Earlier this week I had a message from my daughter requesting some of her baby and school photos for a presentation she had to do at work. Thanks to my mobile phone in a short time the photos were there in Australia. How things have changed.
In one of the photos my baby daughter was being held by her grandma. My late mother herself loved to take photos and recently I was looking through some of the boxes of slides she had taken. Do you remember slides? Some won’t know what they are.
In one box of slides I came across a photo from the 1960’s of myself in a group in front of the building of my home church. Each year then the Junior Church took part in the national Scripture Examination and then some months later there was the local prizegiving and one of the Junior Churches or Sunday Schools received the trophy for the best results. That year we had won the trophy and there we all were with big smiles holding up our certificates and the cup!
It was a Friday evening in early summer and I was not very smartly turned out but all around me were boys in smart suits. The reason for the difference was that their parents were the first generation to come from Jamaica to the UK and that was how you dressed for church. My home church is on the edge of Brixton in south London, I don’t know if any of their parents actually came on the HMT Empire Windrush but they were of that generation. The photo showed the normal harmony that exists in local churches regardless of difference of race, language, colour, class or culture.
My young black friends however were going to have to become men in 1970’s Britain and they were to experience prejudice and racism and I know that things did not work out well for some of them. Years later when I was training for the ministry, I took a service there the day after the Brixton riots, a very different scene from that day years earlier.
The issue of racism in our nation has come very much to the fore recently. In one way this is so good for we all have a lot to learn about our past also about inequality and injustice in society and seek to change it. In another way it is so sad for someone like myself who years ago found it normal to have friends regardless of skin colour, that it is still such an issue.
What we shouldn’t do is miss the significance of the phrase Black Lives Matter, some misunderstand as one can with short snappy phrases. Maybe looking back again helps explain the phrase, I recall when I was a young minister in Liverpool in the 1980’s, when it was a city struggling with mass unemployment. The Bishop of Liverpool David Sheppard, wrote a book entitled Bias to the Poor, which I read on arriving in the city; it wasn’t that the rich didn’t matter to God but that God has a divine bias to the disadvantaged and seeks from us a bias to them as well. As in the words of Isaiah, ‘Learn to do good; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widows (1:17).
Our eldest daughter has recently written on this subject, she recognises how, ‘complex issues of injustice have become embedded in the very structures of our society and institutions’ but I close by quoting some of her practical thoughts. How we should, ‘examine our hearts and honestly ask whether we harbour any unconscious prejudice based on stereotype;’ how also we should have, ‘the difficult conversations with family and friends to call out racism and condemn it;’ and, ‘safely protest.’ I give her the final word. ‘Racism concerns us all. We are made less when humanity is denied to some and when the image of God is held under a knee.’
Yours in Christ,
P.S. One of the nice things about the photo is that one of the West Indian parents is still the church treasurer and organist and his son, one of my childhood friends did do well in a ‘worldly’ sense. He became a commercial pilot and then in the RAF, and a few years ago was piloting flights for the Prime Minister.