I love singing, and have over the years developed a compendious knowledge of Hymns Ancient & Modern, through to a range of current (ish) worship songs. However, I find myself struggling with a lot of the implicit or explicit theology, particularly as expressed in some of the accompanying graphics on YouTube where Jesus is wafting on clouds, surrounded by angelic hosts.
Image taken by Tim Nash. Used with permission.
For the past decade or so, I’ve been involved with a charity in my city which supports Refugees and Asylum Seekers. Service users are supported with advice, representation and hospitality. They range from 16-year-old kids who often have faced hell and high water to arrive in the UK from Calais, through to people whose Asylum claim has been refused and have now become destitute. In between, there have been countless single people, couples and families escaping horrors we can’t even begin to imagine. These people want what the rest of us want – a roof over their heads, an income, meaningful work, a future for their kids. A chance to live free from persecution and bombs. Once here, they are invariably struggling with innumerable obstacles and difficulties. When the Home Office (under Theresa May) declared it was looking to create a hostile environment for migrants, they weren’t joking. In fact, they’ve been extremely successful in this aim, condemning many to live in a climate of misery, uncertainty and fear. I know of one woman who has been waiting 18 and a half years for her asylum application to be resolved. During most of that time she has had to be dependent on the charity of others, with all the inherent dangers of exploitation and abuse. The hostile environment has succeeded through a lack of care, and insufficient resources to act justly, fairly and humanely towards migrants.
Here I see people stripped down to their basic humanity, without any of the props of money, status or any of the markers we use to identify who is above us and who below in the social hierarchy. All they have is themselves, and sometimes, if they’re lucky, each other to carry them through each day. To many they would appear worthless, not worthy of any respect or consideration in their powerlessness and vulnerability. Some will have had status and respect in their own country; some are professional people, but are now unable to practice their profession and use their skills. All will have been loved by someone. Back home, they are some mother’s son or daughter, often having had to leave behind all family, dead or alive, and those they love. Often, faith is hugely important, whatever they are calling their God.
Going back to where I started, I wonder, did Jesus put himself in this place, a place of weakness, vulnerability and dependency? I think he did and for me this Jesus is the one who is the reality, not the King of Kings and Lord of Lords of traditional and popular hymnody. For me, faith has become recognising this Jesus in others, and trying to work out how we respond.