What the Picture of Aylan Kurdi on the beach did to me

All this week I’ve been busy pressing ‘Like’ on Facebook more than ever before. Why? There is so much about the issue of our responses to asylum seekers and refugees on that social medium. Australia has horrible detention camps offshore and is trying its best to stop the flow of asylum seekers to our shores. Europe has been vacillating between trying to be generous, and keeping control of its borders. It has taken the picture of drowned, three year old Aylan Kurdi, washed up on a Turkish shore to move both public opinion and government toward a more compassionate stance toward the people who want to come to Europe.

I’ve been feeling impotent. The knowledge of all their suffering gives me such a heavy heart.

The only things that I can do are to pray, to support the refugees who come to our church, and to click ‘like’ on Facebook! Pope Francis has said that every congregation should offer to support one Refugee family. How do we do that as an English speaking congregation in in a French speaking part of the world? So far, I have not experienced a great upsurge of comment from members of our congregation about this issue. Maybe it is time to put it on our radar screen. Do we have the will or the resources? Maybe I should contact our ‘Table Ronde’, the clergy group in this area, to see what we might do as a group, here.

One thing is certain: we say “Isn’t it terrible how so many Jews were killed in the death camps of world war two. Isn’t it terrible how refugee ships were turned back from many places, and so few refugees were left to die because of the policies of governments after the war.’ We say “We would never have done that” But we say that, only when there are no refugees to deal with. Now that we are in a similar, or maybe more dire situation, we are acting in exactly the same way. I can hear Jesus saying “Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your ancestors killed. 48So you are witnesses and approve of the deeds of your ancestors; for they killed them, and you build their tombs.”(Luke 11:47 – 48).

There have been people calling for a ‘rational’ conversation about this saying that it is a mistake to let our emotions rule what really ought to be done with our reason. This might be true, if we also agreed to take into account in our reasoning our role in creating the wars in the middle east, our role in creating some of the poverty of the third world, our role in globalising the world for the benefit of the West (money), and then objecting when the world acts like a global village with people.

The other thing that is a burden is that I think that we are in new and unchartered territory. This newness creates a sense of malaise. Not like the fear of the Cold War, but a kind of generalised unease the ranges over the dismal politics to which most of the West is subject at the moment to ‘circle the wagons’ policies about refugees. Lucas Walsh writing in ‘The Age’ described it well for me when he said Far from being at the end of history, Western civilisation now increasingly appears to be governed by forms of palliative democracy: ones that struggle just to keep things cohesive and afloat, and that are unable to deal with transnational by-products of global markets, domestic wars in far-away countries, and climate change.

If there is one final effect of that image of Aylan on the beach, it is to signify the death of a future. It is one we can no longer afford to deal with as individuals, as free markets, as NGOs or as nation-states such as Turkey and Lebanon. One can hope that his death is more than this week’s trending item on social media, but a catalyst for a whole new way of thinking about our shared problems of humanity. “ http://www.theage.com.au/comment/as-the-children-lose-hope-the-future-gets-bleaker-20150907-gjgl9b.html Here is another link to a similar article in the guardian. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/14/-sp-western-model-broken-pankaj-mishra

I think that we are n a new kind of time. I wonder whether being Christian has anything to say abut this? You know Adolf Hitler hated communists and Catholics because they were international organisations which were by their nature opposed to the ‘National’ aims of Germany and ‘German Christians’. The confessing Church took its stand against him partly because it saw the Jews and part of all humanity, with whom we share the world. You know we sing “In Christ there is no East or West, in Christ no north or South, but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth”. The first thing to say is that all of humanity (not just Christians) are gathered up into Christ, and that on Pentecost, we learned to ‘speak each other’s languages’ reversing the sin of Babel, that divided us into tribes of different languages. Christians are well placed to think internationally and globally.

Second, we have to say that history is in God’s hands. Karl Marx, against Hegel, said that it is by human decision that history is made, but Christians say “History has already been made. The future is the future of Christ. The reign of God is ‘coming to’ (German “zukommen = Zukunft= Future). Our task as the Body of Christ is to anticipate this future. To act now, as if the future inaugurated by Jesus in his resurrection has already begun, which it has. We have plenty of images in the scripture as to what this might look like. We ought to get on anticipating it, if only within our congregations.

But the thing is, the globalisation and changes in the world that have overwhelmed us at the moment require us to recover again the global, international and universal dimensions of Christianity. We can’t be content just to sing ‘Jesus is my best friend’ or ‘my sins are forgiven’ any more. We are required by world events to sing other hymns like the one I quoted above and the New Zealand National anthem “God of nations at they feet”. I think that if we started to sing these hymns more frequently and ask ourselves what they mean we might have more trust as our small boats are tossed on the waves of history, and perhaps contribute constructively to the future of a global village.

What a small effort this reflection is. Perhaps the last word should be given to Dietrich Bonhoeffer “Our church has been fighting during these years only for its self-preservation, as if that were an end in itself. It has become incapable of bringing the word of reconciliation and redemption to humankind and to the world. So the words we used before must lose their power, be silenced, and we can be Christians today in only two ways, through prayer and in doing justice among human beings.( Baptismal Letter, May 1944, DBWE 8, 389)

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About frpaulsblog

Paul Dalzell is now a semi-retired priest living in Alexandra, Australia
This entry was posted in Engagement, Living Before the Face of God, Religion and Society, Weekly Reflections at St. John's Montreux and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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