You are not alone

‘You are not alone’. The message on the card was destined for an unknown recipient inserted into a box of gifts for refugees. We gathered clothes, toys and other items at the feast of Christ the king. It is the end of another liturgical year. I’m reminded of the song: ‘Nothing ever happens’ by Glasgow based band Del Amitri. Particularly the line, ‘the needle returns to the start of the song and we all sing along as before.’ But not this year. Our song had become dull, ‘How are we to sing the Lord’s song in this strange land?’ Del Amitri’s song has a darker side than a record player (what are those?) with an automatic return. Words from the song which you might reflect on about the loneliness and sadness of life: ‘And we’ll all be lonely tonight and lonely tomorrow.’ But it goes on: ‘And bill holdings advertise products that nobody needs While angry from Manchester writes to complain about All the repeats on T.V. And computer terminals report some gains On the values of copper and tin While American businessmen snap up Van Goghs For the price of a hospital wing.’  There’s more here than being lonely during the long winter nights. I hear a critique of a world cut off from the rest and missing the connections which is why a simple child’s card written with the message ‘you are not alone’ struck me so much as an important thing to tell those to whom these things will go. Our song brightens as the message says: ‘We hear you’, ‘we see you’, and I would add, despite what some members of our government says and what you might read in some papers: ‘we believe your lives are worthy too.’ – It is a beautiful message of hope at a moment when the world is preparing for what could be for many the greatest festival of loneliness. And the song of the strange land of no borders, no limits, where all are welcomed in and valued begins to shine again. Before we prepare to sing along as before in our Advent preparations next week, we take a moment to reflect – difficult I know in these times. But we ought to. Reflect on the year past from birth to epiphany revelation to lent, betrayal, Easter resurrection. From the Spirit at Pentecost to the Trinity season, creation, harvest and Kingdom.  Such is our christian year.  Each time we go around, perhaps we go a little deeper, see a little more, learn something new, become people more attuned to the kingdom. As we gathered, collected, sorted and boxed up the gifts along with good wishes in cards we celebrate the kingdom of God and participate in its coming. The simple sentiment offering hope to those whose life has dealt them, a bitter pill it would seem, if you were to compare it to the lives lived by the two thirds world. The generosity of our communities of donated gifts for those who most desperately need them is wonderful. It is not without a small irony – that we didn’t need these things anyway and of course for those who did donate it was probably a little cathartic, purging our wardrobes of that which we seldom wear. Did you know we were celebrating the feast of Christ the king with a refugee clothes gathering party – or did you think we were just gathering clothes. You’d be mistaken for thinking it was just the latter, for who would suppose that such a simple act could be a celebration of Christ’s Kingdom?  Did Christ not compel us to clothe the naked and feed the hungry?

Just the shoes

Was it you that day?
I forgot to ask your name
on the steps – you fell
backwards, I turned
too late.  You, crumpled
cracked head at my feet.
We wait together on the steps for
help to come, head cradled in my lap
crying out for your shoe. It came off.
I guess, I don’t recall, like your name, when you fell.
‘Don’t worry about your shoes, you need to be still’
I said.  They came, you went in the ambulance
with both your shoes.  Funny how I remember
the shoes, but not your name.

Why those shoes? As I walked away
through the crowd.  Perhaps they
were fashionable, expensive.  I don’t know.
Ordinary trainers to me, a little scuffed
around the edges, like the rest of you. I realise,
scuffed around the edges is what people see,
the names they call you, what does it matter
when, if you reply or not it’s always the same meaning
‘not here’, ‘move on’, ‘don’t be in my way,’ When was it
that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and
gave you clothing? But your shoes the only pair you had,
no name to me just the shoes. Because you needed them.

talented shareholder

I walked the middle way from Capel Curig to Dolwyddelan for no particular reason except to be out for the count. (of the US Election!)  Paths cross and collide on that pathway a journey through a bland landscape not empty but bleak where the division between land and sky is the most prominent feature.  The occasional fence or ancient dividing wall of the enclosures almost becomes an event.  But my eyes are cast down not up, focusing on the pathway that is not altogether obvious as it meanders through.  I’m standing drinking coffee at a marker post deciding which way to go. If you choose to go one way you choose not to go the other the other way – obvious, but often not so in life. No path we choose is wrong, just different, perhaps more difficult. We must choose the path we walk.

Standing apart whilst divisions grow and choices are made. What will we support? Is there a right way and a wrong way, a just way and an unjust way; a more caring loving accepting way of being? We leave marker posts for each other to follow in life, but interpretation is key to following the way. So I turn to a traditional interpretation of a bible reading which leaves me stuck in the midst of the mud.  It sees God as master and a faithful disciple as one who obtains a good return on the master’s money, the ‘talents’. Or perhaps, God gives us abilities or skills and its up to us to repay that gift. The word Talent comes from the ancient greek meaning an amount of Gold, a sum of money. Perhaps we were unwilling to critique the unjust financial systems, or perhaps we were just lazy, talent was a useful dual meaning and the awkwardness of the parable drifts away as does the original meaning of the word. The unfaithful one, the one who washes his hands of his masters unjust dealings and buried his masters money in the ground. We are told that this master is one who is involved in aggressive and unjust business dealings and praises those who double the investment.

The parable offers us no easy ethic or simple path to tread. It is a source of agitation, a struggle. Can there be any other explanation? Perhaps there is another way. Jesus could be offering a critique. The master is not God, the master is one of the unjust elite who is looking for a return on the investment at all costs. Call the master Blackrock, or Goldman Sachs, or Royal Dutch Shell or HSBC, or perhaps even their shareholders.  How close to home does it have to be before it becomes another painful truth. Those who take the money and return it with 100% interest are the slaves to the
system which says profit is king.

The one who buries the talent is the one who stands up to the unjust master, who critiques the system. This is Jesus, the talented shareholder, he has cast himself as the one who is condemned by the world for standing up to it and refusing to be complicit in the master’s exploitation of the other slaves. He even takes the ‘talent’, to prove it’s uselessness and plants it in the ground, then when the master returns he takes it out of the ground. See – it bares no fruit, unlike the wealth of the natural creation which bears much fruit. This parable becomes a critique on an economy in which the poor get poorer while the rich get richer. And they say the bible is not relevant to modern life. The servant who critiques the master is cast into outer darkness – Just as Jesus is cast out, crucified. The abundance of creation, rather than figures on a page mark the wealth of a nation. This is not complete without what follows, where Jesus speaks of gifts offered to strangers, of hospitality, and care for the sick. This is the beggar in disguise, the least of these who turns out to be the one in whose footsteps we attempt to tread walking a narrow path and dare to suggest that it is the Christ we follow. The Middle Way