Our Father – who art now in heaven

On Monday my father died. We were there and it was peaceful. It was probably as good as it could be. But as one of my friends commented to another – Jess has lost her polestar. It’s true – I could navigate by my father’s life.

I don’t know who was my father’s polestar but from his earliest life he has travelled in the same direction. As I lay thinking about him in the hours after his death I thought of the decades he has spent working for peace – peace that is dynamic and energetic, peace that includes justice, equality, wholeness for all and care for all creation.

Last month I spent a weekend with my parents and my sister. He told me for the first time about being at Cambridge in the early 1950s. He said he was saddened by the divide between grammar school boys and public school boys like himself. He tried to invite people from grammar school to socialise in his rooms but he found they wouldn’t come so he went to their rooms instead. He noticed that at meals in his college the public school boys and the grammar school boys sat together so he decided to sit with a different group of people every night. He said that by the end of it he often sat alone in the dining room!

He did his national service in the navy but turned down a role as an officer to spend time on the ‘lower deck’ – it was a formative time for him but not an easy one. In the 60s he won my mother over, became interested in communities and worked for Christian Aid – trying to end global inequality and support the development of the global south.

I got to know him in the 70s. In 1972 he founded Little Gidding Community – based on the priniciples of prayer, hospitality and care for creation. There he welcomed anyone who needed a refuge – a practice he continued for the rest of his life. In about 1978 when he was chair of governors at the local primary school he set up a twinning scheme with a school in Bedford. It was through this scheme that I made my first Muslim friend – I remember her climbing trees in our garden and me being give ice cream and fizzy drinks at her home.

In the 80s we moved to the Peak District and he help to found a Housing Association so that people born in this beautiful part of the world could afford to live there. He also championed rural theology, concerned that the issues of the countryside would be forgotten as the church focused on the urban environment.

Later in life he took on a church that was in a tradition that did not favour the ordination of women – by the time he left, with his support and encouragement, two women from the congregation had been ordained. He campaigned at the G8 summit in Genoa, built links with Denmark and the Folk High School movement, helped to run the Lifestyle Movement and campaigned for Caroline Lucas – doorknocking in Brighton before the 2015 elections.

Just a year ago, to celebrate his 80th birthday,  he walked 80 miles in about 10 days – raising £17,500 for Freedom for Torture. We didn’t know then that he had already had a small stroke. He biked, he rowed, he listened, he encouraged, he smiled and twinkled, he made time for people and he danced (oh, the embarrassment) whenever he could. He loved my mother absolutely and in every way, despite their differences.  The relationship they forged together, through grace and determination, is simply beautiful.

The tributes, cards and messages are pouring in. He touched many people’s lives and people are glad they had known him.

There was a Desmond Tutu meme floating around the internet recently that reminded me of my Dad.(How I wish I had shared it and tagged him in it) It said something like; “To be Christ-like is not to be flawless but it is to be someone who brings out the best in the people around them.”

Dad did that for people, whether they were old friends or people he had only just met For me, its been a joy to have known him all my life. Of course, I hardly told him that. He encouraged me in my career as a journalist, gently steered me out of unhelpful relationships, brought humour to every family gathering, rejoiced with me when I was ordained deacon….the list could go on for ever. But above all he lived his own life to the full and by doing so he was my polestar. Because of him, shaped by him, influenced by him I will continue to do what I do and I pray the wisdom, prayerfulness, patience and practice of unconditional hospitality may follow.







Could Judas be in heaven?

It is apostle time of year in the Church of England at the moment. On Wednesday it was St Peter and then today it is St Thomas’s day. While these were two holy men they are perhaps remembered for their weaknesses.  Peter’s best known moment is  his denial of Jesus, Thomas’ is  his refusal to believe in the resurrection.  But Jesus reaches out to both men in their weakness and restores them to faith. Both of these stories speak of Jesus’ compassion for his friends, his infinite forgiveness and patience and his determination to maintain his friendships with his closest companions. These stories bring us comfort, encourage us to forgive ourselves and allow us to trust that despite our imperfection we can be counted as followers of Jesus.

But with Judas things are a little different. Despite the fact that Judas was called as an apostle, spent time with Jesus and was part of his inner circle we seem to believe that his sin was not forgiven, despite his repentance,  after betraying his friend for 30 coins there is no reconciliation. His story ends with him hanging himself.

I have to admit I did not have many quiet moments on my recent ‘silent retreat’. I could not stop myself being involved in the planning and preparation for the launch of the Love Your Neighbour campaign last Friday. But in both the Eucharist services I went to, one word jumped out at me as if it were spoken in neon. It is contained in a sentence I have heard at every communion I go to – it is simply this: ‘He took the cup and said: “Drink this all of you..”‘ The words Jesus said to his disciples at the  Last Supper.  My word was ‘all‘.  And for the first time I realised somewhere deep, that ‘all ‘included Judas, already known by Jesus as his betrayer, who was sitting round the table at the Last Supper. If Judas the betrayer had been included in this meal of communion, which we call a ‘foretaste of the heavenly banquet’, could it be possible that he was included in heaven? Could there have been a reconciliation and restoration for Judas as there was for Thomas and Peter?

If you grow up as a Christian, Judas is really only seen as a pantomime villain, but of course there is much more to him that the whopping mistake he made. And even his mistake can be looked at with fresh eyes.

Over the years I  have found the enneagram really helpful for thinking about myself and other people. It divides people into 9 types which can then be seen on a spectrum from healthy to unhealthy. I think that Judas shares my type – a number six that looks for security and will try to find ways of making the world safe by being part of structures, institutions and clinging to certainty and power. Judas’s preoccupation with money and his desire to be part of the establishment showed his lack of trust in the Jesus’s loving, generous and dynamic movement. Judas wanted certainty and security through wealth and association with the powerful. This is a dynamic which drives much of how we live (and vote) today.We have come to believe that by having more and being more powerful we are saved – we are sold an illusion of safety and security. I think I have always known that in some ways I am like Judas and therefore his final estrangement from God is troubling. He made a hideous mistake – his weakness and fearfulness triggered his greed and he sold his friend. But can God’s love reach into his darkness, the regret, the hell he found himself in and restore him? Is there a possibility of absolution for Judas? Could he now be reconciled to Jesus and feasting at the heavenly banquet?

The gospels don’t tell us much about the apostles. They are almost like figures in a morality play and perhaps in some ways the represent our own attributes, failings and strengths as we journey in faith. The doubt of Thomas represents a necessary step into deeper faith, Peter reminds us that we can get it very right and very wrong virtually at the same moment and Andrew reminds us that sometimes the most important thing we can do is enable others and then step into the background.

We doubt any of them are flawless yet they all have things to teach us. Judas acts as a warning but perhaps too his story reminds us that the very worst of us and the very worst parts of us can be included. ‘Drink this all of you…..’