Let’s Plant A Little Hope This Harvest!

Send A Cow Harvest Appeal
Send A Cow Harvest Appeal

The plight of so many tired and weary people travelling towards and across Europe at this present time is really quite astonishing. Many do so because they fear for their lives and seek a place of safety and refuge, others (often because of war) have found their local circumstances to be simply unbearable and so they seek a better life in ‘foreign’ places of freedom and opportunity. The travelling is hard; the risks are great and for those prepared to do so – costly. Apart from risking their lives, most people have had to leave most of their personal possessions behind and have either spent their ‘travelling money’ on food or had it stolen by people smugglers and others wanting to exploit their situation. The one thing that unites these travellers and keeps them moving is hope! The immediate hope of a place to live in safety and peace, and the future hope of a better life, greater security and opportunity both for themselves and their children. Naturally, every face tells a story, and presents a challenge to world leaders and politicians. How compassionate are we – and how charitable can we afford to be? These questions will require a great deal of wisdom, soul searching and fortitude if we are ever collectively to find positive answers.

Harvest time is a time when we in ‘the west’ can really ‘count our blessings’ and appreciate just how lucky and fortunate we are. With so many shops at our disposal and convenience, we tend to take our daily lives for granted and never really think or entertain the thought that we might not know where our next meal or morsel is coming from. How lucky we are!

That’s why we as a church would like to continue to support Send a Cow’s Harvest for Life’ Appeal and encourage you to do the same. Last year we successfully raised enough money to provide several ‘Keyhole Gardens’ and this year’s appeal is to provide ‘Growing Kits’, which will enable families in Africa to become self-sufficient by giving them the tools, seeds and training to grow and harvest their own crops. Every £177 raised is enough to provide a ‘Growing Kit’ to a family. Send a Cow acknowledges that “poverty robs people of the power to choose their own path”, but their work with rural communities across Africa teaches, encourages and shows people how to get the best out of their soil and livestock, so that they can feed their families all year round. Socially, African husbands are also encouraged to see their wives as equals, appreciating that by positively working together they will be more successful at sustaining themselves and their children. Having grown enough food to feed themselves, families are able to sell the rest which improves their quality of life and allows them to send their children to school. This provides real hope and security for the future. Also Send A Cow’s ‘pass-it-on’ principle means that with every successful harvest, skills, knowledge and produce are shared with others within the community making it even more successful.

I would therefore like to encourage you this harvest to take stock of and count your blessings, and join us if you can for our special harvest service on 4th October at Necton, as we celebrate God’s goodness to each and every one of us and as we support this special appeal.

We’d also like to encourage people to bring to church ‘imperishables’ which can be brought up to the front during the service. These will subsequently be donated to the Swaffham Food Bank helping those people literally ‘on our doorstep’ who are finding it hard to make ends meet.

We very much hope you will come and we look forward to seeing you.


Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. James 3.18


 Image 3

The Dilemma Of Voting For The Right Kind Of Leader

500

This week the Labour Party will start to elect its new leader and many will breathe a huge sigh of relief to think that at long last it’s nearly over. Whatever one’s political view, it’s hard to pretend that this particular Labour Contest hasn’t thrown up a few surprises. Who would have thought that Jeremy Corbyn’s candidacy would have proved so popular? It’s even been dubbed Corbynmania by the press as this most left-wing of the four leadership candidates throws the election contest wide open to the astonishment of the Labour party’s political elite and former leaders. With 610,753 people registered to vote, many see Jeremy Corbyn as the new fresh voice of traditional, socialist Labour values; whereas others warn that his leadership will be a disastrous move for the Labour Party, rendering it practically unelectable as its moves away from the centre ground which proved so popular under Tony Blair and ‘New Labour’. I guess we shall just have to wait and see which of these political perspectives comes out on top, but surely Gordon Brown was right when he argued that the main thing all political parties needed to offer the electorate is hope!

One of the privileges of living in a democracy is the fact that we get a chance to say who we would like to represent us. Sometimes this process can be quite challenging, daunting and uncomfortable – ‘I would like to vote for you but I most certainly wouldn’t want to vote for you’. How do we cope when we feel that our trust has been misplaced or the person representing us doesn’t adequately share our vision? We want leaders, but only when they agree with us! It was precisely this sort of dilemma that faced people when Jesus first burst on to the scene. At first he was taken as a radical, someone who would challenge the authorities, kick against the establishment, and give power to the people. He spoke about a kingdom that was ‘breaking in’, being established before their very eyes, but not just any kingdom this was ‘the kingdom of God’! It all sounded very revolutionary, but was Jesus the king? Was he the long awaited and eagerly anticipated Messiah? “Who do people say I am?” Jesus once asked his disciples. “Some say John the Baptist; others Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets” was the general reply. Only Peter had the courage to voice what no doubt many of the others were thinking – “You are the Messiah he said. There it was, out in the open, the Messiah was here! Well done Peter! But almost immediately hopes and dreams were turned upside down as Jesus explained that he was required to go to Jerusalem, face suffering and rejection and even death, culminating three days later in his resurrection. This was astonishingly dismal! What about all those hopes and dreams about the cleansing and restoration of the Jewish Temple; defeating the enemy (namely the Romans) who threatened and oppressed God’s people; and the long awaited longing for justice and freedom – were all these hopes and dreams to be horribly broken and terribly smashed? Surely Jesus was mistaken and Peter rebukes him. It was unthinkable that the long awaited Messiah and King should face suffering, rejection and death. The problem was then (as it is today) that so many people want a leader, but not a leader like that!  Not one who was so completely at odds with their long held vision, dreams and values. Now, I’m not remotely suggesting that Jeremy Corbyn is the ‘saviour’ of the Labour Party, but it is this clash of perspectives and ideals which I find most fascinating.

Peter was in turn rebuked by Jesus who accused him of not having in mind ‘the things of God, but the things of men’. His vision was simply too mundane and too small to comprehend all that God had in store. I don’t know what lies in store for our nation or the Labour Party, but biblically speaking, the ministry of Jesus achieved something way beyond our human imagination, for it provides us all with the possibility of a new start, a new and restored relationship with God which provides us with new possibilities and encourages us to work towards a more loving, fair and just society, with rewards not just for the present moment but for all eternity. That’s what Jesus the Messiah meant when he spoke about the Kingdom of God breaking in and this is a cause of much joy, celebration and hope. Naturally, he wins my vote – what about yours?


‘but what about you? He asked. “who do you say I am?”’ Mark 8.29


An English Budget And A Greek Tragedy

Today is Wednesday 9th July, the day after the Chancellor George Osborne has given his first budget with an all Conservative Treasury Team. It’s also the day that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of Greece is told that he has until the end of tomorrow (Thursday) to present new proposals to secure a third bailout from creditors and prevent a possible Greek exit from the eurozone on Sunday (we will know what has happened by the time you come to read this). The contrast between the two couldn’t be greater! The Greek Prime Minister with the backing of a recent referendum is calling for an end to austerity, whereas the Chancellor has his hand firmly on the tiller calling for more austerity to steer the nation out of recession and into economic growth. The Greek Prime Minister is looking for a re-structuring of Greek debt but Germany’s Chancellor Mrs Merkel has made it clear that the massive debt of €320bn will not be written off. Meanwhile across The Channel, George Osborne seeks to cut welfare benefits by £12bn, increase the minimum wage to £9 per hour (by 2020), and reduce Child Tax & Sickness benefits, in order to pay our way out of debt.

Of course the greatest contrast between the two scenarios is one of degree; no one is suggesting that the situation in the UK is remotely comparable to the huge tragedy that is currently playing out in Greece. However bad the situation is in England, we don’t have to face bank closures or restrict ourselves to a mere €60 (£43) a week. The problem is of course that whatever the grandiose scheme or ‘big picture’, it tends to be the poorest people who suffer most. Even in the UK, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) calculate that it will be the poorest people in work who suffer the most due to a reduction in Child Tax Credits (13 million families) and that the proposed increase in the minimum wage will not be enough to compensate them. Naturally, we don’t have limitless funds but as the oft-used quote of Aneurin Bevan rightly observed “one of the measures of a civilised society is how well it looks after its most vulnerable members”.

Jesus said that the greatest commandment was not only to love God with all of our hearts, but to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ (Luke 10.27). We should therefore never forget the human dynamic to this story; that those who are suffering are people just like us – as soon as we forget this we have lost not only our generosity but our humanity. It’s also interesting to note that Biblically speaking ‘poor’ people are not just those who are without money but those who are truly helpless without any means of helping themselves. We need to make sure that however tough are lives may be, we continue to help one another and hold our governments to account, as a society, as a church, and as individuals.


‘Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?’ James 2.15-16


In Praise Of Church Bells

DSC_5409

This month, I am very much looking forward to our “Summer Concert & Abseiling from the Church Tower” weekend (Fri 3rd & Saturday 4th July) as we try to raise some money towards the restoration of our church bells. I know perfectly well that in the grand scheme of things there are many other things that are much more important and significant to people’s immediate welfare than church bells and I wouldn’t for one moment want to pretend otherwise – but equally, we in Britain have a great and grand tradition of ‘English’ church bell ringing (which is completely different to that done across Europe), not just for church services but at times of national significance and joyful celebration. Recently bells have been rung to celebrate various Royal occasions, the Olympics, and commemorate various anniversaries pertaining to both the first and second world wars. Not only are they our bells rung for Sunday services but they are also rung to celebrate weddings and other joyful events of people from our community. The bells therefore add another colour and facet to our daily life bringing us all together – and it would be such a shame if they were to fall silent just because we couldn’t afford to maintain them. So if you are one of those ‘brave souls’ who is prepared to jump off the tower and raise some funds for us on Saturday – thank you very much indeed! Or can I encourage you to sponsor those who are? I would also like to invite you to come to our ‘Summer Concert’ on Friday evening (7.30pm). It would be lovely to see you and your attendance really would be very much appreciated.

I’m sure that most of you will appreciate that for me as a clergyman, and as Rector of All Saints Necton, the bells are immensely symbolic, for they remind us that despite our busy and increasingly secular lives, there is still a place for God, both at the heart of our community and at significant times in our lives. God is there. He is always there, as represented by his church – not just in the bricks and mortar of our buildings, but in the hearts and minds of those who put their faith and trust in him. The bells are a call to worship, but they are also rung in celebration of his presence amongst us, even at the most difficult times in our lives. We may not always feel his presence, but fortunately faith is not based upon feeling, but upon our simple knowledge and understanding of him. The bells go on to remind us that God’s love for us both as individuals and as a community is not fickle, ‘here one moment and gone the next’, but like them, is constant, steadfast and enduring – and that has to be not only a comfort to many, but a cause for celebration.

Yours as ever,

Stephen Thorp


‘and surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age’ Matthew 28.20


(If you would like to know more about All Saints Necton just click the link in the ‘Link List), 

Floods, Chaos And A Bewildered Hippopotamus

People help a hippopotamus escape from a flooded zoo in Tbilisi, Georgia, Sunday, June 14, 2015. Tigers, lions, a hippopotamus and other animals have escaped from the zoo in Georgiaís capital after heavy flooding destroyed their enclosures, prompting authorities to warn residents in Tbilisi to stay inside Sunday. (AP Photo/Tinatin Kiguradze)

It would be comical if it wasn’t so sad! The sight of a heavily sedated hippopotamus being herded along the streets of Tbilisi by a group of civilians in the wake of a major flood that has devastated the Georgian capital and smashed its city’s zoo, is extraordinary. Sadly thirteen people are known to have tragically lost their lives in the flooding, and the city’s police have subsequently come under intense scrutiny for appearing to cavalierly shoot the escaped animals rather than see them be recaptured. A wolf that was shot by police even though it had been safely sedated appears to undermine the official police reports that their only desire was to protect civilians. Between the flooding and police shootings, the zoo has lost over half its animals, with its owners begging that animals are only shot if there is direct evidence that they are a danger to people (like the white tiger which sadly killed a man). ‘Begi’, the Hippopotamus, having been safely returned to an elephant cage high above the flood waters appears to be one of the lucky ones.

This devastating loss of human and animal life, combined with all the mud, water and chaos, is reminiscent of the biblical story of Noah. Now, many will immediately dismiss this ‘fanciful story’ as myth and legend, treating it as either a lovely bedtime story for little children or as the inspiration for the latest fantasy movie. Most will not be aware that there are many other ‘flood story’ accounts (such as the Gilgamesh Epic) springing out of the Middle East which give credence to the possibility that an actual flood occurrence might be part of that region’s collective memory. Regardless of its cultural background, not many will consider the story as it actually is – as theology, considering what it might have to say to us about our human condition or the nature of God! The sombre beginning to the Noah story sets the scene; “The earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence” (Genesis 6.11). The situation is far removed from the state of perfection found in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 1 & 2). The mere fact that God was prepared to ‘wipe the slate clean’ with such a catastrophic flood and start again shows just how devastating it was to him that the earth should be so painfully wicked. It’s an extreme situation requiring an extreme response. God’s own holiness demanded that he acted, but his love and mercy required that he should also save the penitent. So, in steps Noah, a righteous man is given the task of building an Ark. But it’s not just his faith which is on display – it’s his obedience! Noah’s faith, trust and obedient actions lead him to produce the means by which a faithful remnant can be saved. The world is given a second chance through him. The hero of the Gilgamesh Epic closes the door upon his own boat, but in the story of Noah we are specifically told that it was God who ‘shut him in’, looking after, caring for and protecting Noah and his family. The seeds of salvation which ultimately come to fruition in the story of Jesus and his death upon the cross, are first sown for us here in the story of Noah.

Upon reflection, I’m not remotely saying that the situation in Georgia is a result of the people’s sin, but sometimes when we look at the state of the world and see how violent it can be at times – it’s not only ‘Begi’ the hippo who’s left utterly bewildered. But in the fight against wickedness, violence and corruption, we like God need to be prepared to see sin for the dreadful evil that it truly is, trusting that with God’s help the loving and faithful actions of a few can make all the difference.

But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded. Genesis 8.1

Mediterranean Migrants – Compassion, Care And Caution

_82515089_026848608-1

I DON’T THINK WE’VE EVER SEEN ANYTHING LIKE IT! The sight of so many poor people stranded on rickety boats, without food and water bobbing about on the Mediterranean Sea, desperate for help and longing to get to shore, is heartbreaking. Every boat seems to contain a heart wrenching story of brutal behaviour and callous mistreatment. Some people have been murdered for scraps of food, others have been thrown overboard due to religious intolerance, others have simply died from sickness and malnutrition and all have been exploited by people smugglers and cast adrift to meet an uncertain fate. The authorities are overwhelmed by the sheer numbers and those countries closest to the crisis are pleading for international help to cope with so many refugees. Apart from the numbers it’s a complex and uncomfortable problem for underneath the obvious and overwhelming humanitarian need there is also a concern that the boats might contain a ‘Trojan horse’- Islamic extremists intent on getting to Europe with a more sinister intent.

Whatever the potential dangers might be, in the first instance we always need to give people the ‘benefit of the doubt’, treating them compassionately as individuals, for the vast majority of these people are genuine refugees fleeing the violence of war torn conflicts in Lybia and Syria. Not many people (men, women and children) would undertake such a desperate and dangerous journey unless they were completely and utterly afraid. We always need to remember and try to understand what it is they are fleeing from! Sometimes in our minds we try to make a distinction between those who are genuine refugees fearful for their lives and those who are economic migrants simply travelling in search of a better life, but in reality it isn’t always quite so easy to make such a distinction. Even if you weren’t in danger of physical harm, if all the structures you knew and relied upon had been bombed out of existence so that you couldn’t even feed yourself or your family, which one of us wouldn’t try to start again elsewhere? I’m not saying that governments shouldn’t have criteria or controls, but simply pointing out that sometimes these distinctions aren’t always easy to maintain.

The Christian view point has always been that life is sacred, for we are all made in the ‘image of God’ and the Bible teaches us that we should not only love God with all of our heart, but ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ (Luke 22.29). Indeed Jesus reminds us in one of his parables that when we are generous in our care and concern of others, it’s almost as if we did it for him, blessing those who do so and judging those who don’t.

The situation may be vast and complex but we mustn’t allow ourselves to let fear and mistrust get in the way of our nation doing the right thing. Undoubtedly, nations must work together to challenge the root causes of such desperation (war, poverty and exploitation) but we must also encourage them to do their very best to provide immediate food, medicine and sanctuary to those in need. We demean ourselves if we turn a blind eye to such human want and suffering and it would be immoral if we were to simply let people – drift!


“I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25.40


Can We Afford Not To Vote?

_81900422_election_2015_624

ALL RIGHT I CONFESS – I DON’T KNOW WHO TO VOTE FOR!

And the truth is I suspect that I’m not alone! Like most people the present ‘coalition government’ has done some things that I completely agree with whilst others have brought me to utter despair. Indeed, there have been many times when I have felt completely disenfranchised by the current stream of politicians without any one single party capable of fairly representing me or my views. The possibility of another ‘hung parliament’ leading to yet another coalition has made things even more difficult with traditional labels no longer seeming relevant: now the Conservatives are the party of the ‘working people’ and Labour are anxious to show that they can be fiscally trusted with the economy. The political permeations are vast with the Liberal Democrats, UKIP, Greens and Scottish National Party all vying for our votes – but who has the right ideas and who can be trusted? After all, we all ‘know’, don’t we, that politicians are famous for saying one thing and doing another so why should we bother – and how is it all going to be paid for anyway? Perhaps we should all follow the Russell Brand style of doing things by simply withholding our vote and using our lack of engagement as a silent weapon of protest against the political establishment and elitist system until they see sense. Unfortunately not voting, in my opinion, far from being ‘radical and edgy’ simply translates into an abdication of rights and responsibility and becomes a lame excuse for apathy! How can we possibly influence things for the better if we can’t be bothered to engage with the process? Democracy doesn’t always achieve for us the things that we hope for as individuals, but for us as a society it’s a hard won freedom that we should each cherish, respect and observe.

The problem is of course that we don’t live in a perfect society and neither do our political parties, therefore each one is made up of a mixture of things we like and dislike, good and bad (or good and not so good) and things that we can better identify with or not. Therefore instead of absenting ourselves from the process we need to make even stronger efforts to engage with it and understand things until we come to a decision. This isn’t always easy and for many is a bit of a struggle. Appreciating that there will never be a perfect fit in any human institution, I will vote for the party that sits most comfortably with my Christian faith and looks as if it will enhance our society in the most fair, just and compassionate way – just as you will vote according to your principles and what matters most to you. Perhaps, like me at the time of writing, you don’t know which way to vote, but there is one thing upon which I hope we can all agree and that is that ‘not voting’ is not an option!


“What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” Micah 6.8


REGISTER TO VOTE ON THE LINK BELOW

banner_news_large

500 People Can’t Be Wrong – Can They?

seeing the risen christ_t_nt

Josh McDowell, a Christian minister and author once spoke to a student saying:

“If I prove to you beyond a shadow of a doubt that Christ was raised from the dead and is the Son of God, will you consider Him?”

The immediate and emphatic reply was “No!”1 

Why are so many people so dismissive even before they’ve given Christianity a chance? Is it because they don’t know the Gospel story or because they can’t accept it to be true? In many ways perhaps both of these are true, because it is increasingly clear that fewer and fewer people have any sort of religious background or contact with a church. Put simply, their parents didn’t go to church, so neither do they! Others dismiss religion as being the by-product of a by-gone age hardly credible for today’s modern thinkers, and recent books such as The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and God is not Great by Christopher Hitchens reinforce this negative stereotype. Yet the main reason why some people tend to dismiss Christianity ‘out of hand’ is, ironically, not because it’s ‘proven’ to be false but because it might actually be true and if it is true then it’s a challenge!  Books such as the The Dawkins Delusion (Alistair McGrath) and Evidence that Demands a Verdict (John McDowell) have easily shown just how misguided and superficial these popular works by Dawkins and Hitchens are and yet if Jesus really did rise from the grave as at least 500 biblical eye-witnesses maintain (1 Corinthians 15.6) then Jesus has to be the ‘Son of God’ and his resurrection proves that all he ever said and did was true! If this is so, then it has to be the most profound piece of news that this world has ever known and requires a response – a response that requires each one of us to reconsider, take stock of our lives and reassess who we are before God, the world and each other; a response which many will find profoundly disturbing and uncomfortable as it shakes up their cosy world view, which is precisely why so many people tend to dismiss the Gospel story out of hand, not because it isn’t true, but because it suits us.

Today’s media tends to give us instant eye-witness access to the incredibly significant events (both good and bad) which shape our modern world and we seldom doubt the testimony of those who were actually present. Why then, are we so ready to dismiss the eye-witness accounts of those who saw the resurrection, just because they lived in an age prior to the internet?

I would therefore like to invite each person to honestly consider and reflect upon their own attitude towards Christ and their understanding of the Easter story, and to genuinely ask themselves if they have given the Gospel (meaning good news) a fair and open hearing. It is my hope that many will discover a new sense of peace and perspective as they do so.


 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news and said: “I have seen the Lord!”  John 20.18


1 McDowell, Josh: Evidence for Christianity. Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006, S. 14

The Seductive Nature Of ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’

fifty shades of grey“It’s an extremely romantic movie,” says Sam Taylor-Johnson, the director of Fifty Shades of Grey, “and at the heart of it, it is a love story,” she told reporters. “I think we got the balance right.” What then could be better than having the film premièred just in time for Valentine’s Day on one of the most romantic weekends of the year? There can be no doubt that the novel has been an extraordinary hit with millions of fans across the world, particularly women, and no doubt many will want to see the film out of curiosity and intrigue, regarding it at worst as simply a poor story and at best as a piece of ‘harmless titillation’ but putting aside the fact that the film is a fictional story between consenting adults, and a stereotypical perception of the church as being ‘anti-sex’. Is this film romantic? Well, even on its own premise it’s hard to consider it so, for Christian Grey (an extremely rich, powerful and good-looking businessman) makes it clear to Anastaia (an innocent and naive young girl) that what transpires between them will be a purely sexual and not remotely romantic encounter. The subsequent series of assignations may be considered by some as an adventurous ‘voyage of discovery’, but it can hardly be called ‘loving’ as Taylor Johnson suggests.

It’s interesting to note that even among secularists it’s not so much the sexual activity that is being called into question but the nature of the relationship between the two central characters. For instance, is it true that sex is completely for pleasure and that all thought of love and romance should be stripped from it? The majority of people are usually unable to give themselves to another without it being considered as a very significant moment. They don’t want their bodies to be treated lightly or casually which is why in common parlance we call it ‘lovemaking’. Secondly Christian Grey may want his women to sign contracts which prevent them from speaking out about what’s happened to them, as if it’s all ‘done and dusted’ and ‘swept under the table’ but most people carry these experiences with them into the future and cannot pretend that they don’t have any bearing upon them, shaping who or what they are! Besides, with regard to sexual encounters, too many women have been made to suffer in silence as it is! Finally, if Christian Grey wasn’t rich, powerful and good looking, we might see the story for what it is – a story about one individual abusing power, manipulating events and controlling the life of another for their own sexual gratification.

The film is a well advertised, slickly marketed, glossy ‘Hollywood’ production and will no doubt do very well at the box-office and make it’s producers a lot of money, but the danger and perhaps the seduction of a film like this is, that it makes one feel that what’s depicted is what every ‘red-blooded man’ should aspire to and what every sexy, erotic woman should be willing to provide. It suggests that violent, manipulative, non-romantic sexual encounters between consenting adults are ‘normal’ and can be brought out into the open as just another perfectly valid lifestyle choice. However, once we have put the story and the ‘entertainment’ to one side along with all the ice-cream and pop-corn, I’m not sure that many people will feel totally comfortable with this as a concept. The film may be entitled ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ but upon reflection it’s amazing how the issues tend to become increasingly black and white.


“Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth – for your love is more delightful than wine” Song of Solomon 1.2


Jesus Would Say ‘Je Suis Charlie’ – Wouldn’t He?

The recent attacks in France by Islamic extremists killing 17 people (12 at the publishing office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, 4 at a Jewish Supermarket and a police woman) have shocked the world, and have quite rightly been roundly condemned by world leaders and all those who believe in civil liberties and free speech. The very real sense of being attacked, hurt and terrorised by extremist elements has consequently galvanised the people of France to boldly stand up for their French way of life and the values they believe in. This was abundantly demonstrated by the huge crowds that came out in unity upon the streets the following weekend, many holding aloft a journalist’s pencil as a symbol of their way of life and freedom of expression. They also expressed their solidarity with the publisher by loudly proclaiming “Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) – because as they perceived the paper to be representative of the French people, they quite naturally wished to identify themselves with it. This sense of solidarity was heightened when the next edition of Charlie Hebdo (called ‘the survivors edition’) saw a print run of 5 million copies (far in excess of the usual 60,000) sold out within hours. However, since this issue depicted a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad upon its cover it wasn’t without controversy! Was it wise to offend Muslims when such previously drawn cartoons were said to be the provocation for such a deadly and vicious attack? Shouldn’t the French show some form of moderation or restraint given the circumstances or would it have been seen as capitulating to outside forces and giving a propaganda victory to the extremists? All of these are valid questions and no doubt people will ponder them for years to come.

Strangely, whereas today many Muslims tend to see the drawing of the Prophet Muhammad as an attack upon their religious faith and culture, historically, this wasn’t so – indeed some religious paintings of the prophet were actually revered in the past. However today, it seems that the physical ‘drawing’ of the prophet is so contentious that it overshadows the message the cartoon is trying to convey. Yet, if Islam is really a peaceful religion as many moderate Muslims would like to maintain – is it really such a bad thing to see the prophet crying over the violence carried out in his name?
Ironically, the Christian perspective is very different! Imagine that the cartoon depicted Jesus with a placard saying ‘Je suis Charlie’. Would Christians get upset or see it as an attack upon their religion? Not a bit! For the Christian understands that each and every person is made in ‘the image of God’ and that we are therefore very special to him. When God steps into the world in the person of Jesus he literally takes upon himself our flesh, our likeness, our humanity. This is crucially important for us to understand – because when Jesus died upon the cross, he did so for us, he carried our sin and represented us upon the cross. He took upon his own shoulders and bore in his own body the most extreme and violent torment possible, compounded by the fact that carrying the sins of the world inevitably cuts him off from his loving but Holy Father. So to see a cartoon where a weeping Jesus cries for the sins of the world, and yet so boldly identifies himself with it (“Je suis Charlie”, “Je suis Mary”, “Je suis Peter”) underneath a banner that proclaims “All is forgiven!” in my view pretty neatly sums up the Christian faith! Christ identifies with us so much that he is prepared not only to represent us but to stand in for us upon the cross. The only thing that remains is for us to claim the forgiveness that he offers, and ask ourselves the question: are we prepared to do so, and are we prepared to identify ourselves with him?


“I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you” Acts 13.38