On November 21st we went over with Piper to have lunch with Janet and Graham. We had a lovely lunch of delicious steak and kidney pie with vegetables and a pudding and cheese and biscuits. Piper was as good as gold after he settled down and Janet and Graham were most impressed. Piper has had such a good effect on Malcolm that he has begun to be able to go out and be more sociable than before.
On Tuesday evening I had a Labour party meeting. On Thursday I was meant to be at a Fairtrade meeting but found it had been cancelled so I was relieved that I did not need to go to another meeting.
On Saturday I went to a theology talk by Ann Morisey. We sang Mum’s favourite hymn, ‘My Song is love unknown’ and had some prayers to prepare us for the lecture. The reading the lady introducing the speaker chose was Matthew 8.28-34, the healing of the demoniac.
Ann explained that she was a community theologian as she likes theology that grows from the ground up. She has given lectures on discipleship in troubled times. She explained that dystopia is beyond troubled times when the world has gone wrong. Some horse chestnuts in the area she knew were affected by two diseases and there was pollution in the area. That kind of news adds to dismal thoughts. Things are made worse by our lack of capacity to put things right. The experts give more dismal reports. We have to learn to live with those who are different from us.
Zygmunt Bauman, a Polish man spotted the danger of globalisation; he was an emeritus professor of sociology in Leeds in 1974. He in 1998 expressed the opinion that Globalisation would turn us into tribes provoked to anxiety by those who are different. That stronger sense of identification with a tribe would lead to more extremism. That would lead to the dynamic of making people scapegoats!! We need to look for someone to blame. When we feel anxious we look for some people or group to blame for our misery. We need to be alert to the danger of those dynamics on ourselves. We all are anxious and point to those we can blame. We need to be alert to recognise feelings of tribalism; seeing ‘them’ as a threat to ‘us’
Jesus insists that he came to bring an end to making people scapegoats. A French man, Rene Girard was an anthropologist who looks at literature to see how making scapegoats gives dynamics to a culture. There is the need to keep up with the Jones; we have to have repeated disappointments when we want something and are not able to get it. A economy of scarcity is contrasted with an economy of abundance. Making scapegoats is very effective as solidarity comes from hating the other whom we blame; we feel better if we find someone to blame for our situation, especially if it has nothing to do with them. We fail to see who is truly at fault. The good news in the gospels traces movement away from finding scapegoats. There is no other form of literature other than the gospels where we can see the world through the eyes of the scapegoat. Jesus is the final scapegoat, but finding scapegoats will always return. It is easier to blame the weaker rather than see who is really the cause of our misery! In the gospels the scapegoat returns triumphant in the Eucharist.
The election of Donald Trump is a reflection of the ache at the heart of many countries which leads to the rise of ‘popularism’. We are invited to reflect on troubled times but the most primitive part of the brain simply reacts to those times and look for alliances with those who share our grievances and before long hatred is the result. Jesus the man of peace longed to reduce anxiety, but we often breach peace when we feel anxious and troubled. If we suffer from habitual anxiety about what will become of our world, we must beware of the reactive buttons being pressed inadvertently; it is so easy to scapegoat people who seem to threaten our peace. None of us are innocent of this but acknowledging that can be liberating when we see how we all in different ways contribute to the woes of the world.
In the study of social science there is no category for something like sin. We know our need of a Saviour. Anxiety needs to be reduced; it is our reptile brain which leads to anxiety. We need to sing, have fun and laughter in a conscious effort to park our anxiety and not be driven by it. Prayer matters to us; we need to learn from the Buddhists to soften our eyes and not allow anxiety to harden our eyes. Looking at a baby helps us to soften our eyes. God’s involvement in his creation takes us beyond anxiety to laughter; hope is the last word. Mission begins when we become a group of people who laugh and play together. As Christians we cannot give up on hope. Good news makes things happen. Hope has to be acted out not just spoken. Our use of the Bible does not travel; we cannot tell one another what to believe anymore. We need to enact hope in the midst of dismay; it involves seemingly insignificant micro actions. The longest recorded conversation in the gospel with Jesus is with the woman at the well. Conversations can enact hope. Crossing boundaries opens the way for the Holy Spirit to work. Jesus stepped out of the restrictions of his time and talked to a woman, a Samaritan woman. The banter they shared showed the mutual commitment to sustain the encounter. Jesus was sensitive to the inappropriateness of talking to a woman. Would it damage her reputation? She disclosed who she is, as she felt confident. Jesus understood her situation of vulnerability, as she has gone to get water in the heat of the day; she had no choice as she was an excluded and disparaged member of society so she avoided meeting anyone. Jesus was compassionate and understood her position. She changed the conversation to retreat into tribalism. Jesus represented the God of truth and he is inclusive. When the Messiah comes he comes with personal knowledge and experience will come together. The woman dashed to the village to encourage others to come and see Jesus. It was significant too as Jesus agreed to stay. When Jesus healed the demoniac the Gerasenes were afraid and told him to go away. We need to battle with fear before we can meet Jesus. When we risk a conversation we are trusting that patience and generosity of spirit will be found in the other person, however different the culture is. The woman found her voice in conversation with Jesus.
In early Methodism the conversations in Methodist Classes were rooted in vulnerability and wretchedness. They spoke from the place of vulnerability. The Methodist Classes enabled people to have the opportunity to hear themselves think and created solidarity in early Methodism. The battle against shortages, when good things are in short supply, we try to get things for ourselves; that damages our imagination about abundance. Jesus challenges our imagination to be reflective, not reactive, as the woman at the well was. When we have open arms and warm conversations people are changed. In dystopian times one bad thing leads to other bad things. Jesus shows us how to live faithfully. We always have to acknowledge human frailties, and recognise that we can never be perfect. Jesus knows we need a saviour.
Peace has to begin with ourselves and we always need to remember to be thankful. If the only prayer we say is thankful; that would be sufficient. We could count 5 things each night to be grateful for before we go to sleep. When we count our blessings the world seems a much more positive place. Being thankful is health giving and boosts our immune system. When we worship God we are giving God his worth. Vulnerable people can worship when they laugh, as it stops them being so self-conscious. Small groups are needed for those who feel vulnerable or autistic. We have no sense of the impact we have on creation. We need others to share with in community. When we feel weak people can then minister to us. We need to recognise our need of a saviour; we are all in some ways implicated in the failures. All of us are organising our lives to lessen the impact of anxiety on our lives. Faith helps us to manage anxiety. People in church live longer because of the positive psychology of the joy of believers. Even secular minds recognise that faith has an influence on wellbeing. This talk made me recognise how we scapegoat other people and can easily forget that we too can influence how people think.