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BBC Thought for the Day,

Rev Dr Alan Billings (in 2008)

Last week I came across a battered copy of a little book that was used in almost every primary school between 1933 and the late-1960s - Prayers and Hymns for Junior Schools. Older listeners will remember singing from it in assemblies: Summer suns are glowing over land and sea; Morning has broken like the first morning. Since almost every child would have been exposed to these hymns and prayers each school day, several generations of us must have been marked by the book's outlook and values.

It had two dominant themes. First, a sound environmental message: his world is no accident, but a creation; so, as a temporary steward, respond to it appropriately: wonder at it, take care of it and enjoy it: Glad that I live am I, that the sky is blue. Then second, understand the adult life you are heading into - the life of work - not as a means of enriching yourself, but of serving others; for it is in serving others that we serve God.

As stock markets plunged, the page fell open at one hymn that I hope wasn't prophetic. Daises are our silver, buttercups our gold/This is all the treasure we can have or hold.

The point about the religious assemblies of those years was that they were unashamedly concerned with the formation of character - morality. Those of us who daily sang those hymns and prayed those prayers were shaped by their attitudes and values. They reflected what we might call the Protestant affirmation of ordinary life. All occupations are vocations under God and the purpose and satisfaction of work is not to heap up material possessions for ourselves, but to contribute towards the common good.

The present crisis in financial markets suggests that this has not been the orientation of some, if not all of us, in more recent years. Not just bankers. We have all helped ourselves to the fruits of their activities and shut our eyes to the risks. Some of the politicians who now decry the money-men are the same politicians that previously lauded their boldness and creativity. Some of the clergy who denounce them were quite happy to accept the better stipends they made possible.

If we are to learn from our mistakes we need to turn from moralising to morality. Despite the turbulence and the risks, it's hard to see any alternative system with the same capacity as capitalism to lift the world's poor out of poverty - which is surely what any social ethic demands.

However, this crisis has revealed that we have all become less motivated by that concern for common good commended in that book of Prayers and Hymns. It is a sharp reminder that while ethics without capitalism may be impotent, capitalism without ethics can bring ruin on us all.

copyright 2008 BBC 


BBC Thought for the Day - 27/04/2016  –

Rev Dr Giles Fraser

Rev Dr Giles Fraser - 27/04/16

“The Truth” said the tabloid newspaper, in big bold capital letters, right across the front page. And according to The Sun, the truth was this: “Some fans picked the pockets of victims. Some fans urinated on the brave cops.” All total rubbish, of course. And later The Sun apologised. But they weren’t the only ones to get it so very badly wrong.

St Matthew’s Gospel has it thus in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you …” And we have another phrase for it now: victim blaming.

It’s been a long journey for the families of the men, women and children who died at Hillsborough’s Lepping’s Lane Terrace on the 15th of April 1989. Indeed, it included the longest jury proceeding in British legal history. And over all these years, layers of lies and official cover-up have been gradually discovered and disguarded.

A few days after the tragedy, in Sheffield cathedral, Dr John Habgood, then Archbishop of York said this in his sermon: “The truth will out. And what kind of truth will it be?”

Well, now we know that many lives could have been saved if it wasn’t for the failures of the police in charge who mismanaged a dangerous crush. Now we know that some of the police withheld evidence, amended statements and told lies about the supporters, trying to cast them in the role of drunken hooligans. “Thou shalt not bear false witness” is the ninth of the ten commandments. It’s one of the foundation stones of moral civilization in the Judao-Christian tradition. And it took decades of struggle by the families of the Hillsborough victims for the truth to be officially told, exonerating the fans and their behaviour on that terrible day. Over this time, many Hillsborough families refused to accept death certificates that included the misleading description “accidental death.” Now, however, we can publically bear witness to the truth: it was “unlawful killing” – and there’s something profoundly healing about being able to say as much.

Back in January, the Hillsborough families unanimously agreed that the 15th of this month was to be the final Hillsborough memorial service at Anfield. They all sang “abide with me” and former Everton striker Greame Sharp read from the 23rd Psalm: “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, thou art with me” – which is, I guess, a more explicitly religious version of the Liverpool favorite “you’ll never walk alone”, which they also sang.

People talk about moving on, as if it were that easy. It’s not. But grief has its stages - and getting to the truth is one of them. And achieving justice is another. Though perhaps sufficient for today is this: 96 people were unlawfully killed because of what happened that day. May they all rest in peace. Amen.

copyright 2016 BBC

Rev Dr Sam Wells - 08/06/17

BBC Thought for the Day

Good morning. In 1814 Ivan Krylov wrote a story called The Inquisitive Man about a person in a museum who sees countless tiny objects, but somehow doesn’t notice an elephant. Dostoyevsky and Mark Twain took up the notion, and the phrase ‘elephant in the room’ became proverbial.

This morning is a curious one on the Today programme because, for historical and legal reasons, we’re not discussing the thing we’ve all spent the last six weeks talking about. For a programme like this that prides itself on leaving nothing out, that takes a lot of forbearance.

As a culture we like to feel we avoid groupthink and name the elephant in the room. But it’s not always helpful to talk about what everyone’s thinking.

It’s common for critics of religion to say that faith is simply a series of defence mechanisms erected to create an emotional barrier against the elephant in the room that is death. I actually think, on this occasion, the critics are onto something. We do all have to find a way to come to terms with our own mortality. But there’s no use talking about it all the time.

On Jesus’ last night before his crucifixion, he took three disciples with him deep into the Garden of Gethsemane, and said, ‘Keep watch while I pray.’ But when he came back, he said, ‘Could you not stay awake one hour?’ I wonder why they fell asleep. I doubt it was because they were tired. More likely they were emotionally overwhelmed. They knew the danger Jesus was in. But they couldn’t stay in that terrifying place for any length of time.

It’s hard to blame them. You can’t always boldly name the elephant in the room and simply move on. Sometimes you have to stay in that place and find a way to exist without any evident place to move on to. Christianity is indeed a way of coming to terms with death – by redeeming the past through the offer of forgiveness, and unlocking the future through the promise of eternal life. But that confidence and hope doesn’t mean talking about death all the time.

Sometimes when everyone in the room is thinking the same thing, but not saying it, you can have the best conversation – the longest laughter, the most poignant silences. Often when there’s a word we don’t mention, there can grow a deeper perception of what we’re truly about together. We might not always speak of death; but we still have to find a way to share life. We might not say the word ‘election’ today; but we may all the more recall that true politics – the art of living together despite our differences – is for every day.


8 June 2017