All one Big Family
There is an established tradition of having special days, weeks, or even years devoted to a subject of concern. We have had a No-Smoking day, a bus-only day, recently there was a “No Car Day”. I heard of a “Take your Dog to Work Day”. Annual weeks such as National Heart Week are promoted, as is Breast Cancer Week and HIV Week. A year or two ago there was the Year of the Disabled and one could find many, many more similar examples. When our attention is drawn to some cause, usually social or environmental, about which we are urged to show concern, and support the cause being publicised.
Amongst the multitude of such special occasions most frequently devoted to worthy causes affecting us at in our own country, are those, like Christian Aid Week, or One World Week, which remind us, that though we live on an island, we cannot be isolated from the world as a whole. To use a cliché, we are all part of one another; we are one family in God.
An aspect of this which has become much to the fore in recent years is that frequently referred to as the environment. The squandering of resources, the pollution of land, sea and air, disregard for the landscape and of the life it supports, are not matters which rebound solely on the individual culprit, but affect the whole human family, and will burden human families yet unborn.
After decades of indifference to, and ignorance of, the threat, at last “green issues” as they have been nick-named, have become matters which more and more of us are taking seriously. If the next generation of children, we are rapidly realising, is to sing
“All things bright and beautiful
All creatures great and small..”
as a peon of praise and not as a component of a remembrance service for days gone by, we have to all take the threat seriously, and start paring away our selfish instincts.
But I would like to direct my few words this morning to another aspect of this theme of us as part of one single, albeit large, human family.
We are all part of one body, which consists of several members, says Paul in one of those illuminating metaphors which encapsulate an eternal truth. The whole body is the sum of the parts. The parts are inter-dependant, each separate, each unique, but functioning incompletely without the complementary contribution from the other constituents.
Of course the analogy is imperfect, as are all analogies. People can and do live full, productive lives even though one sense is absent or failing, but the comparison is sufficiently accurate to illustrate the point more than adequately. People are not self-sufficient. A community, be it large or small, is dependent upon the contribution of all its members if it is to flourish, to flower, and not to disintegrate.
But Paul’s analogy was not merely about the component parts of the body, and the way one depended upon the other. It went further than that. The equal value of all the parts was stressed. The eye is not of greater value than the ear, nor is the tongue held in greater esteem than either of them. All the parts are vital; all are esteemed.
When I was a boy, as when many of you were boys and girls, we looked with pride at the map of the world, large parts of which were coloured red, and had described to us the British Empire on which the sun never set. The peoples in those lands coloured crimson in our atlases, all owned allegiance to the Emperor. The pictures in our geography books, the stories in our history books, underlined the philosophy of dependency within this Empire. Our spices came from India, our tea from Ceylon, lamb from New Zealand, sugar from the West Indies, and so on. In return, it was said, Britain defended the peoples and gave them good government.
But what was not apparent, for it could not be said with truthfulness, was that neither dependency nor inter-dependency was accompanied by an equality of value accorded to each citizen. To be described as being from the colonies was to be placed in category which Orwell’s pigs would have identified. “All are equal, but some are more equal than others.”
Now the Empire has gone, replaced by the Commonwealth. Other Empires have crumbled or are crumbling. For all nations, states, empires, commonwealths, communities or whatsoever, contain the seeds of their own destruction unless inter-dependence is accompanied by equality of value for their citizens. Neither authoritarianism nor paternalism is a substitute for equivalence of treatment, of the dignity of being on equal terms with ones fellows.
We are all of equal value in the eyes of God, we sometimes rather glibly proclaim. A religious faith, be it Christian, Moslem, Hindu, Jewish or whatever, that does not have that precept at its core is, to my mind, fatally flawed. But men and women when proclaiming the equality of all in the sight of God must go beyond mouthing glib words; they must match behaviour to pronouncement.
One World has to be based upon this tenet of equality. That is a massive stride to take. For example, we may think of a Jew and Palestinian, a Boer and a Zulu, a Sikh and a Hindu, a North Korean and a South Korean, a Serb and a Croat, and many, many more examples of where the one despises and denigrates the other; a loathing that is generously reciprocated.
But all these are examples from distant places. The problems in the world are enormous, and our influence is small. Aren’t there examples nearer home? Could we not make a start in a small way? Could we look around and see if making a modest step towards equally valuing is possible on our own doorstep?
The easy step is, say, valuing equally the peasant on the Indian sub-continent, the cocoa picker in West Africa, the Chilean harvesting grapes or the Malaysian worker in the rice-field. We never see them personally and they live a long way away. Of course it is no great effort to say, with sincerity even, that God values them equally along with us.
But on our doorstep, in our own country, in our own town, it is more difficult. Do we value as a human being equally the accountant and his cleaner, even though the former is a white male, and the latter a black female? If we are serious about one world, why in our own country do the school-leavers whose parents were born in Somalia, Bangladesh, Jamaica or Nigeria find certain employers value them less than contemporaries who have white skins? Why are children with black skins not infrequently taunted on their way to and from school, and why do their parents suffer from thoughtless racist jokes? Why have families been hounded from homes in so regarded white areas?
Perhaps overt racism is the work of a minority within our nation. But that it exists, overt or covert, is a blot upon what is still described as a christian society. Our advocacy of the ideals of One World will ring the truer when the canker is excised.
And the divisions which we see are not only those related to colour and race. There are divisions of class, divisions by sex, divisions by residence and so it goes on.
We do have a One World Week, where the theme is of great issues. It is about saving the environment from destruction. It is about sharing out the resources equitably, so starvation, preventable disease, inadequate or non-existent housing, degrading poverty, violent conflict, obscene warfare, all become things of the past.
These laudable aims must always be part of our prayers. That these evils continue to exist in a world which boasts mind-blowing technical skill is a disgrace.
But we stand accused of hypocrisy if we demand, rightly, that the Somalian is fed, and the Calcutta beggar housed, but look with indifference at the “Wogs go home” graffiti on the subway walls, laugh at the offensive saloon bar joke that seeks to denigrate fellow citizens in our midst, or express our superiority to the citizen who lacks our education or so valued social status.
Perhaps some think I trivialise the One World ideals. I don’t intend to do so. If I resent the citizen in the midst, how can I preach the need for equality for all abroad?
There is an old joke about the husband who boasted that his wife and he shared all decisions between them. “Yes”, said the wife, “he makes the important decisions about where the government is going wrong, about whether we should join the common market or not, and our views on monetary union in Europe, and I just decide the unimportant things, like when to pay the gas bill, what we need from the supermarket, what colour to paint the bathroom, and where to get a plumber to mend the leaking pipe”.
We need to make the important decisions about supporting efforts to end poverty and disease in large areas of the world; about doing our part to stop the desecration or destruction of the world in which we live.
But there are some lesser decisions that should not be overlooked, like loving the neighbour who literally lives within our neighbourhood; or speaking up for the persecuted within our own communities.
Our brothers’ eyes are chock-a-bloc with beams. Let us attend to our motes so we can see what we are doing as we seek to remove them. Or is our mote really a beam?
Upper Chapel 21 October 1990
Fulwood 13 September 1992
Mexborough 13 September 1992
Hucklow 19 November 1995; 20 October 2002