It's that time of the year again when red poppies and headstones are prominent in the media and the psyche. Usually they're for the dead "we" lost, when of course war is always a tragedy for both "sides" and marks a failure of better ways... In our remembering, and our use of flowers or other symbols, let's keep the flowers soft and flexible, and not allow them to leave us embittered or hard-hearted. (Previous posts touching on the remembrance theme are here and here.)
I am intensely grateful for the freedoms I enjoy, and recognise that they are result of hard work and sacrifice of others. The methods used might sometimes have been "of their time," dubious even, but I recognise that folk may have had, or felt they had, no alternative to fight in the face of monstrous, depraved aggression, oppression and brutality - greater evil.
There are no easy fixes, and sometimes we feel overwhelmed with how much is wrong with the world. I find it useful sometimes to look within self, country and nation for the plank which might have escaped my notice when I am busy noting the speck in the eye of another individual or nation. Nevertheless if someone else is battering your head, or your child's head, with a big stick it's hard to ignore that fact.
So I'm not offering a quick fix, just suggesting a little contemplation alongside respect for those with whom we differ, and respect for those who have made great sacrifices on our behalf.
Plus some music to aid the contemplation.
"I got something in motion
Something you can't see
It requires devotion
From those who truly believe
This is something you can't touch
This is something you feel
For some people its too much
For some people it heals...
This music is my healing
This music is my healing
Lord knows I need some healing
'cause this world upsets me...
We stand in formation
While they test and they see
They compile information
And try to make us believe...
God only knows, who will save us
Who will save us now
They sit back and watch flowers turn to stone."
There's another tune that challenges attitudes to our allegiances and to the allegiances of others with the lines
"When the whip that’s keeping you in line doesn’t make him jump
Say he’s hard-of-hearin’, say that he’s a chump
Say he’s out of step with reality as you try to test his nerve
Because he doesn’t pay no tribute to the king that you serve"
There are a few musical interpretations of the song, which makes reference to hearts, stone, and resentment, and they can be found by clicking on the links to Chrissie Hynde, Sinead O'Connor and its originator, Bob Dylan
As Zimmy also put it
"Well, there ain’t no goin’ back
When your foot of pride come down
Ain’t no goin’ back."
Right folks, no sitting on the sidelines. Your healthcare is far too important. When I shout in social media about the damage being done to the NHS by this current UK government, I sometimes get the impression that some of you out there either think this is all a fuss over nothing, or is about self-interest on the part of the medical profession. Jezza is RELYING on you thinking that - he's spent considerable time on media manipulation and spin, and is currently being opportunist in times of austerity, to help consolidate that impression.
Don't let government grind down those trying to secure the welfare of you and your nearest and dearest. The NHS is a superb healthcare provider (as judged by independent assessors) but this Tory government would much rather use ill health to line the pockets of private healthcare companies at the expense of those who can't afford private healthcare, and with cavalier disregard for uniform quality of care. Public sector healthcare professionals are those who stand in their way and therefore must be vilified (to undermine public confidence in them) and demoralised so that they move abroad or out of the public sector. It's hard to think of one group of healthcare individuals or NHS providers which has escaped a campaign of negative propaganda.
As is my usual habit, I'll illustrate my point with a tune. Forgive my mixing of metaphors but this one's doing the rounds, and deserves to become viral:
So... since posting earlier today, the youtube account which uploaded the above video has been terminated.... which has forced me to send you to a site I don't usually insert links to, but needs must so:
"Somewhere, somehow, somebody must have kicked you around some
Who knows maybe you were kidnapped tied up,
Taken away and held for ransom
Honey, it don't make no difference to me, baby
Everybody has to fight to be free, you see
You don't have to live like a refugee..."
If you know of any, and want to offer some help, here are a few options among many others:
These may only offer short term relief (and that is needed), so lobby your MP/local politician and, in the words of Tom Petty "you believe what you want to believe," but don't let your economic ideology get in the way of a humanitarian response.
Like millions, I am haunted by the sight of the photo of 21 men on their knees on a beach, awaiting cold calculated execution on the basis of being "People of the Cross." They were not fanatics, they were not on a medieval crusade. They were labourers who had left home in search of work, before being kidnapped and led to slaughter in full view of the rest of the world. Along with many, I'm struggling to find words to express how I'm feeling. I know there have been many other atrocities on a larger scale, sometimes delivered by those who claim to be 'People of the Cross,' sometimes not. Still, it is right to be struck afresh with how people can become so dehumanised as to behave in this manner to other human beings.
I have many emotions. I have Tears of Rage, but the strongest is grief and empathy for the families and friends of those whose lives have been ended in this way, and in such a graphic and public manner. Along with many I have avoided watching the video circulated by those responsible. In my job, I have been up close and personal with bloody carnage as the result of accident, and also as the result of bombs, knives and shootings. I have seen enough without watching such a thing out of morbid curiosity. I also don't wish to boost the viewing figures. I have mixed feelings about sharing even the photograph from news outlets, and have chosen to omit it here. Instead, you'll find a picture of some contemporary Coptic art, and an example below of how far back Coptic Christianity goes.
It's from Codex Schøyen, c. 325-350 AD, containing 11 chapters of the Gospel according to Matthew in a Coptic dialect. According to Eusebius (4th Century), Coptic Christianity can be traced to St Mark who arrived in Egypt around 41-43 AD. Egypt is an Arab country today but these people long predate the arrival of Islam in the 7th Century.
I'll also offer you the opportunity to boost the viewing figures of a few alternative videos. While listening, you might want to think of the families of those who have kept their faith despite a period in captivity and having to pay with their lives:
Milad Makeen Zaky
Abanub Ayad Atiya
Maged Solaiman Shehata
Yusuf Shukry Yunan
Kirollos Shokry Fawzy
Bishoy Astafanus Kamel
Somaily Astafanus Kamel
Malak Ibrahim Sinweet
Tawadros Yusuf Tawadros
Girgis Milad Sinweet
Mina Fayez Aziz
Hany Abdelmesih Salib
Bishoy Adel Khalaf
Samuel Alham Wilson
Worker from Awr village [name unknown at this time]
Ezat Bishri Naseef
Gaber Munir Adly
Esam Badir Samir
Malak Farag Abram
Sameh Salah Faruq
When words fail sometimes melody will work, or groans:
I have a friend who struggles to reconcile the image of Jesus as loving with the images in the Book of Revelation of God acting in judgement. I too struggle with some of the imagery. The Book of Revelation, however, is a pastoral book - for Christians suffering under persecution including martyrdom. We don't need to be of any particular faith to feel that evil needs to be dealt with, and that justice needs to be delivered. The martyrs cry out for justice [Rev 6 vv9-11]:
"When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been."
Of course, what distinguishes Christ's teaching from many other faiths is that we are not to repay evil with evil. That's a tough challenge to deliver on when we want justice to happen on our timescale.
Like many other ancient documents surviving to the present, Codex Schøyen is incomplete. In this context, how remarkable it is to note that the 11 chapters which remain of this Coptic text begin with Matthew 5 v 38:
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?
Note that, to the first hearers, paganism essentially referred to the belief system of the Roman occupying forces, known for oppression and brutal execution.
We aren't given a reason why suffering is permitted in the present. However, we are told not to interpret it as God being impotent or indifferent. Later in Matthew's Gospel, Jesus predicts his followers' suffering and in the 1st Century imagery he uses, he tells them God notices every sparrow falling from a tree, and reminds us that we are more highly valued than many sparrows.
As these martyrs walked their final walk on that beach, with sand between their toes, and the sea just feet away, they were walking a path others had trod before them.
"I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea
Sometimes I turn, there's someone there, other time it's only me
I am hanging in the balance of the reality of man
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand."
I hope my own faith is never tested to that extent. Still, I aim to follow the same faith, and trust that I will be given whatever is required to do so.
"Cynics hearts and critics plunder
Take something beautiful and make it feel small
Even when the rain pours down
Even when the light seems like it's fading
Even when your heart aches, feels like it's gonna break
That's when you sing out loud
We're gonna shine like lightning
Even if our backs against the wall
We're gonna shine like lightning..."