I have definitely not started celebrating Christmas yet, neither have I set aside enough time to actively anticipate the season to come (by which I don't mean getting my Christmas cards written, although that would probably not be a bad idea some time soon).

Waiting does not mean just "carrying on as usual for a bit longer before beginning" but actively looking forward. I think that is the point of the season of Advent in the church calendar: not to be a time of just carrying on as normal, nor to be a time to start celebrating Christmas already; but a time to actively look forward to celebrations to come; to live in the joyful hope of a future promise.

It is this "waiting in hope" which I fear we have somewhat lost and, although I don't know how, would like us to be able to collectively rediscover.