Tag Archive: poverty


Equilibrium & Stephen Fry

AMDG

This is an edited Version of the Homily Given at the Holy Name, Manchester on Feb 9th 2015

saving-face-behind-the-scene-1We all know the Genre of documentary where we get to follow 24hrs in the life of a celebrity … A day in the life of Paris Hilton – or Steven Gerard….. Well today’s gospel (Mark 1 29-37) gives us, without the cameras and the irritating commentary, A day in the life of Jesus Christ ….. It is at the beginning of Marks Gospel and is unusually full – the Healing of Peters Mother-in- Law, and then the healing of the crowds after sunset- and then the key –  Jesus’s pre-dawn prayer in a lonely place – and then his journey preaching and casting out devils.

If you were the producer of this programme – in the midst of all the demands being placed on Jesus – you would make that Prayer before the dawn the hinge moment of the documentary – that is the key scene. Sure all the miracles and his teaching would be very telegenic, but that period of prayer in a lonely place, on his own, before dawn is the key to understanding Jesus. It is here we see his union with the Father – it here we understand where he gets his power from, his energy and compassion…. And perhaps most interestingly it is here where we see how he keeps his equilibrium amongst so many demands and so many expectations.

JobWe all lead busy lives, and we know how easy it is to lose our balance and sense of perspective – Listen to Job in the first reading ‘Months of Delusion I have assigned for me – Nothing for my own but nights of grief’ It is easy for us to get sucked into the business of our lives and start thinking like this – St Ignatius refers to it as Spiritual Desolation. Someone who seems to have lost that sense of balance, that equilibrium this week is the famous atheist Stephen Fry. On Irish TV he was asked what he would say to God if he went to heaven. Fry responded, “I would say, ‘How dare you. How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that’s not our fault? It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil. The God who created this universe, if he created this universe, is quite clearly a maniac, an utter maniac, totally selfish.”

While Stephen Fry’s complaint reveals more about Stephen Fry than Almighty God (as this comment piece suggests it may be difficult to distinguish sometimes) , it is still a very a common complaint made, maybe in a less strident tone, and a question worth asking. If your friends know about your faith – It might well come up again and again in conversations in the pub, in the lecture theatre, in the lab, in the gym ….. You are a Christian Why does God Allow Evil? Isn’t Steven Fry right? In my response I might want to point talk of free will. We may do what we like. God, as a loving father, does not force us to do anything, but allows us to learn and grow. When we get it wrong unless we regret and try and change our life then evil proliferates. In ways we cannot comprehend the vast majority of the suffering and evil in the world comes from this basic reality. However as Christians we also have this great hope – the resurrection. God is no stranger to suffering as we see in the cross of Jesus but the darkness of the Cross and Good Friday becomes the new hope of Easter.  So matter how bleak it appears, despite the greatest evil, all that is beautiful, good and true will triumph.

So these challenges – made to us in pubs or in friends houses – actually become a wonderful opportunity to witness to our faith and give account of our hope… and why faith filled people often live joyful lives….. as someone once said it is better to light a candle that curse the darkness…..

whirlwindToday’s readings give us a lot to ponder about. In the book of Job we have the most powerful exploration of this problem of pain and suffering – I haven’t come across another text in literature from any culture that looks this problem in the eye and tries explores it so bravely and honestly – It is at the beginning of Chapter 38 that God answers Job from the whirlwind and gives him a tour of the cosmos…. Where you there Job when I created the heavens and the earth – He shows Job the Plan of Salvation that spans all of space and time.. So if you want to answer your sceptical friends questions immerse yourself in the book of Job .. and then remember that in the Gospel we see how Jesus keeps his equilibrium in the face of so much suffering and brings his healing power to all those people who come to him …….

But the best way to answer this critique of faith – actions rather than words – how you live your life – do we try and imitate Jesus – do we try and bring healing to peoples lives – do we put our faith into action? Here at the chaplaincy there are many ways to respond to suffering – the foodbank of course – our great SVP group who made three homeless runs this week and volunteer in many other ways – and at the end of mass tonight you will get a great chance to meet Clara who organises volunteering placements in some of the poorest parts of the world for Jesuit Missions… So its better to light a candle than curse the darkness and you can inspire you sceptical friends by putting your faith into action

Jesus will ask you at the end of time – What have you done for the sick, naked, hungry, for the poor…….

AMDG

2 of our students with a representative of the myriad foundation

2 of our students with a representative of the myriad foundation

One of the beautiful things to see emerging the last few months is how students of different faiths are helping us with the foodbank. Every few weeks or so a couple of Muslim lads drop by with a car full of food that they have collected from various mosques.  The same day when they paid their last visit we received a cheque for £250 from the local synagogue.  Neither donations had been solicited from either faith community and they were gladly received.  The Muslims run an excellent charity called the Myriad Foundation which aims ‘ To make a positive impact on society and a significant contribution to the community’.  

Another story which was heart-warming  was when two young ladies turned up with two boxes of cakes.  I gratefully received them and asked them what had motivated them to donate them. It turned out that their mother had recently used the foodbank.  She was so grateful that now that she had got out of her temporary crisis, she had held a cake sale to raise money for our foodbank, and so the next week a cheque arrived for a few hundred pounds.

At the recent National Conference of the Trussel Trust – I attended a workshop on how to receive the stories of our clients.  At first we were reluctant to ‘pry’ into the reasons why people were coming for the foodbank.  However we have since learnt that we actually have a duty to give people the option to tell their stories.  It seems that about 80% of the users are all to keen to tell their stories (we have had been able to help over 1,300 people so far).  The Trussel Trust are keen to get their stories’out there’ in order to challenge the negative stereotypes and myths of ‘scroungers’ that seems to poison the public debate about poverty in this country.  The stories initially are taken anonymously and will be posted up on our blog (link), and then the majority of clients give permission to use them with media outlets / or journalists who get in touch – this time with some independent verification.

Reintegrating Prisoners

AMDG

1376142163There has been a very interesting development with our Foodbank the last couple of weeks.  We are suddenly receiving a lot of referrals from the Probation Service.  As they attempt to reintegrate former prisoners back in to civilian life, it is famously hard for those used to an institutional life to cope on their own again.  We know that the recidivism rate is a source of concern (the rate of ex-prisoners re-offending on release), and that there are many strategies attempting to reduce this.  So it is great if the Foodbank can assist in anyway.  Our ‘front of house’ students are trained to be non-judgmental of anyone who is referred to the Foodbank.  It is the job of our referral agencies to decide who is in genuine need, not our job.  We just assist in giving out the food and offering advice about where else to go.  Usually people are incredibly grateful for the help they get, and the students do a great job at welcoming them, making them feel relaxed, helping to ‘signpost’ them on to other support.  

National Probation Service (1)However last week there was interesting development.  One guy, referred by the probation service,  came in and was very angry at being given a bag of Tesco-value tea-bags.  ‘I’m not an animal’ he said angrily to the students.  Another guy came in and rejected half of the food that was given to him.  The emergency food provision – is carefully measured out, nutritionally balanced, under guidelines given by the Trussell Trust.  So having half of it thrown back in their faces, because the guy didn’t like tomato sauce or couldn’t be bothered to carry cans was a bit galling.  However they all kept their cool, and today we all got together and had a brief reflection on the experience.  It was  interesting to consider the issue facing ex-prisoners as they attempt to reintegrate, maybe they are a bit institutionalized after years locked up, used to the same menu.  Another possibility is perhaps a ‘chip on their shoulder’ about being locked up – and how they feel civvies view them.  Also with the first chance to exercise choice in a long time it maybe that their reactions are a bit exaggerated. 

It also more evidence that as the state rolls back it support, and there is no strong family unit in place to takes is place – more and more pressure is being put on voluntary groups, often faith-based ones to fill in the gap.

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