Tag Archives: discrimination

Shoah…An Obliteration of Potential

Shoah - an obliteration of potential

Shoah – an obliteration of potential

A sermon preached on Candlemas, honouring Holocaust Memorial Day 2018, based on Luke 2:22-40

May I speak and may you hear, through the Grace of our Lord, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

A Jewish family… mother, father and precious new born baby son… entering the temple in Jerusalem, some 33 to 40 days after his birth, to fulfil a rite of passage required under the law of Moses; the purification of his mother with a simple offering, for those without wealth or status, of a pair of turtle doves or young pigeons.

Three people learning what it means to be a family, with little or no inkling of what life lies ahead of them, but filled with dreams and aspirations of what their son may grow up to be. Maybe for Joseph, a son to follow in the family tradition, to become a skilled carpenter working alongside him, and for Mary, a child who will grow up strong and healthy, perhaps achieving far greater things than his parents had by becoming a rabbi or priest.

We have to remember that this was taking place quite some time before three strangers from the East would turn up on their doorstep, with their unusual gifts, and a warning in a dream that would cause the family to flee across the border into Egypt. And yet the season of Epiphany draws to a close today with this story of Simeon revealing the poignant potential Jesus is destined to fulfil.

A potential that was to bring salvation for those who believe in him, both to Jews and Gentiles at the expense of those who would oppose him, , ‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly’. A potential that is offered to each and every one of us, to every child that is born. A potential that is to be nurtured and encouraged whatever shape or form it may take. A potential that can be torn away, stamped on and destroyed.

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly
John 10:10

Yesterday was Holocaust Memorial Day, a day set aside from our November Remembrance Day; when we remember those who fought and gave their lives not only in the 1st World War but also in the 2nd World War, where they stood up aside the evil tyranny of the Nazi regime. Holocaust Memorial Day is a special day to remember the six million Jews as well as other victims, who were murdered simply because of their religion, race, disability, or sexual orientation, bringing the total nearer to eleven million lives.

As a dry statistic, eleven million people is probably unimaginable, but imagine that you drove to the outskirts of London and suddenly the roads, houses and buildings were empty, deserted, every single place, right into the centre of the city. Everyone had disappeared, leaving behind most of their possessions, gone without a trace. Not a single living person remaining.

For the Jews living in Nazi occupied countries, these disappearances were happening in every city, town and village. The streets were falling silent, no one rushing about their daily business, no children playing in streets or shouting and laughing in parks and playgrounds. For among those six million almost a quarter of them were children, 1.5 million lives. Children who never got the chance to grow up and fulfil their potential or their dreams for the future.

Those six million people who were not born as victims, but who had their hopes and dreams brutally stripped away because of an ideology that condemned them to death just because they were Jewish.

Some of you will know that late last year I undertook a ten day seminar at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, where they not only educate people about the events and the peoples of the Holocaust or Shoah, as they prefer to call it, but also strive to preserve the memories and stories of the victims. Their photographic archive contains hundreds of photographs of Jewish people; people who smiled, danced, took part in sports and musical events, got married and enjoyed holidays and family occasions; with no awareness of the fate that awaited them; each now frozen in time for posterity, as the camera captured their everyday lives.

Pre-War Jewish Life

There are also photos of beloved children, dressed up and posed in their Sabbath best, no different I doubt to the snapshots we have, brought out years later to embarrass our offspring, except these children would face no future embarrassment.

This recognition of unfulfilled hope is echoed in another part of the site, where the Children’s Memorial has been created by hollowing out an under underground cavern, which has its own symbolism. It is entered by a descent that funnels you into a darkened room. In the gloom the images of several unnamed children stare out from photographs, as the sound of a mournful lament softly plays.

Then further down, feeling your way into the darkness, you enter what appears to be a room filled with stars. The effect is created by just five candles, which are replaced each day, reflected by mirrors to produce an infinity of tiny lights. In this twilight we listened to just a few of the names of some 1800 of the children, their ages and where they were from; a representation of stolen lives. It is very moving and I immediately thought of my own children

But it is the photographs that haunt me because it makes these children more tangible, and despite not knowing their names, they are no longer anonymous. In your service sheet is a slip of paper with some photographs on it, take a look at it now [see below].

Shoah Children Victims

Florika Liebmann, Unknown and Raphael Altmann

On the left is Florika Liebmann. She was born in 1934 in Szeged, Hungary to Bela and Szenka Liebmann. Bela was a Jewish photographer and businessman who ran an optical and photographic supply store, as well as doing photography in local theatres. During World War Two, he was conscripted into the Hungarian labour service. Szenka and Florika were deported, and in April 1945 were killed along with 38 other victims, in the village of Weissenbach by retreating SS soldiers.

On the right is Raphael Altmann. He was born in 1937 in Wilmersdorf, Germany to Kurt and Grietje Altmann. He was the oldest of four children, including his brothers Martijn and Fred. During the German occupation, the family was expelled to Zeist, in the Netherlands, from where they went into hiding in late 1942. When they could no longer stay together, the parents gave their two older children to a children’s house in Zeist. The house had an escape procedure, but in real time things went wrong. The headmistress was arrested with the children and sent to the Westerbork camp. The children were sent from this camp on to Auschwitz, where they perished on 26 March 1944. Kurt and Grietje, however, hid in four different places with their youngest son Fred and managed to survive. Raphael and Martijn never got to meet their sister Sophia, who was born in 1949

And the picture in the middle, what do you see there? A disabled child? A child with Downs Syndrome? Or a child who was lovingly dressed in his smart sailor’s suit, with polished, laced up boots and no doubt one of his daddy’s ties. I couldn’t find a name or a history for this young man, but he is known to have been victim of the Holocaust and he is representative of one of at least 5,000 disabled children who were murdered under the Nazi regime.

The Nazis falsely believed that some human beings were superior to others and they aimed to develop and preserve a pure Aryan master race. To do this they strove to select those they believed to be the most ‘perfect’ human beings and to deliberately remove from society those considered ‘undesirable’, including the disabled.

German midwives and doctors were ordered to report any child known to them who was born deaf or blind, with paralysis or with a neurological disorder such as Down’s Syndrome, and these children were systematically removed from institutions and families, although not without some reluctance on the parents’ part, from whom the final euthanasia was hidden.

Hitler and his regime justified this by endorsing opinions as expressed by Madison Grant, the author of The Passing of the Great Race, who said, “Mistaken regard for what are believed to be divine laws and a sentimental belief in the sanctity of human life, tend to prevent […] the elimination of defective infants … The laws of nature require the obliteration of the unfit, and human life is valuable only when it is of use to the community or race.”

Nazi Propaganda Against the Disabled

Translation: 60,000 Reichsmark is what this person suffering with a hereditary defect costs the People’s community during his lifetime. Fellow citizen that is your money too.

The Nazis took Darwin’s ideas of natural selection, in particular the idea of survival of the fittest in the animal kingdom, and applied them to the human world and society, however, the valuable of human life doesn’t just rely on its usefulness to others, but more importantly its capacity to love and be loved, and God places in each and every one of us an overriding potential for love.

Not just then, but nowadays, there is also a danger that we stifle this potential even before a child is born. A recent warning by the Church of England was that the future existence of people with Down’s Syndrome is ‘under question’ with the introduction of a new Non-Invasive Prenatal blood test to test for the condition, that the Church is concerned will lead to more terminations because of people’s fears and concerns about their ability to raise a disabled child and misconceptions about the condition itself.

I believe there are compelling and justifiable reasons why a pregnancy might be terminated, particularly if it is for the health and mental wellbeing of the woman or of the unborn child, but not for a sense of seeking ‘perfection’. Some woman reportedly, when they were told that the child they were carrying had Down’s Syndrome were presented with this information as ‘bad news’.

Actress and screenwriter, Sally Phillips, whose son Olly has Down’s, recently addressed this in the BBC documentary ‘A World without Down’s Syndrome’ revealed that when he was born, the doctor said, ‘I’m sorry, I’m so sorry’, the nurse on duty wept, and nothing positive was expressed. She discovered however, that far from being a tragedy their lives have been transformed by Olly, who is now twelve and attending a mainstream secondary school.

As she says, ‘Having Olly in my life has changed me and my family for the better. He has slightly worse impulse control which means he often says exactly what everyone is thinking but is too shy to say and he is also incredibly caring and gifted emotionally, really focussing on how others are feeling by noticing when people are upset when I don’t.’

And we do well to remember that discriminating against the disabled, disables us and diminishes us. There is no perfect human being, not me or you, nor anyone else apart from the person of Jesus, and no-one should be robbed of their potential for a full and meaningful life.

Simeon, when he looked at the baby that was in his arms, rejoiced that he was being given this opportunity to see for himself the person sent to bring about God’s plan of salvation for all, ‘the light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel’; and we know that Jesus was able to fulfil his potential by making the ultimate sacrifice of dying on the cross. It was part of God’s all-encompassing plan of his will being done on earth, but it was also Jesus’ choice and decision to go through with it, no one else’s.

Definitely ‘good news’, however, this still didn’t negate the sorrow that would be felt by Mary his mother. The sword that would pierce her soul, should also prick our own conscience so that we don’t forget those millions of innocent lives that ended so abruptly and so brutally. Children who never got the chance to grow up and fulfil their potential.

Holocaust Memorial Day is a time to remember the millions of people who were murdered, not just as an anonymous mass, but having looked into the eyes of the people in these photographs realising that they were people, just as we are. We don’t know everyone’s name but we can pause to reflect on their suffering and remember their ‘untold stories’. We can also make a clear promise to speak out against discrimination which judges some lives to be of less value than others today

In that way all may grow strong, be filled with wisdom and know that the favour of God rests on them.


HMD 2018




Let Them Eat Cake!

The Opulence of Versaille

The Opulence of Versaille

I suspect that most of us have heard the phrase ‘Let them eat cake’ and would hazard a good guess that we know who is supposed to have uttered those words. They have become famously attributed to Marie Antoinette, the Queen consort to Louis XVI, although the original French phrase ‘Qu’ils mangent de la brioche’†, refers to brioche, an enriched bread made with flour, butter and eggs – but let’s not get into an argument about pastries!

A portrait of Marie Antoinette at VersailleIn the late 1700’s, Louis and Marie Antoinette lived in great opulence in the Palace of Versailles, just outside of Paris, whilst millions of ordinary Parisians, like the great majority of their countrymen at that time, were starving and destitute, and itching for revolution. The phrase has come to portray the ruling classes as insensitive, ill-informed and ignorant of just how dangerous it would be to hold on to attitudes such as these.

Whether Marie Antoinette actually had any sympathy for her unfortunate people – and it would appear she might have from a comment she DID make, “It is quite certain that in seeing the people who treat us so well despite their own misfortune, we are more obliged than ever to work hard for their happiness” – the French revolutionaries and history did not treat her so kindly and she felt the sharp bite of the guillotine blade in 1793.

Some 200 years later, and the poor and the destitute still roam the streets of Paris and still look for succour and relief from the more affluent.  On the Champs Elysees, one of Europe’s wealthiest shopping streets, the glittering facades of Mercedes Benz, Louis Vuitton and the House of Guerlain entice you to browse and exclaim at the prices. While just around the corner in the Avenue Montaigne and Rue Faubourg Saint-Honoré the fashion houses such as Christian Dior, Chanel and Versace have no need to display price tags – because if you need to ask, ‘How much?’ you can’t afford it!

In amongst all of this showy extravagance, there are people who sit silently, holding up a paper cup in which there are a few small coins; their clothes more shabby chic than haute couture; or else they prostrate themselves, remaining motionless, their faces hidden. Yet they somehow blend into the scene,  almost invisible to the thousands of shoppers and tourists who manage to skillfully sidestep them without looking or pausing.

In 2011, these ‘delinquents’, as described by the French authorities, were controversially banned from approaching and ‘pestering’ people in several of the cities high profile areas but on a recent visit to the city, it was obvious that this was either being ignored or circumvented, and  I was presented with a moral dilemma that I hadn’t anticipated – to give or not to give?

Begging on the streets of Paris

Begging on the streets of Paris*

My initial reaction was that here were people in need, but at the same time I was aware of the stories of ‘professional beggars’ who made a good living scamming tourists. Indeed, the woman who dropped a ‘gold’ ring at my husband’s feet as we crossed a bridge over the Seine and exclaimed that it was our lucky day and perhaps we could reward her for pointing it out, got short shrift, especially when we observed her and her partner waiting to pull off the same trick on the next hapless tourist. There were also the youngsters, who thrust a clipboard under my nose near the Louvre on which there was a unnamed charitable petition sheet, which they urged me to sign and to donate €10 or €20 to help deaf-mute children, but which I regretfully declined,

At the same time there seemed to be so many that might legitimately be in need of assistance to simply afford their next meal while others might simply slip away at the end of the day and drive back home to their families in the suburbs – how was I to know which was which without being judgemental?

In the middle of these deliberations two bible verses came to mind,

Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
Matthew 5:42


Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
2 Corinthians 9:7

It would of course be easy to not make any judgement at all and to give to each and every one, but realistically this wasn’t possible. Or to give to nobody, thus avoiding fear of discrimination, and also making me a miserable non-giver! In the end I came to a compromise, which wasn’t wholly satisfactory, but which I hoped meant that at least there was a fair chance that it benefited some – that is, I would keep the coins that we had gathered over the week in my pocket, and without checking would drop a handful into the proffered cups as they appeared, until my pocket was empty… as I said, an unsatisfactory compromise, because I knew I would be unable to use the coins once home, but it was a the option I went with

I am curious, therefore, as to what others feel or do in these situations. Perhaps you could let me know?

On a similar note, because unfortunately it is often the appearance of the person that goes towards our decision-making as to who we might help, this experiment, filmed on the streets of Paris reveals some interesting but not unsurprising attitudes. Please be aware that some of the comments made on this YouTube video are quite forthright: Les Poids des Apparences/The Importance of Appearances Experiment

† The phrase was actually recorded by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in Book 6 of his autobiography ‘Confessions’, which was written around 1765-67 when Marie Antoinette was nine or eleven years of age. The biographer, Lady Antonia Fraser believes it relates to Maria Theresa the wife of Louis XIV, but who the ‘great princess’ was, “who, on being informed that the country people had no bread, replied, “Then let them eat pastry!” no-one can be absolutely sure.

*Neither of these photographs were taken by myself but are of genuine people in need on the streets

One Race

I have a dream - Martin Luther King

I have a dream – Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous ‘I have dream speech’ was delivered on the 28th August 1963 in Washington, D.C. at the height of tensions surrounding racial discrimination and the freedom movement in America. His vision was that one day all people would be united regardless of the colour of their skin or their religion – that there would be one race.

How often do we regard ‘race’ as the basis for discrimination, as we try to define it through skin colour, stature, physical attributes…”You don’t look the same as me therefore you cannot be the same as me!”… Things get even worse when we make comparisons based on wealth, education and perceived intelligence. We end up with a system of categorising people into ever smaller sub-groups, concentrating on the minute differences rather than the broader similarities, and using these as an excuse for our behaviour.

Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy to a friend
Martin Luther King Jr.

The trouble is that we all do it to some degree or other, however non-judgemental we consider ourselves to be. Which is why it was refreshing to hear Bev Thomas talk about Race Relations this week. Bev was born in the Black Country, an area in the West Midlands of England and has Jamaican ancestry. She belongs to a Black-Majority church in London (a description she wishes was less proscriptive) and loves doing family research.

Now, I also like doing family research and have managed to trace over 18,382 ‘relatives’ on my tree. Bev has also done lots of research, some of it including DNA testing. This has thrown up some interesting connections from all around the world and involving people of every hue and colour imaginable – none of which should really be all that surprising. After all our genetic make-up is dependent on an almost infinite number of historical relationships

How many ‘races’ are included in these ancestors? Actually only one……

For those who cite biblical creation texts, then we are all descended from one man and one woman, Adam and Eve via their descendent Noah. For evolutionists, the genetic proof is linked to one common DNA ancestor, Mitochondrial Eve and her counterpart Y-chromosome Adam*. Whichever way you look at it, human beings are part of creation.

Of course I’m not so naive not to notice that there are very clearly differences between people, and that some people’s attitudes and characters are not always in tune with our own; but it helps us understand that racial discrimination shouldn’t exist simply because we continue to highlight those differences through fear and hatred but that we should seek instead to recognise the common inner spirit at the core of humanity.

By doing this we are able to be reconciled to each other and as Christians to be reconciled to God; but more importantly if we don’t do this then how, as Bev reminded us, are we ever going to bring about what we pray for each time we say the Lord’s Prayer – that is for God’s Kingdom to come? That is, a kingdom not of different peoples, different nations or different races but one kingdom of one people, one nation, one race.

After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb.
Revelations 7:9

We pray for it, but I wonder, do we have the will-power, the vision, the capacity to dare to believe that this might be possible on a global scale?  Surely it’s too big an ask to consider such an incredible occurrence? But why not believe it can be so. It just needs to start by what you ‘see’ when you walk down the street, browse the shops, go to work, meet someone new. Is this a total stranger or is this a not so distant relative? Do I discriminate against them because they ‘seem’ different to me or do I rejoice in our diversity.

After all, It’s a fact that it would be impossible for racism to exist if we were simply to acknowledge that we really do all belong to the same, one unique race…… that is the human race

*Scientific discoveries are an ongoing fact of life. Mitochondrial Eve and Y-Chromosome Adam are the scientifically-proven theories that every man alive today is descended from a single man and every man and woman alive today is descended from a single woman.

Coming Out… Into The Light

Does God weep over his creation?

Does God weep over his creation?

Recently, after much prayerful thought I have reached what I believe is a clarity in thinking with regard to something that I have often struggled to express. That is what my stance is, as a Christian and future Minister, towards those, including fellow Christians, who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender men and women

I have often not expressed what my inner heart was telling me, but instead have prevaricated, choosing to be cautious with my public expressions and feeling deeply hypocritical for not speaking out

However, events, both recently within the Church of England and in our world as a whole, have left me with a sense of both shame and despair.

I have struggled to reconcile what I understand to be the most basic tenet of my faith, namely love, and the many interpretations of what that should look like in respect of people whose sexuality differs from my own.

The love that we are called to is quite simple – we are to love God and we are to love each other. For this love to be genuine is indubitable, but in both cases, we have to be wary of discriminating and categorising exactly what this love should look like; how it might be expressed and who may partake of it, whether in long-term relationships, through marriage or through celibacy

I am aware that there are many who look to Scripture and yet only use isolated and often disjointed biblical passages to justify their position and I would affirm that Scripture as a whole contains all truths; but I would have to wonder whether we only worship a God who remains firmly in Old Testament attitudes and early Judaeo-Christian life-styles or a God that lives and is part of the 21st century, with all its challenges, changes and nuances. Has God not accompanied humanity in the last two millennia? Has he not wept and rejoiced, listened and guided? Does he not know what is happening?

Others speak of alternative sexuality as sinful and unforgivable; and again I would be loath to apply this label to what could be considered part of the human condition. Particularly as this is not helpful, especially in light of the message of open-ended grace and forgiveness for all, regardless of any measure of rebellious sinfulness. Who is to say what God does and does not see in us as a whole person – did David (murderer and adulterer) or Jacob (lier and cheat) not receive God’s grace for their devotion to God rather than for what other people judged them by? It is surely our faith that makes the difference

As a professed heterosexual, I cannot begin to say I know what it feels like to have your faith questioned or to be regarded as less worthy because of your sexuality – to know that despite being created in God’s image, that others consider it a tarnished reflection – to have to settle for something less because someone has decided you don’t meet all the ‘criteria’. Yet, I do recognise that the pain and hurt must sometimes be unbearable and for that I willingly offer my support in prayer and in love

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome
but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher,
patient, correcting opponents with gentleness.
God may perhaps grant that they will repent
and come to know the truth
2 Timothy 2:24-25

I know that on reading this, despite my heartfelt attempt to show sensitivity for all concerned, that some Christians will regard what I say as wrong, that they may even regard me in a different light. There will be those who have already made their mind up, who will reject these and other valid arguments completely; and whilst I must respect that decision, whether made on a personal level or as a church directive, at the same time I will be hoping that they too, like many others will be open to a similar journey as mine. When they find that they can no longer sit on the fence or through prayer and soul-searching be ready to admit that when we are called to love as God loves us then we should do so completely and honestly and be ready to treat all equally

Until then may God bless all who love the Lord our God with all their heart, and with all their soul, and with all their strength, and with all their mind; and also their neighbour as themselves. Amen

Brothers and Sisters in Christ