… it wasn’t just a caffeine overdose. Lying and thinking over my day I felt saddened and anxious by two entirely separate but related incidents that happened yesterday. The first was voting – no big deal in a way and a well-worn habit of trotting to the local school, saying hi to friends and acquantainces and feeling glad that I live in a well-ordered democracy. But this year the ballot paper took me by surprise. Lists of candidates belonging to parties whose main policies seem to centre round xenophobia and prejudice against immigrants. And in some wards near me – one of these parties has come second, taking the place of the party of protest. 89 new council seats for UKIP. How has this happened? How have our major parties become so unappealing that these fringe parties now have a veneer of acceptability.
One the same day I was chatting to a friend of mine, a priest I admire greatly who is black. She was telling me that she recently led a service in a middle-class white church and after the service one person had told her she had good diction (no-one has ever told me that) and three people asked her where she came from.
We talked about that question for some time and I really understood, perhaps for the first time, how it feels to be asked that question so often. It’s effect is to literally put someone in an outsider’s place ( and make them feel they are not welcome in a ‘white’ place). It implies that some roles, some spaces and places are for white people – they belong to one group of people. The attitude that only some people belong diminishes us all. It is the attitude that Jesus challenged most often in the pharisees – at one point calling them ‘Whited sepulchres.’ No-one has privilege around God – that is a basic.
I am (still) writing my sermon for Pentecost and have now read both passages. In Acts the Holy Spirit falls on the disciples and they are able to speak in many languages. This is not a pointless magic trick or God showing off. This is so they can build a multi-lingual, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural community of people who are seeking to live like Jesus. In John’s version the Spirit brings the ability to forgive (or not forgive) – another essential for community building, especially when the community brings people together who are not all exactly the same (and can therefore pretend to get along on a superficial level).
While media headlines stir up suspicion against Muslims and UKIP attracts the Tory vote, the church cannot afford to indulge in ‘parallel lives’ or leave attitiudes of superiority and racism unchallenged. When we live as communities where all are welcome and we are free to learn and teach one another, forgiving each other when we are clumsy, drawing each other into greater love and greater truth, when our Churches model what it means to live together then we will really have, as we say each week, a foretaste of the heavenly banquet prepared for all people.