SOCIAL JUSTICE - BLEND AND BLUR

PRAYERS FOR CLIMATE JUSTICE AND COP26

COP prayers

Lord, we worship you

Creator of the world

Sustainer of the Universe

The Lagan Towpath, kingfishers and seals

Creator of the Antrim coast

The beaches and ocean

The headlands and forests

The 40 shades of green

Creator of the Mournes

The vistas of mountain peaks

The views from there.

God, thank you for the beauty of your art.

 

Lord we ask for your forgiveness

For how careless we have been with our Father’s art

For how reckless we have been

For how we have turned our stewardship vocation

Into a miss-use and abuse of creation for our own ends

For the greed that thinks only of self and more

For the comforts we hold too dear at the cost of the ripping up of your art

For working against you rather than with you for climate justice

For the state in which your art now lies

Lord we ask for your forgiveness

 

And Lord, John tells us that If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness”

 

So do more than forgive us Lord

Purify us from all unrighteousness

This particular week 

Show us our unrighteousness in relation to creation

Help us see

What has been done

What is being done

And what we can do to repent and transform and change

Lord set us free from our greed

From our diminished theology

From our violence to the earth

Set us free to be those who care for the world of our father’s hand

Who care for a creation that also groans for its full salvation

Set us free to make decisions 

In our lives

In our homes

In our places of work

In our cities to halt the environmental catastrophe

Set us free to allow political leaders meeting in Glasgow

To make decisions that might make our lives less comfortable

Less wealthy

That they might save our planet

 

Lord, start with us not the leaders

May we be the custodians of your art that you created us to be

And Jesus redeemed us to be,

 

Amen.  


COP 26 - WHAT ARE WE PREPARED TO SACRIFICE TO SAVE THE PLANET

COP 26 Boris

COP26 has us all looking at Glasgow and thinking about saving the environment. Such gatherings of world leaders can give a real opportunity for pressure groups to march and make demands of our leaders. 

The beginning of COP26 has been encouraging in the speeches made and also the commitment to stop deforestation and cut methane emissions levels. Maybe they are listening.

The truth is that, even at my most cynical, I think that most leaders would like to make big decisions. I think that most would love to be on the right side of this historical crisis.

I wonder though what the pressures are on them are. Oh without doubt there will be pressures from big business, oil companies etc. The economy is the heartbeat of the modern world. Money literally makes the world go around. It creates jobs, pays for infrastructure and prevents poverty.

So, to put ourselves in the chairs of the Presidents and Prime Ministers they must be wondering at how their populations will respond to the decisions they finally do make.

It is one thing for me to march in Belfast on Saturday, or go to a Worship and Prayer Event before it, and to be prepared for the cost that it will be to my luxury and comfort to put the breaks on the environmental catastrophe that is reigning down upon us.

To make sure that we recycle is the easy thing though I still get angry at children of the Creator who play loose with seemingly not one bit bothered about caring for his art! 

Taking the bus will be easy. 

Trying to reduce our plastic will be easy.

What about the use of our cars? I remember when my mother got a work car and we were the freak family with two cars. With a parent, a cousin and a daughter regularly living with us there can now be 4 cars outside our house! 

What about flying? Some of us have family in Australia or British Columbia. Are we prepared to limit our visits and seeing grandparents and grandchildren? 

Some of us have missional connections across the world. Might we have to limit short term mission trips? 

When we travel to visit family across the UK are we prepared to take the least environmental damaging way?

Are we prepared to eat less red meat to save forests and are we willing to buy local produce at a higher cost or do without specialised fruit that comes from thousands of miles away. We love our avocados! 

We need to understand that the decisions that we are demanding from our leaders actually happen that it is going to curtail our lifestyles. We cannot ask for them to act and then vote against them at elections because the decisions that we demanded make our lives seem less. 

The world leaders at COP26 have no magic wand on saving our planet, God’s precious art as some of us describe it. The catastrophe we are in will need massive once in a generation decisions from our world leaders BUT also a total commitment to small everyday decisions from us and a declaration of our willingness to take the hit on our way of life to leave a world for our grandchildren. 

Marching is easy… before we march… what are we prepared to sacrifice to save the planet. 


COP26 - BIG WORLD DECISIONS & EVERYDAY WEE ONES

COP 26 Boris

COP26 has us all looking at Glasgow and thinking about saving the environment. Such gatherings of world leaders can give a real opportunity for pressure groups to march and make demands of our leaders. 

The beginning of COP26 has been encouraging in the speeches made and also the commitment to stop deforestation and cut methane emissions levels. Maybe they are listening.

The truth is that, even at my most cynical, I think that most leaders would like to make big decisions. I think that most would love to be on the right side of this historical crisis.

I wonder though what the pressures are on them are. Oh without doubt there will be pressures from big business, oil companies etc. The economy is the heartbeat of the modern world. Money literally makes the world go around. It creates jobs, pays for infrastructure and prevents poverty.

So, to put ourselves in the chairs of the Presidents and Prime Ministers they must be wondering at how their populations will respond to the decisions they finally do make.

It is one thing for me to march in Belfast on Saturday, or go to a Worship and Prayer Event before it, and to be prepared for the cost that it will be to my luxury and comfort to put the breaks on the environmental catastrophe that is reigning down upon us.

To make sure that we recycle is the easy thing though I still get angry at children of the Creator who play loose with seemingly not one bit bothered about caring for his art! 

Taking the bus will be easy. 

Trying to reduce our plastic will be easy.

What about the use of our cars? I remember when my mother got a work car and we were the freak family with two cars. With a parent, a cousin and a daughter regularly living with us there can now be 4 cars outside our house! 

What about flying? Some of us have family in Australia or British Columbia. Are we prepared to limit our visits and seeing grandparents and grandchildren? 

Some of us have missional connections across the world. Might we have to limit short term mission trips? 

When we travel to visit family across the UK are we prepared to take the least environmental damaging way?

Are we prepared to eat less red meat to save forests and are we willing to buy local produce at a higher cost or do without specialised fruit that comes from thousands of miles away. We love our avocados! 

We need to understand that the decisions that we are demanding from our leaders actually happen that it is going to curtail our lifestyles. We cannot ask for them to act and then vote against them at elections because the decisions that we demanded make our lives seem less. 

The world leaders at COP26 have no magic wand on saving our planet, God’s precious art as some of us describe it. The catastrophe we are in will need massive once in a generation decisions from our world leaders BUT also a total commitment to small everyday decisions from us and a declaration of our willingness to take the hit on our way of life to leave a world for our grandchildren. 

Marching is easy… before we march… what are we prayed to sacrifice to save the planet. 


COP26 - BELFAST PRAYER GATHERING AND MARCH THIS SATURDAY

COP Prayer Belfast
 
You cannot miss COP26 this week.
 
On Saturday there will be big marches in many cities to encourage the political leaders to act. In Belfast the march gathers at Cornmarket at 12. Before that at 10.45am, on May Street, Christian Aid, EA, Tearfund and 24/7 Prayer are leading a prayer and worship time.
 
I spoke to Lucy Hill one of the organisers of the prayer time to get some sense of the purpose and why we should go.
 
Lucy, why is COP26 so vital that you are calling people to pray and march 
 
This week, the UK is hosting the UN climate summit COP26 in Glasgow. Governments of practically every country will come together to make plans for tackling the climate crisis. The situation regarding climate change is beyond urgent, described by the UN as ‘code red’ - COP26 is seen by many to be our last chance to make vital decisions that will make a difference in the accelerating crisis that is putting millions of lives at risk worldwide. 
 
What exactly is going to happen at May Street at 10.45am
 
On Saturday morning we want to begin by gathering to pray and worship. We strongly believe that prayer is crucial for bringing breakthrough in the climate emergency. First, it’s right and appropriate to lament the destruction and injustice of the climate crisis, to recognise where we, as individuals, nations, businesses and the church, have fallen short and to repent of our part in it and then to focus on the specific asks of COP26 and to ask God, by His Holy Spirit to lead those in power to make the right decisions and commitments. From May Street we will join in with others from across NI to march to demonstrate our solidarity with those worst affected by climate change and to demand action. 
 
Why would you encourage Christians to come out? 
 
24/7 Prayer, along with the other organisations involved, believe that the climate crisis is a justice issue - those in the world who are least responsible are those who are being the worst affected by climate change and the reality is that it is often the cost of our lifestyles in the developed world that is largely contributing to the crisis. The church cannot ignore this crisis which is causing so much suffering to people living in poverty. God calls us to meet their needs – in so doing to help build his kingdom on earth.
 
The devastating impact of rising temperatures, more extreme weather conditions and rapidly depleting resources is leading to loss of livelihoods, extreme poverty and hunger and conflict and displacement.  As Christians not only have we been given a mandate to care for the world that God created but in a globalised world we must consider the ways we can truly love our neighbour in the Global South. 
 
 
Can we effect the events in Glasgow? 
 
This is how advocacy works - the more voices we can add to demand action the better. Wouldn’t it be amazing to see Christians and churches lead the way in standing up for justice for our global neighbours? We’ve seen time and time again that when we raise our voices together, decision-makers take action and situations can change for people in povertyChurches across the world have the potential to hold those in power to account and demand change. 
 
What do you think the Church as communities and individuals can do, when we get up off our knees in order to answer our prayers? 
 
Change is needed across the board - from government policies to every day action by individuals, families and communities. The issue seems huge but every small action can make a difference - perhaps as Christians in the developed world it’s time to ask ourselves some big questions regarding the lifestyles we lead and the ways in which our flourishing is affecting the flourishing of others. We can make changes in our own lives, such as reducing our energy consumption and our waste, and thinking more carefully about what we buy and that’s just for starters. Churches could also start to think about how to move towards more sustainable ways of operating - looking at renewable energy, recycling, printing less materials etc. 
 
If you’d like to explore these issues in more detail - both practically and theologically then check out https://ruthvalerio.net
 

IF ONLY WE ARE BRAVE ENOUGH TO... - AMANDA GORMAN'S POEM

Amanda-Gorman-at-Joe-Biden-inauguration

I am writing two articles for different papers today and I was struggling. Then the amazing Amanda Gorman reached in to all our lives and I have a torrent of possibilities. Someone suggested I do a sermon series. I am conjuring The Gospel According To... Amanda Gorman!

Wasn’t she amazing? The performance itself was so poised and powerful and then the words. Words of hope and healing. Words of the common good and the possibilities therein. “… isn’t broken/Just unfinished”. Nice!

America has had a few tough weeks, many would say years. I remember a conversation in Ohio a year or two before Donald Trump where some were fearing violence, the divisions of red and blue and black and white were so tense.

I think it would be wrong if Amanda Gorman’s poem was so attached to Joe Biden that the 70 million who voted for Donald Trump missed it. Light from any quarter the Reformers advised us. There was lots of light in Amanda Gorman’s poem and for ALL of America to miss that, every nook and corner (and indeed the rest of us) would be very sad.

Tears rolled down my cheeks when she found herself in her own poem. 

 

We the successors of a country and a time

Where a skinny Black girl

descended from slaves and raised by a single mother

can dream of becoming president

only to find herself reciting for one

 

Perfect. Beautiful. Actual.

I left watching the inauguration just about the end of her poem to speak at a Public Meeting in support of the Belfast Multi-Cultural Association. I found myself unrehearsed quoting her almost immediately. Surely that made me one of the first people to quote the poem in a speech. I’ll claim it anyway! Apparently in doing so I quoted from Hamilton. I had no idea but it made me cool with my daughters!

Amanda had used one of my go to verses from the prophets. To hear her quote Micah 4:4 was like my team scoring a goal in a Cup Final. 

 

Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the LORD Almighty has spoken.

 

It is now twenty years since I started taking teams to Africa and Micah 4:4 has become very precious in my theologising of the work we have done in Cape Town and Arua. That I had to quote it in South Belfast brought some reality to the state of our world but it seemed appropriate. Here is God’s will for every human being. Shelter. Security. Vocation. Shalom. I believe it is what Jesus calls me to bring to the world. 

Which leads me to the words that I am using in the articles I am writing. Her ending. Oh the ending. 

 

“There is always light

If only we are brave enough to see it

If only we are brave enough to be it.”

 

Jesus said he was the Light of the World. We need to see it. It takes courage. Even more courage to respond when Jesus looks at us and says “You are the light of the world.”

 

If only…

Brave enough…

To see it…

To be it.

 

Wow! I’m in and I’m not even American!


RACISM ON DONEGALL PASS - SIN AGAINST GOD AND HUMANITY

Racism Donegal pass

There was about a 15 minute period last night when I thought that it was our building on fire. I was tipped off on social media to a fire on Donegall Pass. We took the keys to the former School of Music just this week. The building had been given to the Belfast Education Authority back in the 1930s for use as a school. It had finally been returned.

I was a little relieved when I discovered that it wasn’t the School of Music but my relief was short lived as I realised that what was burning was the old Donegall Pass Presbyterian Church building at the end of the Pass. Donegall Pass Presbyterian joined Fitzroy in the early 70s. We still have members of that Church worshipping with us. To see the roof of that historical church burnt through is heartbreaking.

Yet there is a deeper ache. It would seem that the fire is being seen as a hate crime. This historic building was set on fire deliberately. It was currently being used by the Belfast Multi-Cultural Association (BMCA) with particular emphasis in these difficult times on feeding the community. It is hard to find words to respond to that. Blatant vicious racism in the heart of Belfast. 

We are very aware of racism across the world. Since George Floyd’s murder last May in Minneapolis, Black Lives Matter has being making a mark across America and seeing English soccer players taking the knee before kick off is a weekly, nearly daily reminder of a campaign that needs all our support. Indeed it is hard to believe that over 50 years after the murder of Martin Luther King that this is still an issue.

Surely that is one of humanity’s very worst contemporary sins. Not only the sin of it happening as in the arson attack on a Multi Cultural Centre in Belfast but the sin of how it first began and the sin of how it has never been stamped out across human history.

Racism is a sin against God and humanity. God made humans in his own image and there is a preciousness about every single human being that Jesus revealed in his dying for the world - every nation. The culmination of all things as laid out in Revelation has every nation around God's throne.

Any contrived reading of The Bible that suggests other than this needs highlighted and discarded as the heresy that it is. It has been wonderful to see such action taking place in South Africa and the apology from the Dutch Reformed theologians for their hateful error.

Here in Northern Ireland we haven’t needed other races or colours to sin against God and humanity with our own inhumanity to one another. However our binary divisions have held back work on how we treat other races and welcome them into the fabric of our society.

The 2021 4 Corners Festival has decided that we as a festival can wait no longer.

On Wednesday February 3rd we will be holding an event called Building Breathing Room For Diversity with:

 

Dr Michael Wardlow, former chief commissioner of the Equality Commission will chair split panel discussions with: 

Adriana Morvaiová, chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Council and founder of Appreciating Cultural Exchange (ACE); 

Lori Gatsi-Barnett, chair of Horn of Africa People's Aid Northern Ireland (HAPANI); 

Eileen Chan-Hu, executive director/co-founder of Cultivate Respect, Appreciate Inclusion in Communities in Northern Ireland (CRAICNI); 

Dr Livingstone Thompson, Minister in Charge, the Moravian Church, Belfast

Sheikh Anwar Mady of the Belfast Islamic Centre. 

 

They will address questions such as how the churches here have contributed to the conversation around race and racism; whether race-informed power structures are at play in the churches and what ecclesial inclusion look like. 

Last night’s events in a building with a history linked so closely to Fitzroy highlights the importance of such an evening. Please join us in challenging racism in our city.

 

BOOK HERE https://4cornersfestival.com


PRAYERS FOR OUR CARE FOR CREATION - Rhea Marshall (Fitzroy 15.11.2020)

Care For Creation

These are the prayers from the Fitzroy Sunday Service (on-line) on November 15, 2020, by Rhea Marshall.

 

Our prayers today our focused on the environment.

Please join me in prayers of thanksgiving, repentance and intercession for climate justice.

We start with a moment of thankfulness

In these challenging months,  for the comfort, beauty and joy, so many of us experience in your creation. We thank you God

For our favourite outdoor places, for the beauty of Autumn and fun exploring outdoors. We thank you God.

For how the earth sustains us, providing all that we need: warmth, food and shelter. We thank you God.

Lord you have taught us that repentance is about changing, turning and acting in new ways.  

We can feel overwhelmed when faced with Climate Crisis: [grief at what has been lost, sorrow for the harm we cause, and fear for the future]1.  When we have chosen to run from our feelings: Forgive us Lord.

When we have failed to respond to global warming, species decline, plastic and pollution, climate inequality and poverty, Forgive us Lord.

When we have consumed more than we have put back; when we have been caught up in economic systems and lifestyles which cause destruction; when we have been blind to [privileges gained through the exploitation of others]2 and the Earth: Forgive us Lord

When we have forgotten that we are just a tiny part of creation, and that caring for creation is the same as caring for each other, and caring for ourselves, Forgive us Lord.

We pray for climate justice.

We ask for the courage to change: to be people who strive for [peace over profit, activity over complacency and a greater good over today’s convenience.]3  Lord help us.

We ask for guidance in how we, individually and as a faith community, can bring about climate justice.  In considering our time and resources, our prayers and interactions, and the impact of all our actions. Lord help us. 

We pray for the many conservationists, environmental groups and individuals who work to protect our world.  May we learn from their dedication and experience.  May we come alongside them and support their work where we can.  Lord help us.

We pray for Stormont, where the climate change bill is currently being considered. We pray for the Northern Ireland executive and civil servants.   Give them courage and stamina, to lead us through the monumental cultural and behavioural changes required.  We pray for wisdom in supporting and challenging our governments in tackling the climate emergency.  Lord help us.  

We ask that you unite us all, individuals, our church community, our wider community and our government, in fighting to reduce carbon emissions, consumption levels and inequality. Lord help us.

Lord, remind us of [our love for this beautiful planet that feeds nourishes and sustains us.  Strengthen our love for the whole of humanity in all corners of the world.

Strengthen our desire to protect all of this, for ourselves, for all living beings and for generations to come.]4 In Jesus’s name we pray.  Amen.

 

  1. Ref Melanie Nazareth, p 254 “Time to Act” A resource book by the Christians in Extinction Rebellion spck 2020
  2. Ref Melanie Nazareth, p 256 “Time to Act” 
  3. Ref Fran Pratt, p272 “Time to Act” 
  4. Ref Solemn Intention Statement, Extinction Rebellion.

PRAYER FOR AMERICA ON ELECTION DAY

Statue Of Liberty

I was captured by James K.A. Smith's idea that we are not so much what we believe as what we love. The heart not the mind is a key for all spiritual and social behaviour. Christians have put a great emphasis on the mind (not wrongly) but if the heart is the real driver and is captured by different things then the mind may be well thought through to no avail! 

When we all vote, and it is America's turn today then I fear that our beliefs give way to what our own selfish desires, comforts and securities. I pray that belief and love would line up today...

 

Like the lady in the harbour

Vote for her torch of light

For that brave New Colossus

All the huddled masses in flight

For all the tired and weary

In the darkest part of night

For all that Jesus called blessed

I pray that you do what's right.

 

Don’t vote for what you love

But for what you say you believe

Don’t vote for you yourself alone

But for every soul longing to breathe.


FACTORY OF MAGNIFICENT SOULS - TO CELEBRATE 30 YEARS SINCE NELSON MANDELA'S RELEASE FROM PRISON

Mandela's Cell

Thirty years ago today Nelson Mandela was released from prison. I remember it so well. I had been going out with Janice for only about six months and had no idea how much South Africa and Robben Island would become part of our lives. Yet, I remember on that day as I watched those last steps of the long walk to freedom that something good had happened to the world. I felt that feeling of justice. I wanted more of it.

Ten years later and I was taking students to Cape Town every other year to help build houses on the Townships. A small way to right those apartheid wrongs. We even got to meet FW De Klerk who released Mandela that day back in 1990.

It is hard to find words to describe how much I loved Nelson Mandela. I had the privilege of visiting Robben Island so many time and even got to get into his cell. Those visits to Robben Island were powerfully poignant, like walking on redeemed ground.

I wrote this after one trip and then when Iona asked to use it in a song I wrote another verse during another visit. I think it sums up all that is almost unbelievable about the man's humility, courage and grace. Jo Hogg sings it so well. Today as we celebrate Mandela's release, I send it out in celebration.

 

Thought of you on this island of the leper
Thought of you on this island of the mad
Thought of you on this island of the outcast
Thought of you on this island of the sick and sad

And no one ever asked questions
With marks as sharp as these
They pierced the veins of Jesus
Who was one of the least of these

Thought this island had a tragic holiness
Thought this island had a painful grace
Thought this island had the ugliest history
Thought this island was the most beautiful place

And no one ever gave an answer
With as gentle a word as this
You took the most violent indignation
And you killed it with a political kiss

Thought of you on this island of the limestone and the pain of dust torn eyes
Thought of you on this island of the convict toiling under the bluest skies
Looked upon this island of the reconciled,
And I saw a stone carved cross
Thought of you on this island of redemption,

Closed my eyes and thought about what that freedom had cost

I saw the altar of this world’s cruelty
I saw the stadium of the devils goals
I saw a man duck and weave the most evil punches
I saw a factory of magnificent souls.


CHANGING MY THINKING ABOUT CRIMINALS

Jailkeys

Cape Town made me wide eyed. Oh my, the beauty! Then it opened my eyes. To the ugliness of crime. I had just brought a group of students in. They were robbed. They lost all sense of security. We had to move them fast. 

If I had gotten the hold of the wee urchins who stole clothes and electric devices I would have pulverised them myself before taking them to the police. I was angry. I wanted justice. Vengeance probably.

The next evening, we were at a Ronan Keating concert! I know, not my thing but the students needed a night out and my friend was playing bass guitar! 

Keating didn’t grab too much of my attention but then he sang a cover of Elvis Presley’s In The Ghetto. Elvis didn’t sing many profound potent political songs. In the Ghetto might have been the only one.

That song changed my whole perception of the crime against us. Originally called The Vicious Circle, In the Ghetto does a few things. It rehumanises the criminal. It asks questions about a society that causes the crime. It points the finger at all of us for being blind to this.

A few years later I was talking to my friend Sandi. Sandi was from the Cape Flats and he told me that as a teenager he made a choice to get himself onto an Operation Mobilisation ship because if he had stayed on the townships without education, jobs and hope,  he would have ended up on drugs and in crime, probably in prison.

We can have a lazy response to crime. They deserve all that they get. They get it too easy. Put them in and throw away the key.

I believe this to be wrong in several ways. The dehumanisation of the criminal. Our blindness to the part of our complicity in not doing anything about the social injustice that allows crime to flourish. We also need to remember that almost all our prisoners will one day be back on the streets and those on probation are already in our communities, so a mindset of restoration, rehabilitation and redemption is for the good of everyone.

Of course, for the follower of Jesus this should be obvious. If I was a sportsman in the dressing room before a game, I would listen to all of what the coach says. What they might say first and then the last thing they say before leaving us to go and play might be the most vital advice to remember.

Jesus started and ended his ministry talking about prisoners. Then on the Cross Jesus promised a man sentenced in the courts to be with him in Heaven. Restoration, rehabilitation and redemption are at the heart of Jesus’ Gospel. 

We as Jesus’ followers need to be about that too. Jesus had no desire to leave anyone wallowing in a prison cell. He came to offer everyone “life and life in all its fulness.” (John 10:10).  It therefore seems to me that the Church should be working in close relationship, as individuals and congregations, with the  Northern Ireland Prison Service and the Probation Board for Northern Ireland and others to transform the lives of all of those sentenced in our courts so  that they might eventually become contributors to a City of Grace that they should be benefiting from.  

No one is beyond the influence and redemption of Jesus. As I wrote in a poem awhile back... 

I came across Jesus

Hanging on a cross

Carved in sand on a Spanish beach

His sparkling eyes 

Cut through the night

Like no one was out of his reach.

 

Incredibly and very tragically, as I used this story of Sandi in my speech in Hydebank College and Women's Prison I had no idea that he had been taken seriously ill back in South Africa. By the time I used the story again in my Sunday sermon Sandi had died. He was too young. This goes out in his tribute and with prayers for his wife Zimbini and family. You made your contribution brother. Thank you!