Monday, 5 June 2017

A Window of Opportunity: Pentecost and Politics

The Eastern Orthodox fill their churches with greenery for Pentecost. This is a reminder that it is the Spirit that greens the earth and brings new life into being. 

Stretensky Monastery, Moscow

In John's Gospel, Jesus says, when speaking of the Spirit, 'The wind blows where it wills and you hear the sound of it but you do not know where it comes from or where it blows. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.' (Jn 3.8) We suffered some ferocious gales a few years ago when we were living in Yorkshire. On one occasion a massive tree was blown down just missing houses, a road and some people out walking in the vicinity.  A traumatic, potentially dangerous event which caused a great deal of damage and, to boot, a bit of a rumpus in the village about whether other trees should be felled. The absence of the much-loved sycamore was mourned. The area around it - gardens and a churchyard - seemed bereft. Where the tree had stood, new light flooded in. Other trees and shrubs shook out their leaves and expanded in all directions, wild flowers began to move into the space and eventually a new tree - a horse chestnut with red candles - was planted. Disaster, conflict and new life in the very short space of a couple of seasons.

Many of us reflected on the extremists' attacks on Manchester and London yesterday, the day of Pentecost which marks the coming of the Holy Spirit. It is hard to hold together, on the one hand, the horror of the attacks and dark thoughts about the grief caused and the state of mind of people who could so arbitrarily go out to bomb, run down and stab and, on the other hand, the kindness, bravery and solidarity shown by so many of those who were involved or who lived nearby. But no easy links between evil and good, death and hope suffice. 'The wind blows where it wills and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it blows.'

I found myself focusing on the ways in which opportunity is created and fanned and experienced. We have the Prime Minister's words, 'Enough is enough,' ringing in our ears but is tough talk, escalating security and more money spent on arms to sell and to protect ourselves what is needed? There is a growing number of voices calling for a new approach to the kinds of extremism that produce terrorism and violence. Unpopular as such initiatives were, breakthroughs came in South Africa and Ireland only when Nelson Mandela and the British government, respectively, began to talk to P.W. Botha's government and the I.R.A.

Are these attacks, coinciding with an election, the opportunity to begin to back new ways of organising our foreign and defence policy and our security and community policing? Talk, listen, challenge threatening ideologies that lurk in our communities. Stop selling arms, refuse to bomb other countries, disentangle ourselves from American foreign policy. 
Recognise that focus on deterrence and retaliation does nothing more than stoke up resentment among those who feel themselves to have suffered as a result of the policies and actions that result. In such changed behaviours lie the green shoots of peace and they will be costly. They require a revolution in our thinking but then Pentecost is all about a revolution of the spirit. Those caught up in it were laughed at and called naive and mad and traitors of their tradition, and they faced persecution. The voices that are calling for this kind of revolution were well represented this week by the woman who, during Question Time with Jeremy Corbyn asked, 'Why are you all talking about killing millions of people?' A growing body of millions of voters want no more to do with policies based on aggression and retaliation. Voices everywhere are being raised in bewilderment that, in our society, the unthinkable notion is to question the basis of our security being supposed military superiority and the underlying cost of this for us all.  This Thursday is the time to use your voice to unite with others and grasp a unique opportunity to begin a different kind of politics as well as a different way of responding personally to threat, conflict and violence.    

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