15 Sep

Disturbing hope: Settle down in Babylon

PLant gardens and eat what they produce

My youngest helping to plant potatoes in our garden 2 years ago, he is now 3, the same age as drowned refugee Aylan Kurdi.


Most translations of the Bible subtitle Jeremiah 29 ‘a letter to the exiles’ or something similar.  Jeremiah’s words to those in Babylon then exiled from Jerusalem echo down the millennia into our current global situation:

‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.’

Back then I imagine this was the last thing the exiles wanted to hear.  The prophet, God’s mouth piece, telling them to make this strange land their home. The exiles opening the letter would be hoping to hear that things were changing, that they should prepare for action in readiness for a return home.  Maybe they hoped the prophet was writing with news that the Babylonians had been overthrown in Jerusalem. Maybe they hoped the prophet was writing with a strategy for undermining Babylonian power. I can’t imagine how they felt when what they read was an Old Testament equivalent of ‘calm down, calm down.’

Unwillingly living in the land of their enemy, full of anger and resentment following the trauma of seeing their own city taken captive, it would only be natural for them to want revenge, to ruin Babylon.  Yet God’s prophet tells them to settle down. Huh, not rise up? To marry the locals. Are you kidding? To seek the prosperity of Babylon. What, not Jerusalem?

How disturbing. I find the Common English Bible’s subtitle for the section the most pertinent, ‘Disturbing Hope: Settle Down in Babylon.’

Reading it now, it is also disturbing to realise that as a Christian in Europe, I am not so much exile but more Babylonian.  So, if Jeremiah was writing to the Babylonian’s, if Jeremiah was writing to those countries receiving exiles now, how would it read?

‘Give them land, welcome them; show them which crops thrive and share your family recipes. Educate them with your children, let them live, learn and love together with you that they might make families full of joy. Do not control their numbers. Encourage and enable their contributions, your future and that of your children depends on it.’

What are you going to do?








According to the United Nations Refugee Agency’s figures for 2014 there are globally 19.5 million refugees and 38.2 million internally displaced people (IDPs), 7.6 million IDPs in Syria alone. In 2014 there were 1.66 million applications for asylum worldwide, the highest number ever. It is likely the figures for 2015 will be similar or higher.




20 Jul

Little Girl, Arise

talitha cumYesterday evening 50 people gathered at St Peter’s in Woolton and we read through Mark’s Gospel together.

As I listened expectantly, prayerfully I was asking God for what I call His ‘holy highlighter’ to make something from His word jump out of the reading to stir the Kingdom in my heart and mind.  I think my prayer was answered with a huge, YES, here it is….

As chapter 5 was read the words ‘Talitha cum’ resonated, my soul fizzed and a kaleidoscope of ways in which Jesus is still saying ‘Talitha cum’ unfurled in my mind.

In the Gospel, Jesus says ‘Talitha cum,’ which means ‘Little girl, arise,’ to the centurion’s daughter who has died whilst Jesus was delayed on his journey to her.  She is restored, walks about and Jesus tells those caring for her to give her something to eat.

As I listen, those words echo through the centuries and Jesus says ‘Talitha cum, little girl, arise’ to His disicples, to the early Church, to the Church through history, to us to restore life now.

To His bride, the church, that is being lamented as dormant, irrelevant, dying, Jesus says, ‘Talitha cum.’  Get up church, arise. Don’t listen to the voices saying it is too late.  Live like the kingdom is near. With 50 people listening to the Gospel being read, signs of life are visible and encouraging.

To the women of the Church, as an Anglican my thoughts are particularly focused on the Church of England and the advent of a gender mixed episcopate, Jesus says ‘Talitha cum, little girl arise.’ Get up girls, take the opportunities that are open to us, walk around in the fullness of life, eat alongside our brothers. Shake off that imposter syndrome, don’t wait for male colleagues to ratify your ideas little girl, arise!

With that phrase, Talitha cum, jumping out of the reading I heard the rest of the Gospel with ‘little girl, arise’ acting as a lens, changing what I heard.

Talitha cum, as Jesus warns his disciples to remain alert, to watch out for His return, He says, “Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” Talitha cum. Keep awake, little girl, arise.  Don’t slumber.  Wait but not passively.  Arise whilst you wait, be vigilant, be creative build the Kingdom.

Talitha cum, to His disciples, the fledgling church, who fall asleep when He asks them to pray at Gethsemane. No longer gentle words of healing but a passionate, powerful call to action. “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough!” Tailtha cum.

With Christ’s words calling me to awake and arise, the Bishop’s letter telling me I am ‘ready’ to seek an incumbent status post echoes the call. Talitha cum.

wakey wakey small