Tag Archives: discrimination

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

and,

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