The United Kingdom has found a new saint. Someone who is recognized as having lived in such a way that we want to be like her, someone whose words and deeds are full of a practical holiness. A woman who was martyred for her beliefs, a woman who is being quoted by many, whose life is being celebrated on her particular saint’s day, a woman who did not seem to profess a faith in God but who believed deeply in humanity.
Jo Cox had a vision for a just, connected, welcoming and loving society. She campaigned tirelessly for the oppressed and stood in solidarity with those suffering from injustice. Her life, her beliefs, her unstoppable spirit are an inspiration to many of us – and perhaps to those of us who believe in God – they speak to us of God’s love, God’s kingdom and God’s call to service.
The nation does not need to wait for the Church to tell us that Jo was a saint and declare the 17th of June to be her day. It has happened already. The One Love concert in Manchester did not need a priest or an evangelist to talk about God in a meaningful and accessible way. In fact, last week I found myself using the words of Justin Bieber to talk about God in church in a way that might make sense to those who are not used to sermons, preaching and long services. I hope his words continue to make sense as the tragedy of Grenfell Tower unfolds.
This is what he said:
“I’m not going to let go of hope. I’m not going to let go of love. I’m not going to let go of God. Put your hand up if you’re not going to let go. God is good in the midst of the darkness. God is good in the midst of the evil. God is in the midst, no matter what’s happening in the world, God is in the midst and he loves you and he’s here for you.”
Inside and outside the church, inside and outside of what is called religious faith, God is revealing God’s love by raising up people who can talk about love, people who stand up for justice, people who truly love their neighbour as themselves.
People who live as if there is a God of love, as if their own needs are not paramount, as if death is not the end of life are incredibly inspiring. We can all probably name a few people like that. I hear quite a few people who do not profess to believe in God asking why are there not more people like that in our Churches – it is a good question. These people embody God’s love and help other’s believe.
The Catholic church apparently has 810 people it recognizes as saints and one of the things I like about the Anglican cycle of daily prayer is reading about the saints and martyrs celebrated on a calendar each year. Today (June 18th) the church remembers Bernard Mizeki and you can read a wonderful blog about martyrdom here.
But perhaps some of those people are worth more attention than a couple of paragraphs, once a year.
Yesterday my daughter asked me about St Francis and his relationships with animals as she crammed for A’ level RE. I told her that he preached to birds and then we explored a bit more deeply. St Francis is one of my favourite saints. I think he and Jo Cox would have found a lot in common and in his interaction with a wolf, I found a wonderful model for reconciliation.
In short – there was a wolf that was killing people and terrorising the town. The people did not have capacity to kill the wolf and they asked St Francis to help. He went to the forest, found the wolf and listened to it’s story. (The wolf was injured and couldn’t catch its normal prey so had resorted to humans). St Francis explained the pain and damage the wolf was inflicting on the town and the wolf became remorseful. After a time of prayer, St Francis proposed to the wolf that it should stop killing people, if they agreed to feed it and the wolf agreed. They return to the town together, the people hear the wolf’s story, agree (after a struggle) to forgive it, keep it fed and it lives with dignity in the town. I have missed much in this retelling – a wonderful, longer version can be found here.
The Church believes in this kind of reconciliation – as do many other people. The world needs this sort of reconciliation. All sorts of people are being branded wolves, they never have the chance to explain that they are injured, fearful, confused, in need. Conflict is a part of every aspect of life – we need to make reconciliation as common-place.
On Tuesday I heard this quote from Archbishop Justin Welby:
“If the Church is not a place both of conflict and of reconciliation it is not merely hindering its mission and evangelism, appalling as such hindrance is, but it is a failing or failed church. It has ceased to be the miracle of diversity in unity, of the grace of God breaking down walls.
We must be reconciled reconcilers. When that happens we are unbelievably attractive, distinctively prophetic, not because we all agreed but because we disagree with passion in love.”
Reconciliation takes the courage to step into someone else’s shoes and see the world from their eyes. It takes the humility to realise that the whole truth is not contained in one point of view. It takes the commitment to advocate for the other and to risk a potentially hostile response. It takes the love to risk losing your life that others might gain their life.
Jo lived with buckets of empathy and passion. She was killed. Martin Luther King lived with vision and commitment. He was killed. Jesus gave up his life for others. He was killed.
These people remind us of the cost but their legacies remind us of the gain. Can we take the risk to become reconciled reconcilers? Can we be people who can really bring people together and help them see what they have in common. Moving beyond shared lunches, picnics and iftaars will we reach out to those people right on the margins, to hear the stories of those people who are being excluded and to advocate for them, to be changed by them and to risk our comfort for the sake of others?