cycling with a cigarette

6 10 2013

“For hard-working people”. Like a Daily Mail headline, it has to be read in conjunction with the whole story. The story: hard-working people succeed. They ‘get on’. Not-hard-working people are lazy. They claim benefits.  One Big Society. Two categories. Set them against each other. Simples.

[grace] 

Forgetting of course that the majority of people on benefits are IN WORK (or retired/mums/ill/disabled/in education). It would be far better economics to force wealthy employees to pay a living wage to hard-working people. Then the state wouldn’t have to top up the wages so that these hard-working people can afford to live. It’s backwards economics, like cycling with a cigarette and blaming the butt for burning down too quickly. This is anti-business though, which of course is a terrible thing. It’s ok to be anti young people. Anti poor people. Anti people-who-need-a-safety-net.

[grace]

Jesus wasn’t a supporter of hard work. Gasp. Neither is he against it. But he was a supporter of generosity. He told a story about a workplace where people who had worked hard all day, even through their lunch break, got paid the same as someone who turned up late and did an hour. This wasn’t an argument for communism, or about the minimum wage; but it was an argument for grace. You might have heard of it.

[grace] grace cubes

Grace says we do not assume people on benefits are lazy. We do not start there.  Grace says that we do not look at struggling long-term unemployed families only to find a high horse and sit on it. Oh, sometimes we want to. Sometimes it feels good to. Sometimes it’s so easy to.

[grace]

Grace knows that when you are generous, you will be taken advantage of. If you refuse to be taken advantage of then you cannot be generous. God is generous. We take advantage of his grace all the time. Gasp. He is generous. 

[grace]

Attitudes matter. Words matter. The way we talk about people matters. Do we speak with hearts full of grace, of compassion; or do we speak with hearts that bring judgement and division. What concerns me deeply about the Tory rhetoric – and it has not been seriously and believably challenged by Labour or Lib Dems – is the gracelessness with which the poor are spoken of.

[grace]

Jesus does not want hard-working people. Gasp. He wants grace-working people. People who speak and move and act with grace, in grace, because of grace. Rich, poor, whoever. Showing grace does not show weakness but strength. May God give the Government – and us – strength to defend the poor and the vulnerable, not the weakness to turn on them.

Society needs grace-working people, not hard-working people. There’s a thought. 

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magnetic attraction to stigmatised people

10 10 2012

Several comments and conversations after yesterday’s post, I want to offer some depth to what I was feeling, because I’m just a local vicar trying to work out my faith rather than being a politician or an economist, and I’ve always aimed to have something positive to say rather than just being another angry blog voice. 

So, here are some stories. 

  • There was a woman who sold sex. Not by choice. She could only hang out with others ‘like her’. Though she wanted to worship, she was always stigmatised for not having a proper job, a proper life. Scum, slag, whore. One day some people came along and actively sought to engage with her, and not for sex. Instead of humiliating her publicly as was the sport of their day, they humiliated the pious who stood in judgement over her. They showed her love.
  •  There was a woman who had had multiple partners. She was stigmatised by others who would not spend time with her. Multiple fathers for your children and a substance abuse problem lost you friends, made you defiant, lonely and stuck in a spiral of hopelessness. The community had given up on her. Failure. Alkie. One day some people came along who would not allow her to be defined by society’s labels even though their own reputations were at stake. That was part of the change that turned her life around. They showed her love. 
  • There was a man who was disabled. Society pitied him and those who could, supported him. He knew it was especially good to beg near where the religious gathered, as they were known to be generous. One day instead of begging outside the gates, he was able to dance in. Someone forgotten, abandoned, judged and shunned suddenly placed at the centre of God’s healing of the world. He had been shown love. 
  • There was a man with mental health problems. He was a bit wild, lived alone, and was stigmatised and best avoided. Loon, head-case, failure. One day some people came along who listened to him even when he ranted at them, who welcomed him into their homes and even bandaged his wounds (well, put a plaster on his toe). For a time he was part of their community, though he was very difficult to love. But he knew he was welcome.  They showed him love.  
  • There was a young man who had grown up with money, and did his best to be good. What he didn’t understand was that being good and showing love are very different. When he was told a story about love for your very different neighbour, it was too much, because given the choice between his personal wealth and loving his neighbour, the wealth would probably win. Showing love is costly. 
  • There was a parent who hadn’t worked for 15 years, who was de-skilled, who struggled with debt, with substance abuse, and was therefore difficult to employ. Accidentally coming across some people who cared about him even though society labelled him, stigmatised him and gave up on him – with good reason – he began to see hope, began to receive training, and maybe one day will work. They showed him love. 

All of these stories are about Jesus; some of them are old real stories, and some of them are new real stories. I tell them not because they ‘prove’ any political point. I tell them because time and time again Jesus had a magnetic attraction to stigmatised people. He came to show the world that God had not abandoned them, and he did that by going to the abandoned and showing them love. It was a love that challenged them (go, and sin no more), but it was first and foremost a love that went to them before the challenge. To challenge someone, make sure they know they are loved. 

We can’t go to Jesus for a model of politics. But we can go to him for a model of society. Not colluding in conversations that stigmatise and demonise another group is a start, because if Jesus were to walk in on those conversations or read those blogs he would probably start talking about specks and planks and humiliate us in front of our friends. 

Our society is heavily in debt, and the government need to do something, of course. Whatever they do, we are the people on the ground, we are the people who can help the people. The church is the biggest people-movement on the planet. The local church is the hope of the world. Let’s be hope. 





re-discovering the human

18 09 2012

We know what it is to dehumanise. When we remove that essential characteristic we can never quite define that makes us… human. Conscience. Love. Altruism. Lateral thinking. Sudoku. Jeremy Kyle.

We know baddies do it to their victims to make their crimes easier to commit. The lynch mob also do it to their victims to make them easier to attack. The media do it to anyone ‘other’, especially Muslims, young people, the unemployed or worse of all: a young, unemployed Muslim. We all do it to any group we look down on or despise and call ‘them’ rather than ‘us’. 

It happens increasingly in politics. In Mitt Romney‘s secretly filmed talk he describes 47% of the country he wants to represent as

[they] are dependent upon government, [they] believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it… And so my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

That’s an extreme (and American) example, but I don’t think Cameron and the Coalition think much differently about the UK. Young people are called NEETs, everybody has to ‘get back to work’, whether or not they are ill or disabled. The government support ‘hard-working families’, so presumably not those who are not in families, or don’t particularly want to work hard. Those who don’t work (or can’t work) are demonised and stigmatised, and it is a desperate situation when 40% of appeals against an ATOS declaration of being ‘fit to work’ are upheld. Nearly half! These are people’s lives we are messing with, not just numbers we need off the welfare books. We need to do better than basically flip a coin when deciding someone’s fitness to work.    

The God of the Age who must be appeased at all costs is called Economy, who feeds on markets (except when they go wrong); when in reality there is no such thing as an economy as a distinct entity, only humans relating to other by relational transactions. Humans! People! 

In politics and economics and media and religion and in fact everywhere we need to rediscover the human. We need to rediscover the wonder that is the individual, and the unpredictability that is community, which cannot be prescribed by formulas or dictated by markets because actually we think for ourselves. 

We are all humans who are in this together and it is so easy to set ourselves above another group, which is the beginning of dehumanising. Carl Medearis set a great challenge in the Huffington Post this week when talking about ways we can genuinely make a difference to global politics especially with regard to the fear of ‘other’, the dehumanising of opposing groups:

Make a commitment to yourself, your family, your closest work colleagues and friends NOT to pass on emails, videos, blogs and films that make you afraid or angry. If you watch or read something and you have one of those emotions (fear or anger) simply delete it. Surprisingly, this may be the most difficult thing for you to commit to. It’s fun to spread fear, anger, suspicion and lies. It’s the age-old art of gossip and it’s enjoyable. But don’t. Commit to not doing that even if you think it might be true. All truth isn’t helpful all the time — and now is the time to be wise in what we say, watch and read.

Could we do that? Could we be different even on our own tiny levels as we relate to friends, family, on Facebook and Twitter and anywhere else? If we want it on a large scale we must do it on a small scale. 

It’s all about rediscovering the human in the world, re-humanising what so easily becomes dehumanised, whether it’s Muslims or paedophiles or Chelsea fans or Eton old-boys in the cabinet.

If only we had a story in which God did that. 

Photograph: Philip Kirk/Demotix/Corbis





barrier

9 09 2012

The car park ticket fluttered to the ground, unseen. Which was all very well, until I returned to the car park, and searched my pocket for the ticket to pay. I searched my wallet, my pockets, behind my ear. Nothing.

Being a Famous Five reader when I was little, I knew what to do. Retrace my steps. Back to the car. Not on drivers seat. Not on passenger seat. Where had I put it when the machine spat it out at me? In my mouth of course. It wasn’t there. Checked the boot. I don’t know why. Getting serious case of ‘car park fluster’ now. Running late, considering ‘lost ticket’ charge, removing dog collar…

Check the floor…? Chance will be a fine thing. But… there it was! And it was mine! I went to the machine, paid my £1.60, and back to the car. Little did I know this was not the end. If only every day was so exciting.

I got to the exit barrier, put my ticket and… it wouldn’t go in. So I turned it round. Nothing. Upside-down. Nope. Waved it. I don’t know why. Still nothing. Luckily there was another machine behind me, and no car in the way. Tried the same. Nothing. I reversed out and into the next lane. Same again. I looked for the help button to speak to a helpful car park operative. There wasn’t one. A help button, I mean. I can’t speak for the latter.

“I just want to pay!”, I screamed inside my head. “I JUST WANT TO PAY!”, I very nearly screamed out loud. Thankfully there were still no cars behind me, so I was about to reverse to find somewhere to park to find a person to ask… and it was then that I noticed.

The barrier was already open.

it wasn’t this barrier. even i would have noticed.

That was why the tickets didn’t work. I have never been so grateful not to have  car behind me.

I was so desperate to pay, I didn’t notice the barrier was open. I wasn’t sure if I was cross, because of my serious case of ‘car park fluster’, or whether to laugh out loud at being such a wally.

I think a lot of us are like that with God. We are so desperate to pay, we don’t notice the barrier is open. And when we do notice, we are cross we’ve spent so much time trying to pay that we keep trying to pay anyway. Or we can’t accept it and are still looking for the helpful car park attendant. Some of us haven’t noticed, and are still blocking the open entrance searching for the right button to let us through.

There is no charge. The barrier to God’s grace is open. We can walk through it laughing. If only we would look up and see.

It wasn’t this bad…





beware of the dog

16 02 2012

Look into my eyes...

My fear of dogs comes from when I was attacked by a German Shepherd when I was a kid. As in the big scary dog. Not a Bavarian farmer. That incident has lived long in my mind. It sets my default reaction to all dogs that they will, this time or another, attack me.

Because that is what dogs do.

As a runner who likes the solitude of cross-country or woods, this pre-determined fear of canine treachery does not bode well. But my experience tells me I am right. So when I hear stories of dog attacks, it backs up my theory. No matter the hundreds of dogs I pass who do me no harm. No matter my old flame Sasha, the borrowed black labrador I used to take to Tilgate forest to run with me. Dogs like that don’t fit my prejudice, so I can ignore them.

But here comes the rub. Maybe it’s a confession. The dog attack I mentioned earlier. Did I mention it was a dream? A nightmare really, but it wasn’t real. I was a child, and I had a bad dream about my leg being bitten by an Alsatian. But it wasn’t real, although my leg did hurt.

But the fear of dog it gave me was very real. From an imaginary event. Backed up by prejudice and conjecture. 

It got me thinking. About people’s experiences of god. Their fear of him. The very real fear that he is out to get them. That he will find them out and punish them. That he might look all friendly but maybe this time, maybe the next. He will attack.

Because that is what gods do.

I would love to shatter the myth of the attack-god, to show people when their perceptions of God are created from dreams or fantasies or things they’ve heard from someone who once said that God will burn everyone who doesn’t behave themselves and sing falsetto in the choir. A sort of Dante-esque horror story of eternal punishment that some Christians get off on. Backed up by prejudice and conjecture. And, of course, fear. 

The myths we carry in our minds about God can be so dangerous because they block us from experiencing the real thing. Like a fear of dogs that forever blocks us from relaxing in the presence of the friendliest of canines, the misplaced fear of God can forever block us from relaxing in the presence of God.

Who, as CS Lewis famously said of Aslan (not a dog), is of course not safe. But he is good.

I can't believe I have used this cliche. But it seemed to fit.

 





yellow book

19 01 2012

So, how was school today?
Fine.

Probably for most people picking kids up from school that’s the most you can hope for. They’ll talk endlessly about anything else, but anything useful about school…?!  

But we’ve got the yellow book. Ah, the yellow book. The yellow book that tells the truth, the yellow book in which the teachers write their own answer to the same question: how was school today? The yellow book never lies. 

I think a lot of people think that God has a yellow book. In which he keeps records of our behaviour, in which he can look to check whether or not we had really been as good and respectable and well-behaved as we may claim to have been. And of course he keeps the books as they pile up. He logs and catalogues all our misdemeanours. And boy does he hold them against us. He keeps the book in church, in the vestry behind the big dusty Bible that used to be on the altar but no-one knows what to do with now. 

I don’t think God thinks like that at all. He knows all that we do, of course. But there’s no need for a yellow book. Because there’s no need to pretend everything is fine when it’s not. So there’s no need for a yellow book that tells the real truth. The truth is out there already. He knows everything.

Trust that there is no secret yellow book in which God stores up things to hold against us. Learning to embrace that may well be the beginning of wisdom and the foundation of a healthy relationship with God. 

Amazing what you can learn from a simple yellow book. And today was a good day at school, by the way.  


 





stuck

8 09 2011

Stuck. Stuck in a scene of judgement, stuck with the finger pointed at you. Caught in the act and waiting for punishment. Stuck.

The woman was brought him. Caught. Bound, bleeding, shamed. Shamed. The price for quick sex, dirty sex. Or for being caught in the religious power play. It is the temple courtyard, the Pharisees’ turf. The woman is brought, crawling, bound and struggling, fearing for her life. The Romans look on, ready to pounce on any disturbance. The people look on, knowing that yesterday they were cheering Jesus and today… who knows.

This is a scene of judgement. This is a scene where those in power are using their position to emphasise their authority. The woman is just a pawn in their power game. The crowd watch as the leader of the Pharisees accuses her before Jesus: this woman was caught in adultery. Moses commands us to stone such women. What do you say?

The woman trembles. Jesus pauses. He writes something in the sand. The people clamour to see. Luke doesn‘t tell us what he says, but from what happens next, we can guess: stone her. Panic reaches the woman’s face as she realises her last chance is gone. The angry mob get twitchy fingers and begin to search for stones.

Stuck. Stuck in a scene of judgement, stuck with the finger pointed at you. Caught in the act and waiting for punishment. Stuck.

How many of us live our lives there. We are stuck there. Our relationship with and understanding of God is based on feeling like we have been caught and will be – or are being – punished. We are the woman. God is the angry mob.

Then Jesus cuts through all of it with a stroke of revolutionary genius. This is the method of execution:  Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. Would you be the first? You will be arrested for inciting a riot and maybe for murder. But more than that, you will break the very law you are abusing the woman with to test Jesus. Because the law says none of us are without sin. Clever.

The people look to the Pharisees for what to do. The eldest was always the most important – and the eldest walked away. One by one they followed. Humiliated. The whole scene has changed. The stage is empty except for the woman and he who is without sin. When Jesus bends down to write again she probably thinks he is going to get a stone.

Stuck. Stuck in a scene of judgement, stuck with the finger pointed at you. Caught in the act and waiting for punishment. Stuck.

Instead Jesus walks on the knife-edge between condemning her on one hand, and overlooking her destructive lifestyle on the other. “Neither do I condemn you”, he says. “Go, and do not sin again.” The key here is that Jesus recognises her sin, and he holds her to account – but he removes the penalty for that sin. She is guilty, but she will not be killed. He did not condemn, but neither did he condone. The challenge to her was to change. For how many of us is changing harder than being punished. We want to be punished. We do not want to change. 

In our little church we are beginning a series on grace. Why? Because I think so many of us are stuck with this idea of God as the harsh religious leader who must enforce the law; but Jesus shows us a grace which see the person to be embraced not a problem to be erased.

The abused woman in this story we hope was able to find healing. We hope the community was as ready for repentance and forgiveness and new beginnings as Jesus was. Jesus did not get stuck at condemnation.

Let’s pray we don’t get stuck there either.

This story can be found in full in John 8.1-11





jelly

23 08 2011

I am not a ‘cat person’. By that I don’t mean that some mistake me for being half-man and half-cat, though Lion-O from the Thundercats was one of my childhood heroes. But having had Smokey the Cat for about a year, I am beginning to see that if cats don’t actually rule the world, they are certainly in charge of the home. At least in their own heads.

Smokey the Cat teaches me many lessons. Some which involve a certain feline dexterity that I have no intention of learning. That is what the shower is for. But more usefully, we turn to jelly. Jelly is that stuff that chunks of cat food are coated in, that Smokey is far more interested in eating than the actual food. If desperate, if she hasn’t caught enough moths and flies to complement her jelly diet, she will deem it necessary to eat the actual tuna, duck, salmon or whatever else the chunks claims to have once been waved at on their way from sheep brain to sachet.

how very dare you

The jelly is obviously the best. But you can’t survive on just jelly. It’s one of those lessons we teach children. You can’t just eat the nice bits and leave the peas. Cats are harder to teach. If Smokey the Cat teaches me any lessons about following Jesus, she reminds me that we all like to pick and choose the parts of our faith we like, the chunks of the Bible we like, the churches we like,  and ignore the rest. I like the part of our faith that bangs on and on about grace and hope and transformation and heaven coming to earth and all that exciting and dynamic stuff; I am less inclined to feast on passages that talk more about judgements and laws and things all a little more Pharisaical. But those things are there. I prefer to preach about Jesus than Samson. But Samson is there. 

We all have our jelly. The things we lap up. But a mature faith is able to take the whole plate, and somehow hold it together; or, to hold parts of it, at least recognising there are other parts but that I cannot hold them. I can see where high-church Anglo-Catholics are coming from, I can see where low-church free-church evangelicals are coming from; I can see the grace, I can see the judgement, I can see the social action, I can see the personal commitment to faith that is needed. I can see the importance of string-free relationships in the community, and the importance of evangelism and challenging people to faith.

I can see that actually the world is more nuanced than polarised opposites, however easy it might be to assume otherwise.

moth balled

It’s the same in politics. We have our mantras, our favourite narratives, our ideologies, but if we take only the good bits from our politics and leave aside the flipsides we are kidding ourselves. 

I wish everyone’s jelly was the same as mine. My jelly is to preach hope, to lead towards Jesus, and to hope for the best that God will understand if I have got it wrong.  The rest of the food is there, and I promise I will get to it.

Unless I find a moth to eat instead.

 





hunted down

27 05 2011

First Osama bin Laden, then Ratko Mladic. What a month for hunting down the world’s most wanted. The A Team had better be afraid.

It must be an odd life living in the knowledge that one day everything might come crashing down around you. Secret hideaways, multi-million fortunes, armies of bodyguards… all this may well never be enough to shield you from being brought to justice. Because you are guilty we will hunt you down, even if it takes 10 years, 16 years, or more.

You will be found out.

Ratko Mladic. Image: BBC News

There are not many of us who are fugitive war criminals. Not that I know of anyway. But there are a lot of us who are terrified of being found out. Terrified that the protection we have built up around us will be breached. Terrified that God will see through our defenses and bring us to justice. Terrified that God is actually a hunter who seeks us out in order to expose us, humiliate us, and ultimately destroy us.

I think that is why many people avoid God. People in church and outside church the same. Because, we think, if God really knew us, he would not love us. If we were the 1 he left the 99 for, he would make his way back to the 99 disappointed. Like a blind-date that goes wrong because we look nothing like the photo, when God truly knows us he will reject us.

I am afraid of being found out. I am afraid I have been found out. I know I have been found out. For the mass of insecurities I am, for the prejudices I hold, for the thoughts I have and ultimately for the fact I do not love myself. As most of us don’t.

The thing is, God has found me out, and yet I have no fear of being put on trial. Not because I have bribed him with my good works, or held him hostage with the power of my dog collar. But because he has released me as a free man. No longer captive to my desires, my past, not held by karma; no longer a slave, no longer a king, no longer a nobody. Free.

We have many metaphors for this. We sometimes say Jesus has paid the price for us.  Sometimes we say we have been redeemed.  Sometimes we say we have been washed whiter than snow, although being ‘washed in the blood of the lamb’ never sounded very clean to me.

However we describe it, it means that we need not live in fear of being hunted down, found out, humiliated and punished.

What marks us out as followers of Jesus who have welcomed the Holy Spirit to dwell in us is that we no longer hide like fugitives; we no longer hang our heads in shame; we no longer hunch under the weight of who we really are and would rather not be. We are totally free and totally released. If only more of us in our churches and outside our churches would know this…!

Of course in reality I still don’t like the fact God sees everything. I cannot believe he sees it and still loves me, accepts me, welcomes me. I cannot understand how he see me as holy, pure, unblemished. But he does. He does.

Sometimes I want him to hunt me down because it makes more sense. Punishment is easier to accept than grace.  

And if you’re looking away now because you really can’t believe it for yourself, how much more is it true for you.







a ruthless bible

22 03 2011

As we walk through the Bible in our little congregation tucked away on the forgotten borders of Sutton, Morden, Mitcham, Croydon and the sewage treatment works of Beddington, it can be easy to understand how the family of Abraham, who have become the tribes of Israel, became a little territorial. So easily we define ourselves by who we are not – we are not them, because ‘they’ are bad. It reminds me a bit of the M Night Shyamalan film “The Village”, where fear of the unknown is used to define and control. We read the dramatic stories of the Exodus, we flinched slightly at the drowning of the Egyptian soldiers in the Red Sea, passing briefly over the historical question of why in the Bible it is called the Sea of Reeds but popular imagination is such that we need to keep saying Red Sea…

We passed through the conquest of Jericho, to the book of Judges, and some of the most controversial stories contained in Scripture. Stories that seem to advocate a sort of genocide, certainly military conquest of a violent nature. This is where people get the idea of God – Yahweh – as a violent, bloodthirsty despot. I don’t believe he is, of course, though he is not a cuddly teddy bear either. Some of that comes down to how we believe the Bible was written. Is it God dictating his thoughts, or is it the people struggling to understand theologically what is happening geographically? Is the history re-written with subjective theological edits – such as, we won WWII because God was on our side, or people get STDs as a punishment from God for their sexual immorality – or did God really tell them to slaughter other armies?

These questions are hard for me. They are not easily explained. And so I cling to Ruth. A Bible without Ruth would be a darker place. Certainly the book of Judges would be a darker place. With all the extremes of characters tucked away, I feel in need of a bit of redemption by the end and there is Ruth, poised and ready. You see, for the all the anti-foreigner urges in Judges, and especially anti-Moabism, the book of Ruth tells a story of a family who break all the rules about mixing with foreigners, and are blessed through it; a story that doesn’t allow us to write God off as racist, as nationalist, as someone who wants the muggles, mudbloods and the magic-folk kept separate.

Naomi and Elimelech and their 2 sons move from Bethlehem – ring any bells? – to Moab to escape a famine. MOAB! Naughty people. What would the neighbours say. Suffice to say things go from bad to worse: Elimelech dies, both sons marry MOAB women… and then die. Naomi, who’s name meant ‘pleasant’, is left alone in MOAB with two MOABITE daughters-in-law. She decides to move home, and Ruth, bravely, goes with her. Namoi changes her name to Mara, meaning ‘bitter’. So far, those who would say God judges by the book and shows no grace may have a point.

they looked just like this

Then everything changes. Boaz, a local land-owner, falls for the MOABITE woman Ruth. He first allows her to glean his field (no euphemism intended); and then (and this is romantic), allows her to gather barley from the sheaves and not the floor. He was way ahead of his time. She woos him with a bit of perfume and a subtle blanket manoevre, and the rest, as they say, is her-story. He marries her – he a faithful Hebrew and she a MOAB WOMAN. And the local people bless her by saying “May she be like Rachel and Leah…”; hang on, as in Jacob’s wives, who founded the nation of Israel? This foreign – no, MOAB – woman?

The Bible keeps us this emphasis on her MOABITE origins, and her welcome into the family. As if the writers are proud of this. Really?! The book then ends with this wonderful promise prayed over Ruth and Boaz’s son. Who was called Obed. Who became the father of Jesse. Who became the father of David. Yes, that David.

This story does not make some of the other stories in Judges go away. It does not make some of them any easier to stomach. But this story, this beautiful, unexpected gem of a story, does show our God in a completely different light. Maybe next time we are feeling a bit jingoistic, a bit nationalist, a bit racist or a bit anti-immigrant – and we seek to justify this Bibilically, as some do – then maybe we need to be a little less Ruthless in our criticism, a little less Ruthless in our judgment; and next we feel bogged down in stories of tribal war and ethnic conflict as we read out family history, maybe this little love-story with epic repercussions for Jesus and his family tree will balance our view of god, as we discover a Ruthless Bible – and indeed a Ruthless God – would be a different story altogether.








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