Today’s #AdventWord is #Listen
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Today’s #AdventWord is #Renew
The meditation focused on the idea that Jesus is all in all: that he can be found in various ways, including symbolically, and that where we find Jesus that place – or person – is given back to us, renewed.
The photo is of the floor of our chapel. In the spaces between the stones, not only the form of a cross but the form of a man on a cross, his head tilted to one side. Jesus is found in the ‘negative’ or ‘in-between’ space; and a floor that might be considered in need of renewing – of polishing and re-pointing – is renewed by Christ alone.
Monday, November 28, 2016
Today’s #AdventWord is #Love
Walking in the park, my attention was caught by one remaining yellow leaf on an otherwise bare tree. It spoke to me of love. Love that endures the storm, that holds fast. Love that will have to let go, when the time comes; but, please God, not quite yet. And when the yellow leaf falls, in dying, it will give its life back to the tree that gave it life. For when we fall in love, we die to self.
Sunday, November 27, 2016
This year for Advent I will be taking part in the Anglican Communion’s Global Advent Calendar. Each day they will send participants a short meditation, on a key word, and invite us to pray and then over the course of the day to take and post a photo that expresses that word on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. I’ll be posting to Facebook, and copying the image here.
The first word is Shine.
Wednesday, November 23, 2016
Again and again at the present moment, the daily lectionary readings are apocalyptic – visionary passages that reveal the death throes of the world as we know it, and the birth pangs of a world to come.
A timely reminder that scripture is not given to shape the communal imagination for holding back the tide, shoring-up a defensive wall against the world as we know it ending;
nor given to shape the communal imagination for hastening the end of the world as we know it, whether by forcing God’s hand or giving God a helping-hand;
nor even given to shape the communal imagination for survival beyond the end of the world as we know it, in some reduced circumstance;
but given to shape the communal imagination for enabling life to flourish, in the midst of the upheaval.
To join in with the One who declares, ‘See – I am doing a new thing!’
The apocalyptic imagination dares us to ask:
How will we shape our community for the flourishing of the asylum-seeker?
How will we shape our community for the flourishing of those whose dead we have buried?
How will we shape our community for the flourishing of the husband and wife pulled apart by dementia, yet held-together by love?
How will we shape our community for the flourishing of those whose world is violently falling apart around them, while those around them carry on as if nothing has happened?
The only answers that have any substance are those that give solid shape to a new world. That is to say, the only answers that have any substance are practices. The practice of eating together. The practice of listening to one another’s stories. The practice of hospitality.
Monday, November 21, 2016
SPOILER ALERT: if you intend to see Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, do not read this post first! However, if you have seen the film, here are my reflections on it. What do you think?
At its heart, Fantastic Beasts is a delightful Rom Com: two sisters falling in love with unlikely beaus; the two couples also held together by the budding – and equally unlikely – friendship between the men.
At its heart, Fantastic Beasts is a Tale For Our Times, albeit a fairly clunky one:
calling into question the morality of choosing to segregate ourselves from those who are different to us, with whom we perceive greater difference than what we share in common;
exposing the hypocrisy* of Privilege painting itself as victim because it has been asked to curtail its freedom for the good of others;
and exploring the different options of isolationism, competition, and cooperation;
not to mention speaking to our thoughtless attitude towards the survival – indeed, flourishing – of non-human animals, and the evil of trafficking.
At its heart, for all its clunky worthiness, Fantastic Beasts is a lot of fun.
All of which only makes it more frustrating that, while confronting some male stereotypes, it so strongly reinforces female stereotypes.
In a culture dominated by post-truth Alpha-males, Fantastic Beasts presents us with the man who is quite shy, academic but in a hands-on practical way, who never quite fitted-in at school but will go on to write a text book that will inspire generations of children.
In a culture that demonises the working class, Fantastic Beasts presents us with the man who, despite being both overweight and a factory worker, has the vision and energy – though not the financial backing – to do something creative and life-affirming, who has a vocation to bless people through the simple happiness of pastry.
And alongside these stereotype-confronting men, Fantastic Beasts gives us:
the Determined Young Lady, who has contained her femininity and adopted a more-male wardrobe – not only of clothing but of inhabiting that costume – and become a shadow of a man, only to be looked through by men;
the Blonde Bimbo, who knows exactly how men look at her, and colludes with them;
the Excessively-Controlling Mother;
and the black President, who, in the context of the above – not to mention the conspicuous absence of other black characters (the singer in the speakeasy is a black woman – itself another stereotypical role, and hardly the Harlem Renaissance) – seems a very token gesture.
I want to love Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them. It is beautifully filmed, and beautifully acted, and it is in many ways a welcome extension to the wonderfully imaginative Harry Potter universe, being set seventy years earlier and on a different continent.
But it is hard to love a film when my wife is underwhelmed, and asks, ‘Really? Strip away all the CGI, and we’re still telling the same old story, with the same stereotypical roles for women?’
It is hard to love a film, set in a universe my children love, when the roles and opportunities it presents my daughter with, and the lenses it holds out to my sons through which to see women, are so short-sighted.
We know the stereotypes already. We know that they are an exaggeration of actual types – whether exaggeration by turning characteristics into caricatures, or exaggeration by over-representation. But surely it is time for some new stories, ones we aren’t over-familiar with? Ones, indeed, we are not familiar enough with, and need to hear, role-models we need to see?
Perhaps the purpose of any given story is not to address every issue facing us. Perhaps the fact that watching Fantastic Beasts with others has raised the issue of how women are represented, and indeed how people of colour are not represented, is enough?
I don’t think so. How long can we keep making those excuses, passing the buck to some unspecified time in the future that never arrives?
*literally, unmasking; or revealing.
Thursday, November 17, 2016
I often hear it said that ‘church,’ as understood in the New Testament, refers to people, not place. But this is an entirely false distinction.
When Jesus speaks of his church, he uses the word ekklesia. The ekklesia was a gathering of citizens called out of their homes into a public space, for the purpose of deliberation. In other words, place – public space – is a constitutive element of ekklesia.
Elsewhere, the word oikos is used to describe the church. Oikos means ‘household’ – and while a household is made up of people, those people are found in a house. Again, place is a constitutive element, not an incidental detail.
There are, of course, also images used to describe the church. Of these, two key images are of the church as the Body of Christ, and as the Bride of Christ. At first glance, both might appear to reinforce the belief that church is people, not place. But yet again, place forms an essential element.
In the Prologue to John’s Gospel, the incarnation – the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us – is described in this way: he ‘tabernacled’ among us. This is a reference to the time when the people Moses had led out of Egypt lived in tents, and God had a tent with them. A tent, especially a large tent, is a place. Church, as Body of Christ, is a tent among the tents of the people.
John’s account of the last words of Jesus to his disciples before his crucifixion include Jesus telling them that they cannot follow him now, but that he goes to prepare a room for them in his Father’s house, and will return and take them to be with him there. This is the imagery of the bridegroom, who would build a room – in more recent times, an additional floor – onto his parental home, and then come to take his bride to live there with him. This is bride imagery. It is usually taken by Christians to refer to heaven, to a place after death. But in John’s Gospel, Jesus returning to his disciples is seen in the resurrection; and there is no account of his ascension into heaven. So here we have church as Bride of Christ imagery with place where we experience living with Jesus being an essential element.
I would suggest that in trying to establish an understanding of church as something we are part of, not simply something we attend, we have overstated our case. And I would further suggest that this is detrimental to mission.
Human beings are capable of only a finite number of relationships. In contexts with high mobility, church as people wonderfully provides some of the relationships we need. But in contexts of high stability, where most of the population have lived in one place their whole lives, they are already at relational capacity. Nonetheless, these same neighbourhoods have often experienced the loss – over and over again – of buildings of constitutive importance to the identity of the community. That is to say, their experience of the dislocation of high mobility relates to places, not people.
I currently live in such a context.
Earlier this year, we placed a visitors’ book in the Minster. Looking through the comments people have written, two recurring themes stand out:
an appreciation of the building as a place of beauty;
and an appreciation of the building as an oasis of peace.
A warm and helpful welcome from our people matters too, but within the context of place.
It would appear that there is a perceived need for beauty and peace, a perceived lack of beauty and peace in other places.
So how might scripture inform our understanding of church as a place of beauty and of peace?
I’m thinking that the Psalms might be a good place to start.
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
The Gospel reading for Holy Communion today is Luke 19:11-28
As they were listening to this, he went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. So he said, ‘A nobleman went to a distant country to get royal power for himself and then return. He summoned ten of his slaves, and gave them ten pounds, and said to them, “Do business with these until I come back.” But the citizens of his country hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, “We do not want this man to rule over us.” When he returned, having received royal power, he ordered these slaves, to whom he had given the money, to be summoned so that he might find out what they had gained by trading. The first came forward and said, “Lord, your pound has made ten more pounds.” He said to him, “Well done, good slave! Because you have been trustworthy in a very small thing, take charge of ten cities.” Then the second came, saying, “Lord, your pound has made five pounds.” He said to him, “And you, rule over five cities.” Then the other came, saying, “Lord, here is your pound. I wrapped it up in a piece of cloth, for I was afraid of you, because you are a harsh man; you take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.” He said to him, “I will judge you by your own words, you wicked slave! You knew, did you, that I was a harsh man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money into the bank? Then when I returned, I could have collected it with interest.” He said to the bystanders, “Take the pound from him and give it to the one who has ten pounds.” (And they said to him, “Lord, he has ten pounds!”) “I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them – bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.”’ After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
Jesus, with his disciples, is on the way to Jerusalem. By this point, he has already told them three times that he will be put to death there – but that his death will not be the end. But they will not have it so. And now something terribly exciting has happened, something that surely vindicates their more hopeful intuition. Here, in Jericho, an incredibly corrupt man has just had a dramatic conversion experience. Let us be generous and assume that Zacchaeus is being genuine when he says that he will give half of his wealth to the poor; and that he will repay anyone he has defrauded four times over. Surely this is a sign that the time is very near when God will make all things right?
So because they are now very near to Jerusalem, and because the disciples suppose as they do, Jesus, for whom time is running out, tells them a parable.
Now, many of Jesus’ parables are concerned with the nature of God, but this is not one of them. This parable is concerned with the nature of the world.
Jesus paints a picture of a nobleman who goes to a distant country in order to secure royal power for himself; a man hated by those over whom he would rule. Surely Jesus is speaking in the first instance of the Herodian dynasty, rulers who gained and then kept hold of their position at the pleasure of the Emperor in Rome; noblemen with no claim to Davidic descent, hated by their subjects? (Though the wonderful thing about parables is their potential to be applied to different contexts.)
And the picture Jesus paints is of a world that is defined by the thirst for power;
by the harnessing of hatred in power plays;
by a way of conducting business that ensures that the rich become richer and the poor become poorer;
with the whole system underpinned by violence.
Within this world, Jesus describes the actions and fate of three slaves.
The first whole-heartedly embraces the way of the world, and finds themselves richly rewarded.
The second half-heartedly embraces the way things are, and he too benefits from a certain amount of status.
But a third slave point blank refuses to play the game, and calls the king out for the despot he is, to his face. He does so knowing full well what it will cost him, which will undoubtedly be his life.
And, having now predicted his death for a fourth time, Jesus walks off towards Jerusalem, leaving his disciples looking at one another and wondering what that was all about, and what on earth it had to do with them.
[I first posted these thoughts on Facebook yesterday. The footnote, indicated by an asterisk, is a helpful comment made in response by a friend who is an Adult Mental Health Consultant working in the NHS in the North East of England.]
If you call the President of the United States a ‘loathsome creature’ (and then claim that you were not implying that he is less than human, but merely employing a turn of phrase) or the First Lady ‘[sic] a Ape in heels’ (and then claim that this was not racism, but the personal opinion of one individual concerning another individual) you show yourself to have no understanding of the power words have (first and foremost, over those who use them).
But, quite unintentionally, you also land close to the truth. Because enmity lies at the heart of how every human being positions him- or herself in relation to every person they meet. The roots of enmity are shame (the root of enmity directed at the self, which may in turn result in our lashing out against others as displacement*) and fear (the root of enmity directed at the other). Whether you read Genesis 3 as literal or myth, this is the insight revealed to us there.
This is why the ministry of reconciliation is at the heart of the gospel, or good news. This transforming ministry of reconciliation flows from God, who invites us to join in. Us, who are enemies of God, of ourselves, of one another. It is enemies who need reconciliation. Unless we can admit to this, we cannot enter into it.
*I think envy of others is an important relation to shame - ie we measure ourselves as lesser in relation to a perceived other and rather than trying to emulate or follow, we would rather destroy (literally or with words) in order to lower the other and elevate the self. This of course produces more shame which needs to be sublimated, displaced or projected elsewhere. One can see this enacted in the recent political behaviours.
Sunday, November 13, 2016
One of the things that the Church of England does well is stand alongside the wider community, of all religions and no religious faith, at times of loss.
Loss is a universal part of life, and not simply because people – and places, and dreams – die. The gift of life opens us up to the gift of love; and it is the gift of love that opens us up to the pain of loss.
We, the Church of England, take a lot of funerals. The liturgy – the words; but, literally, the work; the work those present share in together – of the funeral service includes Prayers of Penitence. These come immediately after the tribute to the deceased. That is, in the light of the life they have lived, its joys and sorrows, its gains and losses, its failings and the ways in which those failures were redeemed or transformed into something positive and even beautiful; and in the light of the fact that their life is over; and in the light of the fact that our own life will one day be over, and then we will have no opportunity to make amends; we are helped to recognise that we might have some work to do. The work of the moment is to recognise that work which we might need to go and do, if we are prepared to do so.
There is more material in the funeral service than there is often time for, especially where we are constrained by crematorium timetables, and I suspect that the Prayers of Penitence are one of the first sacrifices to be made. After all, no one wants to examine themselves at this moment. They want to remember their relative, friend, neighbour, or colleague, with the selective memory that affirms that we are all good people who have nothing to trouble our conscience. But if not this moment, when? We stand alongside people at times of loss well; but perhaps don’t serve them well when, for reasons of compassion or pragmatism or populism, we avoid the heart of the matter.
It is, perhaps, our experience of standing alongside families and the communities in which they are embedded that equips us to play a particular role in the Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday observations of our communities.
And here, as in relation to funeral services, there is a need for good theological reflection. There has been a move, of late, towards a new kind of Remembrance. One that is less focused on the need for self-examination, in the light of the past, and more focused on self-justification, that bodes ill for the future. And to be clear, we humans are messy, and our motives are always conflicted. This is challenging terrain to navigate, and in a climate where caution is not especially welcome.
For me, and for others, Remembrance Sunday has become increasingly complex, increasingly messy, increasingly uncomfortable.
Which is, perhaps, all the more reason to sit in the complexity, the mess, the discomfort. To welcome, and embrace, and serve others. To invite our communities to join-together in the work of lament, of self-examination, and of renewed commitment to pursuing that which makes for justice and peace.
Back in the late ’70s and early ’80s, more than three decades after the end of WWII, my playmates and I used to fight the Germans twice daily, hiding in the long grass behind the classrooms, invisible machine gun in hand, waiting to ambush the enemy.
It wasn’t ‘real’ xenophobia; it was ‘casual’ xenophobia.
It did not matter, because we did not know any Germans, and so, to us, Germans were not real.
No-one got hurt. Except us, except our ability to rightly recognise people from other countries. Which might just be played out in the present, in how my generation view Europeans, or in how we are encouraged to de-humanise those we go to war against in other parts of the world. So perhaps, just maybe, it is not true to say that no-one got hurt.
It did not matter that we had to take our turn being the Germans, being the bad guys, the enemy. It did not give us any empathy; just a ridiculous way of categorising and labelling those who were less popular.
I am deeply thankful for the Germans I met at university, and those I have met since. Deeply thankful for the friendship of some beautiful men and women, with whom I have laughed, and shared meals, and listened to their stories, and discovered common interests, and visited places together, and co-authored memories.
Today, I choose to remember friends, some of whom I am still in contact with, and some with whom I have lost contact but still remember fondly.
And, in a climate where xenophobia appears to be on the rise – or, at least, more vicious – I reflect on the importance of both what we choose to remember and how we choose to remember, and the stories I need to pass on.
Thursday, November 10, 2016
What, then, does it look like to align our story with the Story of a God who habitually brings light out of darkness, life out of death, order out of disaster, freedom out of tyranny?
Isaiah 61:1-4 presents us with a vision for our response, a vision explicitly taken up by Jesus:
‘The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion – to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.’
This, then, is a human response to God’s habitual activity. Moreover, it is a human response that is initiated, and authorised, and empowered by God.
In other words, to align our story to God’s Story is not to live as if everything will be alright, but rather to acknowledge that there are those who are oppressed; those who are broken-hearted; those who are held captive or imprisoned; that there are those who mourn … and to go and stand with them.
Isaiah’s vision recognises a community level of devastation, a devastation that is geographical and demographical and historical. And Isaiah’s vision is not, ‘God has sent me to rebuild the ruins for them,’ but, God has sent me to stand alongside such communities, encouraging, for as long as it takes for that community to grow into something glorious, and to build something beautiful out of the ashes and the rubble.
This is a vision of servanthood, not patronage.
It starts with presence, as a witness to oppression, as a witness to heart-break, as a witness to mourning. It starts with recognition that there are those whose story is not my own; that I need to understand their story; that only they can help me understand their story – and that I might need to earn their trust!
The psalm set for Holy Communion today is Psalm 146:4-10:
‘Happy are those who have the God of Jacob for their help, whose hope is in the Lord their God; who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps his promise for ever; who gives justice to those that suffer wrong; and bread to those who hunger. The Lord looses those that are bound; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind; the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous; the Lord watches over the stranger in the land; he upholds the orphan and widow; but the way of the wicked he turns upside down. The Lord shall reign for ever, your God, O Zion, throughout all generations. Alleluia.’
To pray this psalm is to acknowledge that there are those in our own time and place who suffer the real, felt consequences of systemic injustice;
those who are physically, gut-wrenchingly hungry;
those that are bound by fear or bowed-down by anxiety, who live with the constant uncertainty of not knowing whether, when their loved one walks out of the door, they will see them alive again;
that there are those whose eyes are blind to the needs of their neighbours;
and that there are also those who try to do right by their neighbours, however hard you have to look;
that there are in-comers and immigrants and asylum seekers; and there are those who are not only bereaved but left destitute as a consequence;
that what is needed is not simply a shift to the right or to the left, but a more fundamental turning-the-world-on-its-head.
This is the reality for many, and it is in this reality that God seeks to bless lives.
If you live in the north east of England, go watch I, Daniel Blake, and then ask, how might I enter-into this psalm?
Wednesday, November 09, 2016
I do not believe in a controlling God, in a God who is ‘in control.’
I do not believe that the rise and fall of leaders of nations reflects God’s will in any simplistic sense – whoever rises, or falls.
But I do believe in a sovereign God, whom, scripture reveals, regularly faces chaos and rebellion, and habitually brings light out of darkness, life out of death, order out of disaster, freedom out of tyranny.
According to this Story, the promise that God will do these things is not based on present circumstances, but on God’s ‘hesed’ or ‘steadfast love,’ faithfulness, and covenant commitment to humanity.
Nothing that has happened on this day in history changes this Story, to which I choose to seek to align my story.
Peace be with you.
Monday, November 07, 2016
The Optician of Lampedusa is a 2016 novella by BBC journalist Emma Jane Kirby, based on the events of the October 2013 disaster when a trafficking boat carrying more than 500 Eritrean and Somali men, women, and children sank off the Italian island of Lampedusa, with the loss of over 360 lives.
Deeply moving, throughout, and at times harrowing, it is beautifully written, combining meticulous attention to detail with genuine warmth for the lives portrayed, lives caught up in something too big to comprehend.
I do not intend to write a synopsis, or even a review as such, but rather to draw attention to key motifs that resonate with me as a pupil of the Bible. These are the wind; the waves; and religious belief and unbelief.
The motif of wind encompasses everything from the gentlest stirring of the air; through a breeze that drives before it relatively small, unsecured items such as plastic chairs or watering cans; to strong winds that mark a change in the seasons, and whip up the surface of the sea. The wind is also mirrored by human breath: life-giving; fought-for; found to fall short, in the terrors of the night.
In the Bible, ‘wind’ and ‘breath’ are images that speak of God’s life-giving Spirit, as well as the sheer dependency of human beings, whose life is fleeting.
In The Optician of Lampedusa, the motif of wind carries ideas of God delighting in sustaining life in a marginal ecology (Lampedusa has no water source, other than occasional rain); inviting us to recognise the ‘other,’ the stranger; drawing attention to the ways in which we have spoiled paradise; steering human action (if there had been indication of a stronger wind, the Galata would not have set out, and the forty-seven lives her crew saved would have been lost along with the others); and holding back death, along with the continual struggle between death and life. Whenever and wherever it blows, the wind is gracious; even if it is not always welcome.
The motif of waves encompasses both the outer turmoil of the sea, where lives are lost and from which lives are pulled; and the inner turmoil of those who are caught up in the rescue – and, subsequently, the recovery – operation. Like the wind, the waves are described in various strengths. The central character, the titular optician, is presented to us as a man whose inner life is a constant attempt to calm the waves of chaos that will overwhelm life is not carefully anticipated and kept in check.
In the Bible, the waves represent those gods – the created spiritual beings we have come to label angels and demons – in rebellion against the one creator God. Indeed, an understanding of this motif is common across the Ancient Near East. The Bible presents Yahweh as in genuine and recurring struggle with the Sea and various sea monsters that churn it up; while holding out his ‘steadfast love,’ faithfulness, and covenant promise as guarantee that Yahweh will always overcome. Among other things, the wind holding back the waters is central to both the deliverance of God’s people from Egypt and their entry into the land of Canaan; while Jesus both calms waves, by the breath of his command, and walks on water.
Whether satisfying or not, this story, which runs through the Bible from beginning to end, is offered to make sense of the world as a place that is both beautiful and terrifying; and to hold out hope and trust, rather than despair, as the appropriate response.
In The Optician of Lampedusa, the motif of waves also represents both the seemingly endless tide of humanity desperately trying to cross from Africa to Europe; and the utter failure of Europe to respond. We are drowning, together. The soothing rhythm of gentle waves lull us into a false security, before showing their true and merciless power.
Religious belief and unbelief
Throughout the novella, the motif of religious belief and unbelief runs as a current beneath the surface. The Italian friends who find themselves unlikely heroes are characterised by unbelief: the optician himself does not believe, and does not know whether his closest friends believe or not, which would suggest that belief is not of any importance to them. Neighbours motivated by religious belief are curiosities, well-meaning inconveniences. In contrast, the surviving Africans (and, by implication, those who did not survive also) are characterised as holding fast to Eritrean Catholic belief.
Here we have an exploration of belief – for unbelief is itself a belief-position – that is nuanced and influenced by the wind and the waves. Here is no black-and-white suggestion that the religious are ‘good’ and the irreligious ‘evil’ – or vice versa – but a complex recognition that human beings, regardless of belief, are capable of both good and evil: indeed, not only capable in theory, but responsible for both good and evil in practice. The question regarding contrasting beliefs, then, is simply: how does what I believe equip me to navigate life in this world?
What is interesting is this. The optician’s lack of faith does not prevent him from standing up against the raging sea; but it is called, deeply, into question by the experience. Not that he undergoes a dramatic conversion, but subtle, irresistible movement. And the Eritreans’ faith does not prevent them from disaster, or protect them from tragedy; but it holds fast against all the odds. Though they, too, are not unchanged.
In the Bible, we see humanity charged by God to exercise power and authority over the gods who would destroy life. This is the first mandate, the essential human calling. According to this story, the humans were tricked into letting go, but God would not let go his grip on them. Initially through representative individuals, and one particular people from among all the peoples; and ultimately through Jesus; the human mandate was never fully lost and was in time restored.
In The Optician of Lampedusa, we see humanity exercising power and authority over the gods. We see human beings being truly human. Unbelieving Italians, regardless of their unbelief. And believing Eritreans, regardless of – or, indeed, through - the utter powerlessness of their circumstances. Their connection is even described as a baptism: as a dying and rising to a new life; a new world being birthed in the midst of a dying – a drowning – one. The Italians baptise the Eritreans. And, in opening the eyes of their rescuers, the Eritreans baptise the Italians, into a common humanity, re-born of God.
It is, of course, only a beginning. Always a beginning. The wind sweeping across the surface of the waves, and bringing life out of death.
The Optician of Lampedusa is available at high street bookseller Waterstones, at £9.99. For every copy sold, Waterstones is donating £5 to Oxfam in support of their work with refugees.