Sabbatical Day 80: Jet lag in Darkest England


The Robbies got back a week ago from Singapore. My jet lag has just ended so I have the energy to blog. It was far more exhausting coming this way round the world, back to darkest England.

Since returning, we’ve unpacked, got our kids back to school, visited St Matthew’s, Tipton and I’ve been back in the library. My studies are nearly complete. I am meeting with my supervisor, Garry Williams, on Friday in London to wrap things up. Until then I am giving myself to prayer, to be ready to get back in the harness. I only have four whole days left! I’m also reading and tidying up my study guide on communion. I plan to post the drafts tomorrow.

I had an hour or so to kill yesterday afternoon waiting for my son in Birmingham, so I sat in St Martin’s in the Bullring and prayed. I have spent more time with the homeless this week, who seemed to have multiplied over the summer. One lady I’ve met a few times said that a lad died aged 28 from a bad batch of mamba. As she shared her story, a man was sitting on a bench out of his face, apparently from the same bad batch. The young man I met with each day before we left for Asia has vanished. I hope it wasn’t him who died.

There’s now such a massive crowd of the homeless just hanging out in the streets of Birmingham and being moved on or arrested by the police. They are a growing symptom of a wealthy nation and complacent church which have no real awareness of the scale or nature of the problem or a working answer for homelessness.

The words of William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, from In Darkest England and the Way Out, which I read yesterday, have have a very contemporary ring. I am now convinced that my work on communion services as the regular renewal of God’s covenant of grace (see drafts of study guides tomorrow) and the needs of the poor on our doorstep to hear and receive the gospel and to grow as disciples of Christ have come together for a reason. I’ll post on this tomorrow. In the mean time, here’s William Booth:

We talk about the brutalities of the dark ages, and we profess to shudder as we read in books of the shameful exaction of the rights of feudal superior. And yet here, beneath our very eyes, in our theatres, in our restaurants, and in many other places, unspeakable though it be but to name it, the same hideous abuse flourishes unchecked. A young penniless girl, if she be pretty, is often hunted from pillar to post by her employers, confronted always by the alternative—Starve or Sin. And when once the poor girl has consented to buy the right to earn her living by the sacrifice of her virtue, then she is treated as a slave and an outcast by the very men who have ruined her. Her word becomes unbelievable, her life an ignominy, and she is swept downward ever downward, into the bottomless perdition of prostitution. But there, even in the lowest depths, excommunicated by Humanity and outcast from God, she is far nearer the pitying heart of the One true Saviour than all the men who forced her down, aye, and than all the Pharisees and Scribes who stand silently by while these Fiendish wrongs are perpetrated before their very eyes. The blood boils with impotent rage at the sight of these enormities, callously inflicted, and silently borne by these miserable victims. Nor is it only women who are the victims, although their fate is the most tragic. Those firms which reduce sweating to a fine art, who systematically and deliberately defraud the workman of his pay, who grind the faces of the poor, and who rob the widow and the orphan, and who for a pretence make great professions of public spirit and philanthropy, these men nowadays are sent to Parliament to make laws for the people. The old prophets sent them to Hell—but we have changed all that.

What a satire it is upon our Christianity and our civilisation that the existence of these colonies of heathens and savages in the heart of our capital should attract so little attention! It is no better than a ghastly mockery—theologians might use a stronger word—to call by the name of One who came to seek and to save that which was lost those Churches which in the midst of lost multitudes either sleep in apathy or display a fitful interest in a chasuble. Why all this apparatus of temples and meeting-houses to save men from perdition in a world which is to come, while never a helping hand is stretched out to save them from the inferno of their present life? Is it not time that, forgetting for a moment their wranglings about the infinitely little or infinitely obscure, they should concentrate all their energies on a united effort to break this terrible perpetuity of perdition, and to rescue some at least of those for whom they profess to believe their Founder came to die?

As Christ came to call not the saints but sinners to repentance, so the New Message of Temporal Salvation, of salvation from pinching poverty, from rags and misery, must be offered to all. They may reject it, of course. But we who call ourselves by the name of Christ are not worthy to profess to be His disciples until we have set an open door before the least and worst of these who are now apparently imprisoned for life in a horrible dungeon of misery and despair. The responsibility for its rejection must be theirs, not ours.

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