Friday, 9 May 2014

Xenophobia

I am writing this to you as I study my postal vote ballot paper for the forthcoming European Elections with something approaching dismay. I receive mine early as I always choose to vote by post.

There are 11 parties to vote for, but only vote. I find myself asking "what has happened to us a nation?" Most of the parties are overt in their nationalistic fervour, stating clearly that Britain should be OUT of the European Union, and some simmer just below boiling point at the prospect of non- British workers here in the UK.

Some years ago I was fortunate to spend some time living and working adjacent to an "informal settlement" (squatter camp to you and I ) in Johannesburg, South Africa. Approx. 5m people living in cardboard and wooden shelters with no running water, no gas or electricity and no sewerage. If you think that the UK has an immigration problem, - South Africa has a worse one. The camps are at the same time dangerous and filled with desperate but generous and educated people. (As I write this this my mind returns to "big John" a veteran of the apartheid wars, fluent in 11 languages  and church elder but living in a cardboard hut).

However, this is not about South Africa, it is about you and I as we wrestle with the practical implications of the teachings of Jesus, about welcoming the stranger, about walking the extra mile, about taking only what you need and offering grace in exchange for welcome. I am left asking - as I often do - what would Jesus do?

I do not think that there is an easy answer to this because as I read the Bible stories, I find that Jesus was often invited to make political gestures (such as the coin with the face of Caesar) but rarely chose to do so.  Instead he dealt with poverty, hunger and need where he found it, and I suspect that He invites us to do the same.

But that does not help me as I look at my ballot paper. What would Jesus do?

I guess that my church is not the only one to have helped asylum seekers. We have welcomed a family quite recently and I supported them at tribunal. I stare at the paper and find myself completely fulfilling F Scott Fitzgerald's definition of an artist - someone who holds diametric points of view yet still functions. "Can we afford to take in every stranger who knocks on our door as a country?" No. "Can we afford to turn them away?" Equally, No.

But I stare at my ballot paper, 11 choices, but only 1 vote.

God Bless

Alan

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