Monday, 18 June 2018

How many did Communism kill?

This article calculates the total numbers of victims murdered by Communist regimes and movements from 1917 up to the present day. It tries to give a comprehensive figure by listing all the distinct instances of Communist atrocities that can be separately identified and adding them up. This is obviously a question that has been covered before, the canonical work being The Black Book of Communism (The Black Book) published in France in 1997. On the other hand, that book is 700 pages long, so this article tries to summarise the same question in a couple of pages. At the same time it breaks a total figure down as far as reasonably possible, rather than giving one hand-waving total. Summing reliable historical estimates for smaller, more specific, identifiable crimes hopefully means the final total will be reasonably accurate.     

In contrast to calculating the victims of Nazism, calculating the total victims of Communist govts and movements is a more complicated business. While Nazism killed in vast numbers from 1939-45 in a relatively contained part of the world, Communism's crimes have been far more spread out: in time, over a century from 1917 to the present day; and in geography, from Berlin to Korea (to Peru). And while the Second World War is possibly history's most studied episode, Communist atrocities have never received the same attention.

This means we can say with confidence that Nazism had about 30 million victims, of which around 6 million were Jews killed in the Holocaust. But how many victims has Communism had in 100 years? And why should we care? And is it even fair to talk about a single list of victims of Communism as a single thing?

The sum of the individual crimes listed below comes to some 65-70 million victims in 100 years. In this article I take a relatively conservative methodology, in every instance hedging my bets in the middle of respectable historical estimates for numbers of victims. My figure can be compared to the 95 million victims suggested by The Black Book, which is at the top end of reasonable, scholarly estimates. Certainly, I have not seen any thorough historical totals that come to less than 60 million, or over 100 million. The difference is not just a matter of different historical estimates but one of moral judgement; not just which wars, famines and murders happened, but which were crimes, and which were the responsibility of Communist aggression.

We should care about this because it is not just some dry statistical exercise, but a record of a large part of the history of the last hundred years and the whole modern world. Of the three great wars that defined the 20th Century, Communism was born from the chaos produced by the 1st World War, and defined the 2nd World War and the Cold War. Far more important is the reality that 65 million is not just a 'big number', it is 65 million individual lives destroyed; 65 million fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, husbands, wives, children, loved ones. These people are shrouded in silence, invisible, disappeared, unless we remember them. And although here I focus on the dead, the dead are only the beginning. Consistently in country after country the records show that for every person killed three or more were imprisoned, tortured, beaten, or were devastated by the loss of dear husband or wife, or family member.

But is it reasonable to calculate a single total of victims of Communism as a phenomena over 100 years? I believe it is. Yes, Communist regimes covered a whole list of different countries and governments over 100 years, some of which were even hostile at times. But there is a direct and clear line of historical cause and effect from the original Bolsheveik revolution in Russia to each of the Communist regimes that followed it. These subsequent regimes were almost all created due to direct support from existing Communist states. Each overwhelmingly received military, political and economic support and trade only from other Communist states. And each explicitly declared loyalty to Marxism-Leninism and and the 'principles' of the October revolution. Again and again, each instituted a political programme that sought to directly emulate the Bolsheveiks in Russia - one party rule, repression of class enemies, mass nationalisation, militarism, collectivism of agriculture.

One of the key criticisms levied at The Black Book was that one could collect a similar book of the crimes of 'Capitalism' or 'Colonialism', to which I say, feel free. But the links between all the examples of those phenomena are much weaker and vaguer than the real links: historical, political and ideological, between Communist states, which allows us to talk of a 'Communist' phenomenon as a single entity, if a multi-headed and multi-generational one.

The final criticism that needs answering concerns who has been counted as victims. In the below I have counted those directly murdered or killed by terrible conditions in prison camps and deportations, the casualties of wars of aggression by Communist states, and the victims of famines directly caused by idiotic Communist agricultural policies.

Critics of this kind of approach (used in The Black Book and elsewhere) have claimed in response they could count every person who died 'due to' poverty, or a lack of universal healthcare, or industrial accident, in a capitalist country, and come to an even greater, ghastly total of victims. But this is a false comparison. Communist countries suffered ordinary deaths due to industrial accident, pollution, poor healthcare, etc, as well. These deaths are not the deaths counted here.

Those counted as murdered are those shot out of hand by Communist regimes, or those who died in scurvy concentration camps, or while being deported thousands of miles in horrific conditions to such places. Those counted as victims of War are not just all the casualties of wars in which Communists were involved, but specifically the casualties of wars caused by Communist aggression. These famine victims are counted because the famines they died in were directly caused by ideological Communist policies of state control and mass collectivisation that devastated farming. These famines were then made worse by the cynical paranoia that labelled any criticism as treason, and any warning of failure as sabotage, and responded with military repression aimed at crushing fictional class enemies and saboteurs presumed responsible. If any similar situation occurred in a capitalist country it would be right to place blame at the feet of the government there too.

This is a matter of historical and moral judgement. This is particularly the case in a few instances where I place a proportion only of the victims of a war or crime in the Communist tally. For example, in some wars mentioned I have only included casualties inflicted by the Communists, and not those killed by reckless action of the other side. The most controversial such case would be placing the blame on Stalin for 3 million of the Soviet casualties of the Second World War. I discuss the reasons for this special case in another article linked here.

I have labelled and dated every crime referred to below, and using these labels you can find more information and the sources for these estimates in online encyclopedias, The Black Book itself, and other articles online on the specific crimes. This article contains no original research, it seeks to catalogue a conservative, consensual historic view of the incidents and death tolls listed. I apologise for not being able to source every figure internally here, but doing so would make this article several times longer, and it is already probably too long. Any constructive comments are gratefully received.





Thursday, 7 June 2018

Stalin's guilt for Soviet Casualties in the Second World War

Among the questions of Communist criminal responsibility, Stalin's culpability for Soviet casualties and German POW losses in WW2 is possibly the most difficult one. Soviet losses were around 25 million, of which 8 million were military in battle, and 3 million were dead POWs. From 700,000 - 1 million German POWs also died in Soviet custody particularly from 1941-1943.

Soviet military losses were horrendous, especially earlier in the War.  In the 2nd half of 1941 alone, a series of huge Nazi encirclements and disastrous Soviet counter-offensives gave more than 3 million Soviet killed or captured, and another 3 million in 1942. German losses over the same 18 months were less than 1 million. In 1943 and 1944 Soviet losses were still 2 to 3 times as high as German losses, due to Soviet tactics and approaches that were incredibly wasteful of human lives.

Despite official Soviet propaganda Stalin bore great responsibility for the losses of the Soviet people. Stalin's insane purges weakened the Red Army in the late 1930s. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact gave Hitler carte blanche to invade Poland, the Balkans and France. The 1939-41 economic pact transported million of tonnes of vital raw materials to Germany without which the invasion of the Soviet Union would probably have been impossible.

Stalin's refusal to believe invasion was imminent, despite repeated intelligence warnings and German reconissance, left the whole Soviet Air Force and over 3 million men helplessly exposed when the Gemans invaded. Almost that entire 3 million would be taken captive and then starved to death by the Nazis over Autumn and Winter 1941. After the invasion through 1941 into early 1942 Stalin ordered repeated counter-attacks that cost millions of further Soviet losses dead and captured.

Reckless Soviet partisan activity killed large number of civilian 'collaborators' and sparked brutal Nazi repression that killed hundreds of thousands more. Scorched Earth policies ahead of the Nazi advance led to hundreds of thousands more deaths as peasants lost their precious food stores ahead of winter.

German POW losses fall into a different category, while Soviet policies were nothing like the mass extermination carried out by the Nazis from June 1941-Jan 1942, they still led to the death of around 1/3rd of German POWs, up to 1 million people. This was in line with the much higher death toll in the Gulag during the early half of the war.

The guilt does not just apply to Stalin personally though. It was the Bolsheveik system in its entirety that gave almost no value to human life, on the battlefield or off it. It was Bolsheveik and Stalinist aggression, first against Poland in 1920, then later, that led Stalin to risk using Hitler to allow USSR to absorb Eastern Poland and the Baltics. It was the suspicion and fear of Stalinism that poisoned efforts to form a Polish-British-French-Soviet alliance against Hitler in 1939. It was the Soviet guarantee that gave Nazis freedom to invade Poland and plunge the world into War, it was Soviet trade with Germany that gave them the material resources to be able to invade the Soviet Union in the first place; then it was Stalin's stupidity that left millions of Soviet troops exposed, betraying them to captivity and extermination.

In the 1st World War under the Tsarist govt Russia suffered 3 million dead out of 20 million total losses in the War.  In the 2nd the Soviet Union suffered 25 million dead out of 40 million in the European theatre. In fact the astonishingly higher Russian death toll accounts for the entire increase in deaths between WW1 and WW2, even given Nazi murderousness in Poland and elsewhere.

It is certain that the blame for some proportion of Soviet losses lies with the idiotic incompetence and aggression of Stalin and the Communist system. Picking a figure however is basically guesswork. How do you turn moral responsibility in such a complex situation into a percentage?

My mind returns again and again to 3 million. 3 million was the number that were basically offered up to the Germans at the start of the invasion, then killed en masse. 3 million out of 25 million or 12%, as good a number as any, and so the number I include in my total tally of Communist crimes to represent the horrendous Soviet losses in WW2. The overwhelming blame lies with the Nazis and always must, but Stalinist aggression, stupidity and disregard for human life killed millions of Soviet citizens.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Sermon on Luke 5:17-26 - The Paralyzed Man comes in by the Roof

Good morning everyone. Let me say what a privilege it is to be here a week after Easter Sunday. I pray that the joy of the Resurrection will be in what I say today.

I want to start by talking about the context of the wonderful story in our reading. Today's reading occurs shortly after Jesus begins his ministry of teaching and healing. To understand our reading we need to turn our minds back a few pages to the previous chapter of Luke's gospel where he records how Jesus began in the most dramatic manner. It was in Nazareth, his home town, he goes to the Synagogue on the Sabbath, like us coming to Church on a Sunday.

He goes to the synagogue, marches up to the front, stands up in front of basically his entire community, and reads the words of the Prophet Isaiah, written 500 years before:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
and to proclaim the Lord's Jubilee”.

And the Bible says "the eyes of all the people were fixed on him".  From the response I don't think that was the planned reading. And they're all looking at Jesus, thinking  'What is he doing, what did that mean?' And Jesus doesn't make them wait “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” I imagine there was stunned silence, followed by everyone talking at once. "And the crowd went wild" as they say in sports.

After this dramatic episode in Luke chapter 4, Jesus immediately begins to make good on his words. He heals the sick: people with fevers, with leprosy, and other diseases, he frees people from demons and now, in our reading today, forgives and heals a paralysed man.

This is one of the most memorable stories of Jesus' healing miracles. Jesus is preaching in a house, and a great crowd has gathered to hear him. Four men come late, carrying their paralyzed friend on a mat, one at each corner. But because of the crowd, and the close space of the house, they cannot get near enough to see Jesus. But the man's friends refuse to be deterred. They climb up on the roof, and physically dig through the roof: they pull up the tiles, they dig out the mud and reeds that would have been below and they break through. And they don't just make a small hole, they pull up an area large enough to lower a man lying on a mat, down through the roof seven, eight, nine feet right at the feet of Jesus. But Jesus is not fazed for a minute. "when Jesus saw their faith, he said, "Friend, your sins are forgiven". And the pharisees and scribes accuse him of blasphemy, because they know only God can forgive sins, and by doing so in front of a large crowd Jesus is claiming to speak with God's power and authority, even to be God himself.

So what was the purpose behind this burst of healing and miracles that we hear described by Luke. Well, with the start of Jesus' ministry we see an incredible outburst of the Kingdom of Heaven onto earth. As Jesus said "today this scripture has been fulfilled", and it is God's very nature that creation and healing and life in all its fullness will break out wherever God is powerfully present.

First and foremost he is creator and sustainer, who made everything we have and are. He is also Justice for the poor and oppressed, and, in Christ the Son particularly, is redeemer, healer, forgiver, rebuilding creation and life wherever it is damaged and distressed. And this is as true today as it ever was. With God the manifesto never changes. When we look back through history, and the world today, we can know and see where Christ is truly present, where the Father is truly present, where the Spirit is powerfully moving.

Where are people proclaiming good news to the poor, relief from fear, debt, and worry?
Where are people struggling to release those imprisoned by evil govts, by tyrannical families, oppressive social customs, by criminal gangs, by loneliness, and poverty?
Where are people working for new ways to free people from physical blindness, and disease, malnutrition, pain, and mental ill-health?
Where are people being freed from spiritual blindness, from emotional blindness, being freed to see themselves with dignity, and self-respect?
Where are the oppressed of every kind having their heavy burdens lifted from their shoulders, by generous and imaginative action, and brought to realise they are loved, valued, forgiven children of God, with the rich potential that God sees in all of us, and delights in?

These are where God is breaking through and building the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. And if Jesus is truly present in a place we will see these things happening today. Maybe in small and quiet ways, maybe in large, unmissable ways, but always it will be there.And this is what we see in our reading today with the paralysed man. Jesus gives him new life twice over. But we should not just jump to the healing. Again and again Jesus heals those who come to him. But this man could not come to Jesus by his own power, he was paralysed. Instead we have the wonderful news of his four friends, who brought this man to Jesus.

I assume when they left the house that morning, those four men carrying the fifth, their friend, they had no idea what they would be getting up to. They knew what they had to do, they had to set their friend before Jesus, but presumably they had no idea how. You can imagine their mixture of hope for their friend, determination to carry him, maybe some of their doubts. Their friend lay paralyzed, unable to stand. Would this Jesus really be able to help them? But they were determined to try. They probably thought it would be a simple operation. Carry their friend to the house and set him before Jesus. But when they get there they are dismayed, the crowd is so large and dense, and Jesus is surrounded by the building, that there is no hope of Jesus seeing their friend. At that point some people might have given up and thought "well, we tried".

But not these friends, they refuse to be defeated. They immediately set their imagination to work and conceived a way they could bring their friend to Jesus, by hook or crook, where there's a will, there's a way. It wasn't the usual way, it wasn't the standard way, but they thought of a way to bring their friend to God. I pray that we might never be caught clueless if the usual way won't work. I hope we won't give up on bringing people to Life in all its fullness, to that easy burden, and light yoke, the cool, refreshing water that is truly knowing Jesus Christ. The world is changing every day. One day there is a clear passage into the house, and the next day the way is blocked by a crowd. One day people are living in close communities their whole life where everyone knows their neighbour, the next day people are travelling and working in six different places by the time they're thirty and spending half their life on social media.

But with God's Grace there will always be a roof available, another way to bring people to Jesus, to healing, to knowing they are profoundly loved and wanted by God; if we have the imagination to come up with new ideas, if we're prepared to take the risks to try them out. This story reminds me that we must always be willing to try something different, to understand our situation and then to adapt to it, if we are to do what we need to do, to bring people to Jesus.

I wonder which man came up with the idea of breaking through the roof? He may have thought it, then thought, no that's crazy! But still he had the courage to speak up. Please, if anyone here has a new idea about how we can serve our community better, to help love and support people. Don't keep it to yourself! Speak up! You never know when you might have the idea we all need. Don't let a good idea God has given you die in your mind, because you never share it with anyone.

And then we have the other three men. Once that first friend had spoken saying, "if we can't go through the door, let's go in by the roof", they could easily have dismissed it straight away as a stupid idea.  But they clearly didn't, they clearly listened and were willing to try.  I pray that we will listen, really listen to each other, when someone speaks up with a new idea, or just when they really need someone to talk to. I hope we won't reject an idea out of hand just because we've never done it before, or it seems different or difficult, even if there's a solid wall or roof in the way. I hope we will encourage and support our friend, be willing to say, yes I'm with you. I'll share the work, I'll take the risk alongside you, and with God's grace, whether big or small, we'll make your vision a reality.

It must have been a risk as well. I've never tried to carry a man lying on a stretcher onto the roof of a house, with or without help, but it doesn't sound easy.  I'd guess it needed all four men to get him up there safely and then to open up the roof. The paralyzed man on his own could never have got himself to Jesus for healing. I think it's highly likely that even with one or two friends he couldn't have got there, but with four working together, despite crowds and walls, they achieved their goal.

It's a pretty obvious cliche to say that when we work together we can do more than we can alone.  But it's still worth saying. It's not just working along-side one another either. I work alongside people in my office, but I do my work at my desk, and they do their work at theirs, largely separate. The four men in our Gospel were lifting together, at the same time, for the same aim, united by a shared love and determination. And they must have been communicating constantly, paying close attention to each other, or they would certainly have tipped their paralyzed friend out of his bed entirely. Anyone whose ever lifted a sofa with other people, or a wardrobe or a bath will know the truth of that. It is when we are joined in heart and mind with the same goal, and the same aim, when we are paying attention to each other and lifting together that community really becomes powerful, that we can do great things.

Four men in the Gospel were enough to bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus, and through their faith and hard work see him healed. There are a hundred people in our church community, and to be honest, I think we do a great deal already, and we should be proud of that But I'm sure that through the power of the Holy Spirit we could do even better, in love and faith.  The lesson here is not necessarily about just doing more. It's about working together, in smoother harmony, it's lifting together, and so managing to do what we do better. Though I believe the more we become an even deeper community, a loving, trusting co-ordinated community, we will find ourselves becoming a bigger community too. Four friends were enough to carry one man to Jesus and do it right, despite obstacles in their way. If they'd tried to carry two men to Jesus, why, they might not have had enough strength to get there at all.

We shouldn't just be thinking about our church community here in Wolston either. There are perhaps fifty thousand Christians of all kinds across Coventry and Warwickshire. Around 3 million in our country, and 2 billion across the whole world! If we waste our energy bickering and arguing then we get nowhere. If we join together in love with a common goal, and trust and listen to each other; if we lift together, then through the Grace of our Lord there is no limit to the miracles we can see achieved.

We can't just stop disagreeing, and we shouldn't. Different ideas and viewpoints are good, but we can be even more determined to try to understand where each other are coming from, to have sympathy with their motives and aims, to really listen with the hope of learning, in a word, to love one another as parts of the same body of Christ.

Now with holy ingenuity, hard work, and quite a bit of digging the four men overcame their obstacles and brought their friend down right at the feet of Jesus. For the people listening to Jesus it must have been quite a sight as the roof suddenly began to vanish above them, and quite a shock as this man appeared down, as if from a very dusty heaven. But Jesus wasn't fazed, with God's sight he alone must've known the man was coming, he must have seen them up on the roof and smiled, even while he continued to teach. Can you imagine the look on people's faces when the roof literally came crumbling in, Jesus must have struggled not to laugh out loud.

So the men are peering through the hole, their paralyzed friend is lying there on the ground and Jesus takes charge of the situation. "When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”" Nothing more was needed. He knew why they were there, and he acted immediately. They had shown their faith by their action, by their willingness to take a risk, not just from climbing up onto the roof, but also presumably there being an angry owner of the roof. May we all be at least as willing to take a risk on our faith in Jesus.

It is very interesting as well, isn't it. When he saw THEIR faith, he said "friend, your sins are forgiven". We tend to take a rather individualistic view of faith, if I can put it that way. Of course it is true that your faith is all you need to be saved, all you need for a deep and loving relationship with God.  As was very wisely said in a previous sermon in this church only recently, even a mustard seed of faith is enough. God delights in taking our mustard seed, our crumb of faith, and, if we let him, using it to move mountains.  But this does not mean our faith has to live and die entirely on its own. No, rather we gain from the faith of other people around us. We can lean on our brother or our sisters' faith and be strengthened. We all need some faith, but as St Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians, some people have a special gift of faith from the Holy Spirit. I'm sure you must know someone like that, someone who seems to find faith easy, someone who seems to have a special, remarkable overflow of faith, especially in trouble and difficult times.

Well it is good for the rest of us to take inspiration from that person, to feel, 'well, I'm struggling a bit right now but I'm going to be encouraged by that person's faith, I'm going to be inspired by that gift right in front of me', and by hanging on to their faith, hopefully in time I'll be able to see what they see, and my faith will feel more solid too. That is a good and natural thing in a Christian life, it's part of being not just an earthly, but a heavenly and a spiritual community; to share, not just food and drink and heat and a building, but our spiritual, holy gifts as well. And I'll be sure that while I may not have that gift of remarkable faith right now, I'll certainly have another gift of the Spirit, and so does everyone here, that we can share and that other person can lean on and benefit from. And so we all benefit from the spiritual diversity among us, and I thank God for that, because it's a wonderful thing. We're not alone , and we don't have to do it alone, not in physical things, not in spiritual things. "When he saw THEIR faith, he said "friend your sins are forgiven".

In another sense that's a curious thing for Jesus to say first: "Friend, your sins are forgiven". The man didn't come to have his sins forgiven, at least not mainly, he came to be physically healed. And Jesus does heal his body too, but he heals his soul as well. Because Jesus knows that we are not just our physical nature, and we're not just a spiritual nature. We are both and more, we are body, mind, heart and soul all together. God isn't just interested in a bit of you, he's interested in all of you. When he talks about life in all its fullness, he means that healing and forgiveness, use and growth, of body, and mind, and heart and soul, are all in God's plans.  And the Christian Church must never forget it either.  We can't heal people's souls but leave them freezing and starving. That's not the Gospel!  And we can't just feed and clothe them, but leave them without God's forgiveness and love for their heart and soul.  That's not the Gospel either!

So Jesus forgives the man's sins, and heals his body. He does this because it is God's very own nature and being to create, to give, to forgive, to bring joy and to heal. That is the Kingdom of God on earth. He also does it because there's a large crowd there, of both ordinary people and the learned scribes and pharisees, who had come to to see what this preacher and teacher was about, and it is important that they see that "the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins".

And of course anyone can claim to forgive sins, though it was blasphemy under Jewish law, but by the power of his healing Jesus proved that he was indeed master of both body and soul with the power and authority of God. And he proved that the faith those four friends had in him was justified.  And, though he did not openly claim it yet, he pointed to the fact that he is indeed God himself, full of grace and truth. He probably thought the people had enough astonishing things happen that day without making the full claim of who he was. And indeed "Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.”" I wonder which was more unexpected, the paralyzed man coming in by the roof, or the same man walking out by the door on his own two feet, praising God as he went.

Thank you, and Amen.


Thanks to http://www.intothedeepblog.net/2018/01/the-last-ditch-effort.html for the wonderful image showing the dramatic moment from this reading.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Understanding Adam - A Sermon

This is my first Sermon to most of our Church. It is on the topic of Old Testament Figures - Adam. Its theme is 'Making Adam Relatable'. Please do feel free to use in any form if you find it enlightening. The reading is Genesis 2:7-9, 15-25.

Did you know that there are more than 1,000 named persons in the complete Bible? And more than 2,000 individuals, including those without names, specifically referred to at one time or another?

That's an awful lot of people. Of all those people obviously some are mentioned more often and some less often; Some stand out as memorable character, and others are just a name. And some we find easier to identify with and relate to, and some we find harder.  I hope you all have a person from the Bible who you find really easy to relate to, to understand, of whom you feel, yeah, I get where they're coming from.

There's Thomas, doubting Thomas; we've surely all been able to relate to him at one time or another: needing more proof before we can believe. Surely we've all wanted to place our hand in Jesus' side, to have that ultimate and clear proof of God's glory. Or Peter: passionate, devoted Peter, always rushing in before he's really thought, the first to declare Jesus the Messiah, but then to declare that surely he cannot die, so Jesus has to rebuke him. Then the first to declare he will never leave Christ, but he denies him three times. Then the first to run to the tomb that Easter morning because he had to see, he had to know. We're all Peter sometimes I hope. Or maybe it's Martha, of Mary and Martha, good old Martha, who hasn't sympathised with her? It's all very well sitting around listening to teaching but the work still has to get done. Or maybe it's David, or Saul, Jonah, Job, or Paul, or whoever else.

One thing I think I can reasonably bet, is that for most people it won't be Adam. We hear too little from him to really understand him, his world is too different to our own, too ancient, too simple, too symbolic. His experience and relationship with God walking in the garden of Eden is seemingly too unlike our own for him to really be like us. Well, my aim today is to make Adam a bit more relatable. He may still not be your favourite Bible character, but hopefully we will all understand him a little bit better, and understand his role for us in God's story of salvation a little more.

When I read again those very first few chapters in Genesis I am struck by their beauty and clarity, by the phrases that ring down through history: 'In the Beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth', 'Let there be Light', 'therefore a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh', and finally 'from dust you came, to dust you shall return'. In these chapters we see the meaning and value of all the created, natural world in God and through God, and the value and meaning of Mankind, in God and through God.

Who are Adam and Eve? Well, God 'created mankind in his own image, male and female he created them', and that is Adam and Eve, and it is each and every one of us, who also bear God's own image. God gave them all the beauty of the world he created: the sun and stars, the trees and grass, the air and water, and he gave all that beauty and opportunity to us too. He gave them responsibility for ordering and stewarding the world he created, and he gives us that responsibility too.

God asked Adam and Eve to walk with him, who created them from nothing, to trust that his wisdom would bring them greater joy and peace than they could achieve on their own, and he asks us to do that too. And when they sinned he warned them of the grief and suffering that would inevitably follow, as he warns us too; but still he cared for them, making them clothing to protect them, and reaching out to them still, to teach and guide them, just as he still cares for us and each person in the world, whether they know Christ or not.

Who are Adam and Eve like then? Well they're just like you and me. Adam is the ultimate everyman, and Eve the everywoman. They represent each and every one of us, and every man and woman in the world! Their relationship, their experience, their position relative to God and the world he created is the same one we naturally have, but for one crucial fact.  Like Adam and Eve we are all sinners, and like Adam and Eve God keeps caring for all of us in our sin. And like Adam and Eve we have terrible burdens to bear, problems and grief.

Every day we are faced with the temptation of sin, and eventually like Adam and Eve we give in to the temptation we know we should resist. And often like them, we'll also try to blame someone else, for our weakness. Adam and Eve are Humanity, boiled down to the core features of our relationship to God and the world. We should all relate to them, because they are all of us.

But as Christians we have one beautiful, powerful advantage over Adam and Eve, with their purely natural relation to God and the world. We have a source of hope greater and more eternal than the limited, provisional hope that comes from the battered, damaged beauty of the world around us. We have Christ! Sin separates us from God, as Adam and Eve found, building a spiritual barrier, creating a spiritual distance between us, and causing pain and grief to ourselves and to others.

But God crossed the distance, God tore down the barrier and God rolled the stone away! God was born as one of us, Mary's Son, so by taking on our humanity that humanity would be blessed and filled with his infinite grace, holiness and power. Genesis tells us he crafted skins from animals to cover Adam and Eve, but he covers us with his own body and Holy Spirit, so when the grenade of sin goes off it is God himself who absorbs the damage and grief.

Christ's great incarnation and terrible sacrifice is sometimes described as though its purpose is to return us to the state Adam is described as enjoying before he brought sin and evil into the world. And that's right as far as it is, but the truth goes far beyond that. We know God in Christ, we have heard his words and felt his love and presence, we are united with him in Christ's human birth, more than Adam ever could be. We have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, God himself making his home in our hearts, something Adam never had.

My friends, through the power of the Holy Spirit it is not the Father's will just that Christ should repair Adam (meaning all of us and all Mankind), but that Adam should grow towards Christ and into Christ! Adam and Eve were innocent in the beginning but they were still like Children, child-like, yes, but also to a degree, Childish and simple. Our lives are made more difficult by the complexity of our world, and the society we live in, but they are also enriched by all the beauty, the art, the music, that human souls have created over the millennia, the bravery men and women have shown, the courage through struggles we have seen.

This is our heritage too, and through this And the teaching of the Gospel, And the example of Christ, And the power of the Holy Spirit, we can become true spiritual adults, mature and rich beyond anything anything Adam & Eve, beyond anything merely natural man could hope to achieve. After all, it is Christ who is whole, perfect, complete; and Adam who is partial, limited and still growing and developing.

This hope, this power, this fire, 'this treasure in jars of clay' is not just for us who are lucky enough to be born after Christ came and have heard his message. It has always been the firm belief of the Church that on Easter Saturday, after Christ's death, while his disciples mourned here on earth, Christ 'descended into Hell', as stated in the full Nicene Creed, and he destroyed the Gates of Hell and lead all those good women and men who died before Christ back up into the joy of Heaven: Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, John the Baptist, and all the rest, right back to the least and first.

So Adam and Eve were saved too, for it is the plan of God not just that some might be saved, but that in the end All who are willing should be saved.

That in the end, as Isaiah said 'all the nations shall flow to [Zion]', and say: 'Let us go up to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.”  and the nations 'shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks', 'and they shall not learn war any more'. The Kingdom of God will spread until we see the beautiful vision of the New Heaven and the New Earth described in Revelations, at the very end of the Bible, once God has wiped 'away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more', and truly Christ's reign is acknowledged by all.

So what should we learn from Adam? That God does not abandon even the least and the first of sinners. Adam and Eve are like you and me, they stand for all mankind and our relationship to God. If they can be saved, anyone and everyone can be saved, and if saved then transformed, and if transformed then 'changed from glory into glory'. So always it is with God.

He does not look at what we're not, but always at what we are, and even better, what with his grace, we have the potential to be. With God no gift or strength is too small. With the mustard seed of faith he moves mountains, with a few loaves and fishes he feeds five thousand, the widow's mite he glorifies, and 'a contrite and humble heart [he] will not despise'.

I will leave you with one final thought. I've always been struck by the thought of God 'walking in the garden in the cool of the evening', one last close and perfectly peaceful moment, just before the darkness of sin was revealed for the first time, and paradise was ruined. Maybe it's because I love gardens. Do you know in the Bible when the next time is that God walks in the garden in the cool of the evening beside mankind?

It's in Gethsemane, where God prayed, sweated, and prepared himself to die. It's like time ran in reverse on that fateful day. Just as God walked in the garden at the beginning of things, one last time before he explained how sin brought death and ruin, so Christ walked in Gethsemane in the evening before he gave himself up to death to bring us Life forever. At the end, returning to the beginning, so God may once more walk beside us 'in the garden in the cool of the evening'.

Amen.   

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Sir Walter Scott's 'Waverley', History and the Novel

After a bit of  Russian season last year when I read War & Peace by Tolstoy, and The Karamzov Brothers by Dostoevsky, this year following a holiday to Fort William I've turned to some Scottish Romanticism, first in Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped, and then the novels of Sir Walter Scott, first Waverley (1814) I've finished, Scott's first novel, and next I'm moving onto Ivanhoe, one of his most famous.

Waverley is credited with inventing the 'Historical Novel' as a complete genre and it's a great story: packed with Jacobites, Aristocrats, the 1745 uprising of Bonnie Prince Charlie, gorgeous Scottish landscapes and doomed romantic causes. I thoroughly recommend it. Who said great historical literature has to be hard work, not a rollicking good story? Rubbish!

For me, the most interesting part of Waverley was how good it was at bringing a whole historical period to faithful life. This is due to its unique relation to the subject of the book. Unlike most historical novels, including Ivanhoe, Waverley is not a more-or-less well researched recreation of some distant historical epoch like the Middle Ages, Ancient Rome, or Saxon England. Its subtitle is 'Tis 60 Years Since', meaning from 1745 and Bonnie Prince Charlie's rebellion when the book is set to around 1805 when Scott was writing it, putting it squarely in living memory. This is the foundation for the multiple historical layers the book manages vividly animate.

Unlike most modern novels, Scott the narrator is a huge part of the book. He directly addresses the reader with the voice of Walter Scott in 1805, speaking about that time and making the contrast to Sixty Years Since and the events of the novel. This is to the point that it makes the 1805 he is speaking from a major layer of content in the book. It brings to life a developing Unionist Britain, feeling strangely modern, for whom the Jacobite struggles are already a vanished past drained of any current political venom (that can hence be safely romanticised in fiction). Scott lived until 1832, only a few years before Queen Victoria took the throne and Charles Dickens started publishing, and this 1805 perspective already sounds like a more recognisable, Industrial, Modernist, Imperial era  that in turn links to the Britain of the 20th Century and our times. Scott is just addressing his contemporaries, but from our perspective 200 years later, this sizeable chunk of narration gives us a window into the life of this as a first historical period as reported by Scott.

Scott's 1805 provides the narrator while the main story is set in 1745, the year of Bonnie Prince Charlie's great uprising, the closest the Jacobites came to restoring the Stuarts the throne, and which led to the final destruction of the traditional Highland society. This is not just a fictional tale inspired by a true story though. Scott's main characters are invented, but the events, anecdotes, places, historical characters, and the religio-political environment of his story are almost all real incidents recounted to him by veterans and bystanders to the 1745 campaign itself, many of whom were still around in the 1790s and 1800s. Along with Scott's familiarity as a native Scot and intense research into the geography and events this gives a remarkable accuracy to Scott's portrayal, backed up by more sources and end-notes than most 'factual' history books. Something only possible because it was a grandparents, double generation, earlier. We get a double perspective on this period, both represented within the story itself and directly remembered in Scott's 1805 layer. This is almost more journalism than imaginative historical recreation, like someone in my childhood in the 1990s writing about the Second World War, still surrounded by veterans who could contradict a nonsense portrayal.

The next layer down is the 1715 Jacobite rebellion, a generation earlier. The rising for the Old Pretender, the father of Bonnie Prince Charlie, and son of the British King James II. Within Waverley itself 1715 is the immediate background driving the current events of 1745 and something which all the older characters were directly involved in. This makes it feel very recent in terms of the story. And in the meta-context of Scott's narration it is dragged forward into 1805 because then also it is still within the edge of living memory. Scott refers to having heard stories from those who were 'out' in 1715, fighting in that rebellion, presumably in Scott's youth of the 1780s. This seems remarkable but, in turn, it's like hearing from a First World War veteran in the 1980s (of whom some were still alive into the new Millenium).

We know as the reader, and Scott as the narrator, that the 1745 rebellion failed, even as the characters don't know. But both reader, narrator and characters know the 1715 rebellion failed and the characters are constantly interpreting 1745 through those earlier events: the same way the First World War drove people's reactions to the Rise of Hitler and into the early stages of the Second World War. As the cliche goes, people are always fighting the last war. So whereas 1745 is made present for us as living experience as we identify with the characters, 1715 is brought forward as remembered experience through the extensive narration of 1805 and through the characters of 1745 in the story itself.

The final layer of history is the incredible constitutional upheaval of the Glorious Revolution 1688, The Restoration in 1660 and the British Civil War of the 1640's. This is not seen directly from Scott's narrator's perspective, by 1810 it had disappeared into history the same as it has for us in 2017. But within the novel, the setting of 1745 '60 years since' allows those latter 17th Century events come alive by the way their aftershocks define the broader political and religious background of the world the characters exist in. The Royalist Cavaliers, the High Tories and Whigs, Solemn League and Covenant, The Act of Union, The Restoration, Covenanters, Regicides, divisions over Episcopalianism or Presbyterianism, are all rattling around in the thoughts and speech of the characters that fill the English Shires and Scottish Lowlands and Highlands. This brings us glimpses of even these as still active events through their effects on characters living in the world they created.

So you get this wonderful layering of historical periods each either reported or remembered in Scott's narration or within the story itself: 1805, 1745, 1715, and (more vaguely) 1646-1688. This whole period is concatenated or telescoped together and brought to life. This works so well only thanks to the evocative brilliance of Scott's writing that so brings to life both the narrator's perspective and his actual story. It is this warmth towards his characters on every side that allows Scott to simultaneously conjure up a period spanning from the late 17th Century to the early 19th Century; and in a book that trots along at a fine, readable pace, entertaining with battles, plots and escapes as it goes.

As I said Waverley is credited with inventing the Historical Novel, and it's also probably the most credible historical novel I've ever read thanks to all the features I've outlined. I highly recommend it, especially if (for some reason) you want a window into 18th Century Britain (particularly Scotland) and the political disputes that animated that society. And now I go on to starting Ivanhoe, which has about as much historical credibility and accuracy as Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.       

Sunday, 25 June 2017

The Extremist links of Jeremy Corbyn and his close allies

At the end of the 2017 Election campaign some people still seemed to have missed all the evidence of
Jeremy Corbyn and his close allies' dubious activities and connections over the last 40 years. This baffled me as the documentation is massive and easily available. So I have made a hopefully complete Timeline covering their activities, statements, etc, over the last 40 years. If I've missed anything relevant please let me know.

1976 - Andrew Murray, Corbyn's 2017 Election Co-ordinator, and close friend in Stop the War Coalition and other left-wing campaign groups, joins the Communist Party of Great Britain, working for the 'Straight Left' faction that attacks the party for not being Pro-Soviet enough.
1979-1981 - Seumas Milne, appointed by Corbyn as his Communications Director in 2015 (chief Spin Doctor), also works for 'Straight Left' while at Oxford .

1982 - The fascist Argentine military Junta invades the Falkland Islands to distract from their failing regime at home. Cllr Corbyn opposes a motion supporting British troops and attacks the British operation to liberate the islands with a conspiracy theory saying "The whole thing is a Tory plot to keep their money-making friends in business."

1983        - Jeremy Corbyn elected as MP.
                - Throughout the 1970s and 80s Corbyn supports the NI Republican movement and the hard left 'Troops Out' movement calling for immediate British military withdrawal from Northern Ireland.

*The Republican movement was the political wing of IRA terrorism and it was well known that its senior figures were fully aware and supportive of the IRA military campaign. Its aims were to force a British withdrawal from Northern Ireland through terrorism and violence against the wishes of the majority of its people. Beyond this the 'Troops Out' movement, a hard-left campaign, was an astonishingly stupid idea that would almost certainly have led to a complete break-down of law and order, open civil war between Loyalist and Republican paramilitaries, and vastly more deaths*

1984 - Diane Abbott, while a Cllr, endorses the IRA in an interview with pro-Republican journal 'Labour And Ireland': "Every defeat of the British state is a victory for all of us. A defeat in Northern Ireland would be a defeat indeed."
- After the IRA Brighton Bombing kills five and injures 31 people, London Labour Briefing, a hard-left journal that Corbyn regularly contributed to and sat on the editorial board for, publishes a letter stating "'What do you call four dead Tories? A start!' Next to a picture of Lord Tebbit, who was seriously hurt (and whose wife was crippled for life) it added: 'Try riding your bike now, Norman!'" It also writes that "“We refuse to parrot the ritual condemnation of ‘violence’" and states that "Britain only pays attention to Northern Ireland when it is bombed into it".
- Two weeks after the Brighton bombing Corbyn invites two IRA terrorists to the House of Commons, he is criticised heavily by the Labour Chief Whip.
- Irish Republican terrorists kill a total of 48 people this year.

1985 - Corbyn attacks Anglo-Irish agreement, key early plank of the Peace Process, saying it “strengthens rather than weakens the border between the six and the 26 counties, and those of us who wish to see a united Ireland oppose the agreement for that reason.”
- Irish Republican terrorists kill 48 people this year.

1986 - At event to commemorate 8 IRA terrorists who died launching a bombing and shooting attack on Loughgall Police Station, Corbyn quoted saying "'I'm happy to commemorate all those who died fighting for an independent Ireland,"
- Corbyn arrested protesting outside the trial of Patrick Magee, convicted for murdering five people in the Brighton Bombing.
- Andrew Murray works for Soviet News Agency Novosti for over a year.
- John McDonnell Cllr, attends event with Sinn Fein representatives where he calls for “ballot, the bullet and the bomb” to be used to unite Ireland, and 'jokes' about kneecapping Labour cllrs opposed to the event.
- Irish Republican terrorists kill a total of 40 people this year.

1986-1992 - Corbyn, at this time a well-known Republican partisan in parliament, attends seven annual Republican event to honour dead terrorists and active “soldiers of the IRA", with the slogan "Force of arms is the only method capable of bringing about a free and united socialist Ireland". In 1988 the event's programme states "in this, the conclusive phase in the war to rid Ireland of the scourge of British imperialism… force of arms is the only method capable of bringing this about.”, in 1991 parroting this language Corbyn attacks "British imperialism” and praised Bobby Sands, the IRA terrorist.

1987 - Diane Abbott elected as MP
         - IRA bomb a Remembrance Day service, killing eleven civilians. Corbyn and Abbott sign EDM declaring Britain "primarily" responsible for terrorist bombing due to its "longstanding occupation" and calling for immediate British abandonment of Northern Ireland.

1989 - The Morning Star, the communist Newspaper of which Corbyn is a long-time contributor and regular reader, famously reports the fall of the Berlin Wall with the headline "GDR unveils reforms package" and quotes material supplied directly by East Germany's communist dictatorship.

1996 - Abbott makes racist statements arguing that "blond, blue-eyed" women should not be employed to provide medical care to black people.
       - IRA bombs Manchester injuring 200. Weeks later Corbyn tries to host the launch of Gerry Adams's autobiography in the Commons, which includes an account (allegedly fictional) of killing a British soldier, and which declares 'It might, or might not, be right to kill, but sometimes it is necessary.'

1997 - John McDonnell elected as MP

1998 - McDonnell attacks the Good Friday Agreement that ended the NI Troubles in the IRA's official newspaper, An Phoblacht saying "An assembly is not what people have laid down their lives for over thirty years…the settlement must be for a united Ireland."
  - The Omagh carbombing, carried out by the Real IRA, kills 29 people in a town centre, and injures over 200. Other Republican terrorists kill 9 people this year.

1999 - Andrew Murray, long-term member of the pro-Soviet British Communist Party, writes defending Stalin in the Morning Star, the Communist newspaper for which Corbyn also writes. He finishes by saying, "against imperialists, we are all Stalinists".

*Stalin was the totalitarian dictator of the USSR from 1924-1953, he was incredibly ruthless, cold and treacherous. Over several years he built the most totaliarian, repressive regime the world has probably ever seen, betrayed and executed almost all his former colleagues and friends, murdered around 10 million people through mass shooting, death through forced Labour, mass deportations, deliberate famines, etc. His regime brutally repressed democracy across the whole of Eastern Europe for 40 years. His evil and deathtoll was only surpassed by Hitler.*

2000-2006 - Corbyn campaigns for release of pair of terrorists convicted of car-bombing the Israeli Embassy in 1996.

2000 - Corbyn opposes the 2000 Terrorism Act, introduced by the Labour government, which gave a broad definition of terrorism for the first time. The Act also gave the police the power to detain terrorist suspects for up to seven days and created a list of proscribed terrorist organisations.

2001 - Abbott and Corbyn vote against proscribing al-Qaeda as a terrorist organisation. Also on the list was ETA, Tamil Tigers, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Salafist Group for Call and Combat, Harakat Mujahideen, etc. One of 30 occasions where they both opposed anti-terror legislation.
- Corbyn jointly founds the 'Stop the War Coalition' with others including Andrew Murray of the Communisty Party of Britain. He campaigns against NATO intervening in Afghanistan to bring down the Taliban regime and destroy Al Qaeda in the country after they killed 3,000 people in New York City.
- Corbyn votes against the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, passed by Labour after the September 11th attacks to counter terrorist threats to the UK.
- Seamus Milne writes in the Guardian attacking efforts to try Slobodan Milosevic at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. He accuses the democratic Serbian government of  "digging up corpses to order" to support the war crimes trial, attacks the tribunal as a US tool, makes no mention of Serbian war crimes, and smears the post-Yugoslav states.

*Slobodan Milosevic was an extreme nationalist leader in Serbia who engineered the breakdown of Yugoslavia into ethnic War, and the campaigns of genocide, ethnic cleansing and mass murder that followed, as part of efforts to carve out an ethnically pure Greater Serbia. The most notorious, and largest, instance of those crimes was the massacre of 8,000 Bosniak Muslims at Srebrenica.*

2002 - The Al-Qaeda Bali bombing kills 202 people. Corbyn writes excusing the bombing. "The bomb was tragic, but it follows a history of great atrocity in Indonesia", "The CIA inspired a coup in Indonesia in 1968".
- Corbyn attends anti-Israel demo in Trafalgar square alongside hundreds of members of the proscribed terrorist organisation "Al Muhajiroun" who chant "Skud, Skud Israel" and "Gas, gas Tel Aviv", along with their support for bin Laden."
- Milne writes in the Guardian attacking a biography of Stalin, Koba the Dread for being too critical of Stalin. He denounces attempts "to bracket Stalin and Hitler as twin monsters of the past century - "Mao and Pol Pot are sometimes thrown in as an afterthought" and complains that it is "commonplace to equate communism and fascism as the two greatest evils of an unprecedentedly sanguinary era".

*Corbyn's statement about Indonesia is false, there was no coup in Indonesia in 1968, though there was a coup in 1965 that had nothing to do with the CIA.*

2002-2016 - Jeremy Corbyn is an active supporter of the 'Cuba Solidarity Campaign', a left-wing group actually devoted to solidarity with Cuba's repressive Communist government. It campaigns against US, or other country's sanctions against Cuba, but not against the government's complete repression of democracy, it's devastating economic policies, nor its harassment, imprisonment and murder of political opponents, religious dissenters, and others.

2003 - John McDonnell calls for IRA terrorists to be 'honoured', adding: "It was the bombs and bullets and sacrifice made by the likes of Bobby Sands that brought Britain to the negotiating table."
- Andrew Murray, member of the Stalinist aligned Communist Party of Britain expresses his party's support for the totalitarian dictatorship of North Korea stating "Our Party has already made its basic position of solidarity with Peoples' Korea clear".
- Murray is appointed Chair of 'Stop the War'.
- Corbyn writes opposing action against North Korea: "The declaration of North Korea as some kind of threat is [...] a pretext for stepping up economic and military pressure on that country. [...] I suspect this will be used to weaken or destroy the North Korean economy to force some kind of integration between North and South Korea. Then we may see the spread of free market capitalism into North Korea.” He also blamed the West for the Cold War stating the Soviet Union was “no real threat” and was opposed because “the West has sought to politically attack socialist systems”.
         - Abbott sends her son to a £12,700 a year private school in Westminster. She had previously attacked Tony Blair and Harriet Harman for sending their children to selective state schools, saying (about Harman) "She made the Labour Party look as if we do one thing and say another." In 2010 she defended her decision with the racist argument that "West Indian mums will go to the wall for their children" and argued that white colleagues "would never understand" because she came "from a culture where whatever you can do for your children you do."

*McDonnell's statement above is false. Britain offered a reasonable settlement in NI as early as 1973, in the Sunningdale Agreement. By 1985 Britain's enforcement of the Anglo-Irish agreement demonstrated it was prepared to impose a reasonable solution over Loyalist objections. The IRA chose to fight in an attempt to force the British out of NI through terror and violence, against the wishes of most of its population. Only when it became clear as the years wore on that the British would keep fighting back and could not be forced out did the IRA consider accepting a negotiated solution.*

2004 - McDonnell receives award for "unfailing political and personal support he has given to the republican community" from an IRA terrorist who in 1973 bombed the Old Bailey, killing one and injuring almost 200.
- 'Stop the War', of which Corbyn is a leading figure, issues statement supporting the Iraqi “struggle” against British troops “by any means necessary".

*The Iraqi 'resistance' was made up of assorted Baathist fascists, Islamist extremists and criminal gangs, and was responsible for mass murder, kidnapping, torture and huge destruction of the nation's infrastructure, representing around 85% of those killed in Iraq from 2003-2014*

2005 - Corbyn becomes a regular columnist for the far-left Morning Star, the newspaper that officially supports the Communist Party of Britain and its political platform. From the 1940's to 1980s it was infamous for its support for Soviet dictatorship and oppression in Eastern Europe, including show trials of anti-Communist patriots, repression of pro-democratic protests in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968, and for being directly funded by the Kremlin.

2006 - John McDonnell runs for Labour Leader against Gordon Brown.  His campaign manager, one Owen Jones, tells the Weekly Worker, the paper of the Communist Party of Great Britain, "I am a Marxist and I am involved in this campaign". "The fundamental thrust [...] is the fight by Marxists to win over larger sections than themselves to Marxism." and when asked "in the meantime, you are keeping your Marxist powder dry?" he answers simply "Yes, I am."

2005-2015 - Corbyn and Abbot help found the Venezuala Solidarity Campaign, still active today.  Corbyn is a strong supporter of Chavez's Venezuela, repeatedly praising it with statements such as "Chavez showed us that there is a different and a better way of doing things", and "It’s called socialism, it’s called social justice".

2008 - Diane Abbot argues that Mao Zedong did "more good than harm" on BBC's 'This Week' politics programme, saying "He led his country from feudalism, he helped to defeat the Japanese and he left his country on the verge of the great economic success they are having now".

*Mao Zedong probably ties with Hitler for being responsible for more deaths than any single person in modern history. His regime 1949-1976 killed millions directly through shootings and re-education camps in the anti-landlord, anti-counterrevolutionary and anti-Rightist campaigns, and killed tens of millions indirectly through the famines caused by his 'Great Leap Forward'. His 'Cultural Revolution' resulted in millions more deaths and the widespread destruction of irreplaceable, historical Buddhist, Taoist, Christian and other religious buildings, artifacts and art, as well as the murder of those practising any religion. Only after his death when Deng Xiaoping reversed his policies and reformed the Chinese economy on Capitalist lines did China's remarkable economic growth begin.* 

2009 - Corbyn invites Hamas and Hezbollah to the HoC saying "It will be my pleasure and honour to host an event in Parliament where our friends from Hezbollah will be speaking. And I’ve also invited friends from Hamas to come and speak as well."
- Corbyn campaigns for Hamas to be removed from the list of terrorist organisations calling it "a big, big historical mistake" and calling Hamas an organisation for "social justice and political justice" in the Middle East.

*Hamas is a terrorist, anti-Semitic, extremist Islamist organisation that currently runs a brutal military, Islamist regime in Gaza. Its tactics include frequent use of torture, human shields, random bombing of civilians, and mass extra-judicial executions. It's fundamental charter includes anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and refers approvingly to the anti-Semitic forgery the 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion'. Hezbollah is a similar terrorist organisation banned by the Arab League, United States, France, the Gulf Cooperation Council, Canada, the Netherlands, Israel, The EU, New Zealand, the UK, and Australia *

2009-2012 - Corbyn is paid £20,000 for appearances on Press TV, the propaganda arm of the Iranian Islamist State, a channel banned in the UK for its part in filming and broadcasting the forced confession of an Iranian journalist who had been arrested and tortured. Corbyn last appears 6 months after OfCom withdraw their UK licence.

*The Islamist Govt of Iran is a Shia fundamentalist regime notorious for imprisoning dissidents, executing homosexuals, imprisoning and torturing Christians and other religious minorities, and funding and supporting a range of Shia militias and terrorist groups across the Middle East, fuelling wars from Syria to Yemen*

2009 - Seumas Milne writes in the Guardian defending the Stalinist Soviet Union and attacking any claim that Stalin's regime bore responsibility for World War 2. He attacks East European politicians for comparing Communism and Nazism as similar evils. He attacks Britain and France and claims they are far more responsible for WW2 than Stalin's Soviet Union.

*Stalin's regime concluded an Alliance with Nazi Germany in 1939, the famous Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. This alliance divided Eastern Europe between the two dictatorships. Stalin jointly invaded Poland with Hitler and conquered the Baltic States. Hundreds of thousands of Poles and Balts were murdered by the Stalinist secret police by shooting or in the Gulag over the next two years, a preliminary to the suppression of democracy and campaigns of murder that would engulf Eastern Europe after Soviet Victory in 1945, and keep Eastern Europe under repressive, totalitarian regimes for 45 years*

2010 - At a Labour Leadership GMB Union hustings John McDonnell 'jokes' about murdering Margaret Thatcher during the 1980s.

2011 - Corbyn addresses Press TV, the Iranian propaganda channel, and calls the death of Bin Laden “an assassination attempt, and yet another tragedy upon a tragedy, upon a tragedy.”
- Corbyn becomes Chair of 'Stop the War', taking over from Andrew Murray of the CPB.
- Corbyn votes against the 'Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act' that was designed to replace Control Orders with more focused and targeted measures.
 - Corbyn attacks NATO, demanding that the radical left "have to campaign against NATO's power, its influence and its global reach"
- McDonnell praises violent riots the previous year saying "students kicking the shit out of Millbank [...]  that's the best of our movement". He defends a student jailed for endangering police lives by throwing a fire extinguisher from a tall building at police, saying "he’s not the criminal. The real criminals are the ones [...] increasing the fees". He supports further rioting saying "We’ve got to encourage the direct action, [in] any form it can possibly take"

2012 - Abbott is criticised for racist statements on twitter - "White people love playing 'divide and rule' We should not play their game"

2013 - Corbyn writes on Twitter and Labour websites praising Hugo Chavez of Venezuala on the event of his death.
- Corbyn votes against the 'Justice and Security Act 2013', designed to allow private trial of a limited number of terrorist cases where public trial would endanger secret intelligence sources.
- McDonnell welcomes the 2008 economic crash at an anti-cuts meeting. He says "I've been waiting for this for a generation!" and "I'm straight, I'm honest with people: I'm a Marxist." He later claims this was a 'joke'.

2014 - McDonnell 'jokes' about people wanting to murder a female MP, Esther McVey, at a Labour fundraising comedy event, Corbyn and Abbott are also there. He later calls her a "stain on humanity".
- Corbyn argues against "legal obstacles" for fighters returning from fighting with ISIL in Syria unless it can be judicially proved a crime has been committed, despite the obvious problem of collecting such evidence for crimes being committed in Syria. He argues we should not make “value judgments”, or take action against those who express support for terrorism.

*At this time it is well known that ISIL are committing genocide, slavery, mass rape, etc.*

- Corbyn attends event in Tunisia to hear speeches from members of Hamas, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, both proscribed terrorist groups responsible for murdering civilians in Israel and Palestine, as well as Ramsey Clark, a genocide denier and vocal supporter of Slobodan Milosovic, Serbian dictator primarily responsible for genocide and war crimes in the Yugoslav wars of the early 90's.'
- Stop the War, of which Jeremy Corbyn is Chairman, issues a statement attacking efforts to save Yazidis and Christians on Mt Sinjar and on the Ninevah plains from genocide at the hands of ISIL, referring to "“a false story”, “largely mythical”, “a false story of a massive Yazidi crisis” and “a non-existent siege”.
- Corbyn calls for NATO to be shut down and claims "Nato is an engine for the delivery of oil to the oil companies". Later once Labour Leader he refuses to state that he would come to the aid of another NATO country under attack.
- Milne writes repeatedly in the Guardian defending the Russian invasion of Ukraine, attacking the Ukrainian government as fascists, and attacking western govts for provoking Russian aggression by expanding NATO, in articles such as "Crimea is the fruit of Western Expansion". *Needless to say these are all propaganda lines of the authoritarian, quasi-fascist Russian state*.
 - Jeremy Corbyn speaks at a seminar called "The All Encompassing Revolution" celebrating the 35th Anniversary of the Islamist Revolution in Iran, an event organised by supporters of the Iranian Government, alongside representatives of the Iranian Govt and Shia militias in Iraq.
- Venezuala enters Recession. As of 2017 it is still in continuing recession, with extreme poverty, malnutrition and deaths due to basic healthcare shortages increasing rapidly.

2015 - Corbyn becomes Leader of the Labour Party, appoints McDonnell as Shadow Chancellor, appoints Seumas Milne as chief spin doctor.
- Corbyn asked to condemn IRA murders can say only "I condemn what was done by the British Army as well as the other sides."
- Stop the War, the organisation Corbyn helped found, and had been chair of since 2011, issues article praising the "internationalism and solidarity" of ISIL, and compares them to anti-fascists fighting in Spanish Civil War.
- Corbyn calls the Communist newspaper The Morning Star, for which he is a contributor, “the most precious and only voice we have in the daily media”. He ceases being a contributor after becoming Labour Leader.
- Corbyn speaks out in support of the Venezuelan government at an event held by the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign. Later this year he deletes articles supporting the Venezuelan regime from his website as that country slides deeper into violent oppression and recession.

2016 - Andrew Murray leaves the far-left Communist Party of Britain after 40 years as a member and joins Labour. Corbyn appoints him as 'Election Coordinator' with responsibility for preparing the party for a future General Election.
  - The Morning Star, the Communist newspaper of which Corbyn is a regular contributor and reader, reports the Assad Regime's final reconquest of Aleppo with the headline "Final Liberation of Aleppo is in sight".
- Corbyn praises Communist Dictator Fidel Castro on his death, commending his "heroism", and calling him "an internationalist and a champion of social justice." He sidesteps questions about Castro's decades of violent dictatorship, his oppression of democratic protests, his murder of political dissidents, and his ruinous economic policies that continue to impoverish Cuba.
- Venezuela increasingly falls into a socio-economic crisis caused by the Regime's hard-line Socialist policies. As of 2017 it is in deep recession, with soaring poverty rates, hyperinflation, and terrible shortages of many basic commodities including food. Over 160 protesters have been killed in recent months in large scale protests, and many opposition politicians arrested and jailed and, it has been claimed, tortured.


Sources
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4571924/Corbyn-s-30-years-talking-terrorists.html
https://order-order.com/2017/05/31/top-irish-historian-corbyn-didnt-support-ira-ceasefire/
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Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Ascension Day - My Sermon

Last Thursday (and again last Sunday) Christians around the world celebrated Ascension Day, the anniversary of Jesus Christ ascending bodily into heaven, beyond all our physical universe, until he comes again in Glory.

My church in Wolston was so moved by this event it took leave of its senses/very generously trusted me to preach a sermon for the first time in church. Here it is in case anyone else might find it useful or inspiring. Feel free to steal liberally for your own sermon/talks/inspiration. The reading was Acts 1:6-14. 


"For a long time I have found the Ascension one of the most perplexing bits of the Bible. I think I've decided that is because the Ascension can be confusing, and it can feel like a loss. It can be confusing because, what does it mean that Jesus ascended into Heaven? On the most naive, physical interpretation he rose into the sky and then vanished. That makes it sound a bit Star Trek. But, what is important is not how it physically happened, it is one of the great and otherworldly miracles of God - a True Mystery,  that we can never fully understand with our limited, mortal perspective. And like all miracles its true importance is spiritual. We must understand why it happened, and what it means for our deepest spiritual life, our hearts and our souls.

Anyway, Jesus isn't described shooting upward and away like a rocket taking off, he rises above them, before being enveloped by a Cloud, and disappearing entirely from this world. At many times in the Bible God is described as being manifest in the world as in a great cloud, at the same time vast and powerful but hidden - when God descended on Mount Sinai to speak with Moses and the Israelites face-to-face, at the Transfiguration when the Father directly claimed Jesus as his Son, and more. A fine way for God's glory to be revealed, in part, to Man in a way our minds can at least begin to understand.

But Heaven is not physically above us, Heaven, like God, is in every direction and no direction. It is all around us and it is nowhere in this physical world. It lies in a totally different dimension, reached along a totally different axis to any in our material universe. It is a spiritual direction and axis that lies entirely beyond physical description. And straightaway the angels redirect the disciples' view back to earth.

And we know it is true, because there is no place where Jesus's body rests on earth. There is a tomb, but it is empty. You can go and see it in Jerusalem, there's no body there. We know where Muhammed's body lies, it's in Mecca, we know where Buddha's body lies, it's in India, we know where Marx and Lenin's bodies are, in London and Moscow. But though we know where Jesus was born, and we know where he was killed, and we know where he was buried, his body is not there anymore, it is risen, and it is ascended into Heaven.  

And the Ascension can feel like a loss as well, for that very reason, because how clear things would be if Jesus had never left, if he was still here in the flesh to lead us. We wouldn't have to make difficult decisions about priorities and strategies and plans. We could just follow, like sheep after their shepherd, knowing he would lead us the right way.

What a weight off our shoulders that would be!

It would be too easy though. We would never truly grow and take responsibility for ourselves and for the whole world, to fulfill our potential and become the free people Jesus wanted us to be. And with Jesus here in physical person he could never be with as many people as he needed to be, as he could be in the Spirit, as deserved to have Christ as a real presence in their lives. In his ministry on this Earth only a lucky few, such a lucky few, could sit and eat with him, could stand and hear him, could see him face to face.

But Jesus' ascension meant his ministry could become universal, as it must always be. It was not enough that Jesus could be with the disciples in the person. But he must be in heaven, and so able to be with us all, everywhere in the world at the same time through the Holy Spirit, where and when we need him.  With Stephen when he was being stoned evilly, with Paul on the road to Damascus, with us here in this building now, and at the same time with other Christians, and non-Christians, all around the world.

He had to ascend so he could take his throne and rule over all the world, and still be here with unlimited people through the Spirit. The Son was born as a human being, so he could be a brother and speak to us as a brother to his sister, as a friend to a friend. That is a personal and direct experience and relationship to God that no other method could replace. But through the Spirit, God does not only came next to us as a neighbour, but also lives in us and joins with our souls, filling us with grace and forgiveness so we can start afresh, with new opportunities, day after day. We should not mourn the departure of Jesus. We should be glad, because the departure of Jesus, means the coming of the Spirit, and the increase to Infinity of Jesus' capacity to be with not just a privileged few, in the right place, at the right time, but with all women and men and children across the whole world forever.

Christ's ascension was the last and essential part of his earthly ministry where God combined himself, united himself, with out material reality. In the words of the Prophet Isaiah, who lived five hundred years before Jesus, but still through God's grace saw Jesus' life, and described it in his Servant Songs like a man who was right there.

"He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
    and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of sorrows, who knew pain well.
Like a man people turn away from,
    he was hated, and we held him in contempt." and the prophet goes on. But now I want to focus on these words,

"He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
    and like a root out of dry ground."

God Almighty, the Holy Lord, the One who holds the whole Universe with its spiralling galaxies in the palm of his hand; he, himself, grew up from our ground, like the tender shoots we have growing in our gardens. He grew from our world, and he grew into our world, eating our food, drinking our water, breathing our air, beneath a blue sky just like the one outside.

And so he joined our mundane world with God's infinite, holy being. And his whole life that holy power burst out of him touching and transforming the lives of people around him. People couldn't help but be seized by his personality, his integrity, his love, his insight and wisdom, that we benefit from still today. But that was just the beginning. Being united with a sinful world carries a terrible price, Christ came to bear the whole world within him, so just as the world suffers pain and death, Christ suffered pain and death, murdered by fearful, sinful men.

And when they killed him, Christ's enemies thought they were done, they thought they had won, and the problem they had was solved forever. How wrong could any person be? But as we so rightly celebrated this Easter he rose again, proving that sin and death will not have the final victory. Will never have the final victory.

Please excuse that slight divergence from the Ascension itself, but I think it's impossible to properly appreciate this wonderful event, without refreshing the incredible passage of Jesus' life and ministry. Jesus' conception and birth, was the essential, beautiful moment of bringing Almighty God, the Holy One of Israel, into our physical, material world, and thus blessing it, making it holy forever. Jesus' mortal growth, and life and ministry, was the deepening of God's infinite and eternal joining with our small and passing nature, and the spilling out of his love and wisdom to fill our minds and souls with the light of a better and more hopeful way. His death, the sad but inevitable consequence of taking on our sinful, painful, world. His resurrection the inevitable result of God's overflowing, neverending, inexhaustible power and love.

And finally his Ascension, the cherry on top of the icing on top of the cake, the one thing that is left in this glorious story, to carry Christ's mortal body, the body which grew inside the young woman Mary from a single human cell; that fed at her breasts, that grew up and grew strong on bread and olives and cheese and meat, that was beaten and broken on Good Friday, and carried the wounds on his hands and his feet, and his side where the spear pierced him, but then had risen again!

That body that had carried our sin, and carried the pain of a human life with its scars and its suffering Ascended!

Ascended bodily into heaven and carried our  physical, mundane humanity to the glory of God the Father, heavenly and eternal, to sit on God's throne forever. Just as Christmas brought God down to grow up in the  earth in our human nature, so the Ascension carried our Humanity to be forever at the right hand of God the Father, to be glorified and worshipped by the Angels and the Saints for eternity. So a human being should be seated at the centre of everything that is and could possibly be, and so forever we have someone who knows and understands our weakness and our pain, because he has experienced it, and bears the scars still today.

And not just for this. Christ ascended into heaven bodily because he had already died and passed through resurrection, he could not die again, but he returned to our earth for a while to ensure the disciples knew and truly understood this glorious news, and to say goodbye for now to the people he loved, the goodbye he never had to time to say amid the confusion and terror of Good Friday. After this his ascension was the completion of the next stage of the Resurrection, but still, not its total and final completion.

For St Paul calls Christ's rising from the dead, and then his ascension into Heaven, the 'First Fruits' of the Resurrection. But First Fruits are only distinguished as the 'first' because there are second, and third, and fourth, and more and more until there is a complete and rolling harvest.

And we are that harvest!

Jesus said "I go and prepare a place for you", and that is what he is doing. As St Athanasius said, who helped write the Nicene Creed, the creed of the Church that unites Christians all round the world for the last 1700 years. As he said, "God became man, so man may become God". Not literally, in terms of his essence, there is only one God, this is no easy new-age trick, but in a very real sense nonetheless.

Through the Resurrection and then the Ascension Jesus' entirely human body is gone to sit on the very throne of God Almighty, creator and sustainer of all reality, at the very heart of all things; but not so Jesus himself could be there for his own sake, but to puncture a hole in the barrier of sin and darkness that separates us from the full and true presence and knowledge of God. So every one of us, and every person in the world as well, could have the chance to follow where he led, the chance for our humanity to be transformed into Glory, and leave behind fear and hatred and bitterness and envy, and all the evils that drag us down inside.

For Jesus the Resurrection and the Ascension happened close together, forty days apart, so the understanding of what was happening could be transmitted to the Apostles in human terms and from them through many generations to us. But for us it may actually happen as a much longer process, with more stages, but still truly all as part of the one same glorious "upward call of God in Christ".

What do I mean by that?

Well, for us resurrection begins not after our first bodily death, but, through Christ's grace, before it, as we first come to know and love and place our trust in Jesus; whether that happens as a child or an adult, all in one blinding flash of grace, or with a light that slowly grows from a tiny glimmer until it outshines the sun. That growing of God's love within us allows us to overcome fear and pain and guilt and grief, not all at once, but as time goes by and we discover and move deeper into love, not just our Love of God, but more importantly God's love for himself, and God's love for us, and God's love for the world.

That is how 'Man becomes God', as 'God became man', by joining in the stream of his love: never ending, never fading, never running out, through the Grace that is open to us thanks to Christ's descent to earth, and ascension again into Heaven. And you're never too young, and you're never too old, and there's a new chance each and every day to go deeper, and there's no bottom to that Well, it's as infinite as God himself, there is always just the chance for more and more riches of love and peace and joy and confidence.

And maybe you don't feel like any of those things right now. Maybe you feel angry, and hurt and sad, but that's alright. While we're still in this material world our resurrection and ascension can only be partial, there will still be ups and downs and griefs and pains, sometimes terrible. But still each and every new day there is the opportunity to be washed clean and hand our pain and grief and bitterness to God, and he will take them far away, so without that terrible weight we can dive even deeper into His love, that can bring us more and more peace. For we too, like Christ, must pass through mortal death before we can come to that complete and total ascension into God's glory and presence, and then we will be truly ascended, in harmony and at peace. But in this world it continues as well, and it isn't easy, but still it is powerful.    

How Powerful? Well, I remember Kevin, our vicar, saying once: 'I sometimes think, how must the disciples have felt coming down that hill after the Ascension and turning to each other and saying, 'Right, so what do we do now?'" And what a shower of reprobates they were! How many times did Jesus have to correct them and rebuke them, and still after three years they ran away on Good Friday, and still they didn't understand after the resurrection, but eventually when the Spirit came they did.

And after that history knows what they did. In their lifetime they took the Good News that God had come in our humanity, and he'd been killed, and he'd risen again and taken our humanity ascended into heaven, so the power of the Spirit came, so Men may be free of fear and guilt and hatred; and they took it from Rome in the West to India in the east, full of joy and hope, and founded a worldwide community that means we're here today, and they changed the whole world forever like nothing else. And if they can do it we can do it too! Through the power of the same Holy Spirit and with the presence of the same Ascended Lord Jesus Christ among us all.

Amen."