Minister's Letter - March 2019
Rev Sue Keegan von Allmen
Rev Sue Keegan von AllmenDear friends,

I love the song written by Paul Field that begins, “God of the moon and stars, God of the near and far, God of the fragile hearts we are, I come to you”. As the song progresses, all sorts of people are included: the rich and poor, the princess and the whore, the pimp and paedophile, the junkie and the priest, the greatest and the least, the refugee, prisoner and the free, the lawyer and the thief. It ends like this. “God of our faith and unbelief, I come to you, God of the wounds we bear, God of the deepest dreams we share … God of the lonely cross, God who has come to us, I come to you”. I love this song because it articulates the deep truth of God’s love for all people, whoever they are and whatever they have done. For me, that’s the starting point of all theology, all preaching, all Christian practice.

Karl Barth suggests preachers should read the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other, but I think it’s a helpful starting point for all of us as we reflect on the news, because it saves us from responding to issues and people out of outrage.

As I’m writing this Link letter, the news has been full of the story of Shamima Begum, the 19-year-old who left London in 2015 for Syria to join IS. Found in a Syrian refugee camp a couple of days before she gave birth to a son, she’s asked to be allowed to come back to her home to bring up her child. Stripped of her British citizenship, she’ll now remain in the refugee camp while her family’s lawyers challenge the decision of the Home Office.

I’m struck by several contradictory things about Shamima Begum’s situation. She was 15 when she left Britain and a child who has been radicalised, and radicalisation is now recognised as a form of grooming. She is now 19. However, it seems to me that she is a not-very-wise 19-year-old. Having been found, she’s been caught up in a media circus and said things about IS and the Manchester bombing that do her no favours. On the one hand she is an adult and responsible for what she says, but on the other the media are out for a good story which they can sell. Whether she courted it, or whether they found her out, they’ve got it. She’s now reaping the consequences.

I don’t think Shamima Begum is entirely innocent. Nor do I think she’s entirely guilty. She’s a human being who has contradictory impulses, like all of us to a lesser or greater degree. Yet like all the people mentioned in Paul Field’s song – and all of us – God loves her.

Lent begins on 6th March with Ash Wednesday. In some churches, people receive a sign of the cross on their foreheads, a sign of repentance and a symbol of our mortality. This is a reminder that we are created from the dust of the earth. The words used are, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ”. I struggle with Ash Wednesday Services, because some leaders emphasise how wrong human beings are, while forgetting that God loves us and with God’s grace we all have the potential to be transformed. Ignatius of Loyola talks about us being “loved sinners” and I think this is a good way to understand ourselves.

It enables us to see ourselves as we really are, as people in whom there are many contradictions. We are people who are neither wholly good or wholly bad. We are people who have the potential to be manipulated by others – including the media – intentionally and unintentionally. We are people with responsibilities to care for others and people longing for security, love and meaning. Just as we can say this of ourselves and each other, we can also say this of the society, nation and world of which we are members. So, as you reflect on the news in the light of God’s love for all, I invite you to pray, “God of our faith and unbelief, I come to you. God of the wounds we bear, God of the deepest dreams we share … God of the lonely cross, God who has come to us, I come to you”.

With good wishes. Sue