Saturday, 30 November 2013

Thoughts about Andrew

I would like to wish you all a very Happy St Andrew's day!

I can claim no Scottish connections, so this may seem like a slightly odd occasion on which to write a blog post. Then again, I am more-than-slightly sceptical of the story of Andrew's bones coming to Scotland so I am not entirely sure he can claim much of a genuine connection with Scotland either. But I have had a half written blog post about St Andrew for quite some time and today seemed like as good a time to put it up as any.

I think I quite like St Andrew. Admittedly, we don't know a lot about him, but it strikes me there are some interesting details in the few mentions of him in the gospels and I thought I'd share them here on the off chance that others might find them vaguely interesting too.

In Greek, Andrew (Ανδρέας) means man; incidentally the same meaning as Adam. It is surely intentional that Jesus' first (or second, depending which gospel account you read) disciple is Andrew, or man, or perhaps we could say humanity. Perhaps the "new Adam" is not just Christ, but his disciples and followers.

Andrew is introduced to us with his "brother" Simon. But Simon (שִׁמְעוֹן) is a Hebrew name, while Andrew (Ανδρέας) is from the Greek. It seems probable then, despite all our assumptions, that these were perhaps not biological brothers, and yet there is no doubt that we are encouraged to think of these, the first of Christ's followers, in terms of the closest of familial relations. Already, in this first call, we have a call not just to be followers of Christ, and 'fishers of men', but to be brothers to one another.

I'm not sure, apart from his calling to be a disciple, whether Andrew appears much at all in Matthew, Mark and Luke's Gospels, but he pops up three times in the Gospel of John. He has, more-or-less, the same role in each appearance: in John 1, having met Jesus, he immediately goes and calls his brother and brings him to Jesus too; in John 6, it is Andrew who brings the boy with the loaves and fishes to Jesus which makes the feeding of the five thousand miracle possible; in John 12, in Jerusalem, Andrew (admittedly, together with Philip this time) brings 'some Greeks'  to Jesus.

I guess I like the idea that every time Andrew appears, his role is sharing what he had discovered and that he brought others in to contact with the life that he himself had found. And if Andrew's name speaks of his humanity, by extension humanity has a role in bringing others to God. In none of these stories does he preach, or tell others what to think or believe, or tell them how to act or what to say, he simply brings them to a place in which he has found life and where they just might discover something for themselves. It is a model that many of us, the humanity who shares his name, could probably learn from.

But I think it is about still more than that too. Peter would come to play a very important role among the disciples and in the early church; the Greeks, welcomed towards the end of Jesus life helped show the universality of Jesus mission; and in the story of the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus needed that little boy with his loaves and fish, in order to welcome and feed all who came to him. God needs us in order to work miracles with what our humanity brings to him. We are not passive observers or mere messengers, but co-creators of the miracle.

So thank you, St Andrew, model of our own humanity, and Happy St Andrews Day!

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Wearing my (white) poppy with pride

At the moment, I am wearing a white poppy. It is a conscious choice and one which I am happy to explain and defend and justify. Around me, many are wearing red ones. I wonder how many have made the same informed choice, and how many are simply "doing the done thing". The cynic in me says the number and size of the red poppies around Birmingham city centre is less a mark of respect and remembrance and more of a competitive one-up-manship, but perhaps I am being a little unfair.

November 11th marks the end of what was, at least in terms of European history, one of the greatest examples of the destructive potential of the insatiable desire for ever-increasing wealth and power. There is little debate: the first world war was sheer folly, begun and continued by egotism and empire. As such the choice of the anniversary of its end as remembrance day sends a clear message: this is a time to remember victims of war, and to remember the futility of the wasteful destruction and suffering of war.

But it seems to me that in recent years there has been a dangerous trend. Far from being a day on which we repent our engagement in past violence and strive to believe in the possibility of something better, Remembrance day has increasingly been hijacked for use as a vehicle for the pro-war propaganda of our current political and military establishment.

True, there is nothing new about the British Legion Red Poppy Appeal supporting ex-British armed forces personnel, thereby suggesting the somehow superior value of this one group over others effected by war; but in recent years, since our engagement in what started out as two highly unpopular wars it seems to me the red poppy and the commemorations of remembrance day have become more and more associated with supporting "our troops" and justifying our engagement in continuing destructive conflict.

Since the suggestion of a war in Iraq brought 2 million people on to the streets in protest, the war industry propaganda machine has worked overtime, and scarily, it seems to have had a huge amount of success. In 2003, probably a majority of the population were speaking out against an unjustified illegal war. Ten years on, as it continues, speaking out against the actions of the British and American military has almost become a taboo subject. Remembrance Day and the red poppy have somehow become part of that message.

It is blatant enough to have convinced millions, and subtle enough to be truly dangerous. A year from now we'll be marking the anniversary of the disastrous decisions of the European powers to go to war. Make no mistake: it was a war which found its origins in the desire for ever more power and resources and in fear and hatred of the other. With the last veterans of the "Great" war now dead, there seems to be a danger of history being reworked to provide a more convenient myth. We need to remember what happened, and how pointlessly wasteful it all was. We need to remember that there were no winners, only losers; no good, only evil; no right, only wrongs.

We need to make sure we use Remembrance Day to remember, not to rewrite history to better suit the military complex. If we are to break the cycle of destruction and suffering caused by war, we need to stop rewriting history and start learning from it.

I am wearing a white poppy because, since its beginning in 1933, it has been a symbol of a movement which calls for the remembrance of war to be more than just that. First, it calls for a universailty in the remembrance of those who have suffered in wars: armed forces, on all sides not just "ours", as well as the innocent civilians caught up in the cross fire, and the courageous conscientious objectors who have dared to say no. Second, it reminds that to remember is to learn from, and to learn from is to change. It is a poppy which cries for the victims of war but which also cries out for an end to the continual increasing militarisation of the world.

I think it is right that we remember the victims of war. But let us not use that memory to promote the creation of further victims, but rather as an impetus that they should be the last. It is time to stop telling "that old lie: Dulce et Decorum est pro patria mori."

As we say let us remember, let us work towards never again.

White poppies are not as easy to come by as the ubiquitous red poppy but they can be bought from the peace pledge union at