Thursday, 26 June 2008

I long for a church where everyone's invited to the party: thoughts on Celtic Imagination No 11

One in five gay people suffer hate attacks.  Just pause and read that again. This headline from today's Guardian stopped me in my tracks and led me to at least try and imagine what it feels like to be a victim of this sort of hate crime. And what of these shocking images of last months violence in Johannesburg which show the reality of hate crime at its worst?

Stories like these bring me back to this photograph and that solitary chair, placed well away from the table. What must it be like to know that you are not welcome? What must it be like to know that who you are at the very heart and soul of your being is unwanted, rejected and spurned before even a word has been exchanged or a hand extended in greeting? And all this on the basis of just one descriptor amongst so very many which help to describe the shape of your life to other people.

Why is it that a person's sexuality, the colour of their skin or their ethnic origin can be such a decisive and divisive issue, whereas their stance on poverty, hunger, justice, debt-relief, world trade, peace, and global warming, is usually not? These are the issues which are truly decisive and important to our collective wellbeing whereas someone's sexuality or skin pigmentation is about as relevant as the colour of their eyes.

For a number of years now I have used the excellent website Preaching Peace, which is informed and shaped by the work of Rene Girard. 'Preaching Peace' applies Girardian theory to Christian theology and helps us to understand and counter mechanisms of violence and scapegoating in the world and to appreciate how the life and teaching of Jesus undermines such mechanisms. Perhaps this is why one of the many aspects of the emergent church movement which attracts me is their refusal to be drawn into divisive statements or behaviours - have a look at their values and practices and you will see what I mean. They live with diversity and differing opinions. They practice a wholesome and generous hospitality where all are welcome around the table. They put into practice the theology which lives peacemaking and avoids the mechanisms of scapegoating.

So little while ago, as I reflected imaginatively on the photo and tried to enter into it, I wrote this prayer: 

Loving God,

As we follow Jesus

You call us to lives of intimacy and solitude.

When we need to sit apart,

Bless us with the refreshing of your Spirit.

When we are left out,

Bless us with the companionship of your Spirit.

When we have missed out,

Bless us with the wisdom of your Spirit.

When we want out,

Bless us with the encouragement of your Spirit.

When we sit together

Bless us with kindliness of your Spirit,

That we would welcome

all whom you call to sit with you

at the open table of your kingdom.

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