True compassion means praying for UKIP


We pray for the leader of the UK Independence Party, Nigel Farage, who is in hospital following a light airplane crash.
We would also like to pray for our outgoing MP, for all the things he has done and for our new MP as he takes up his new role.

– Prayers of Intercession, Sunday 9th May

In church this morning this was what the lady doing the Prayers of Intercession said. I looked up sharply and didn’t know whether to laugh or snort in derision.

Praying for Nigel Farage. Seriously?

For that matter, praying for both MPs and not just the one I supported? This was not an intercession I felt at all happy with. Until I realised how much the last month of politics has chipped away any thoughts of compassion or understanding I might have had for the opposition.

It reminds me of Tom Lehrer’s song National Brotherhood Week:

Oh, the white folks hate the black folks,
And the black folks hate the white folks.
To hate all but the right folks
Is an old established rule.

But during National Brotherhood Week, National Brotherhood Week,
Lena Horne and Sheriff Clarke are dancing cheek to cheek.
It’s fun to eulogize
The people you despise,
As long as you don’t let ’em in your school.

Oh, the poor folks hate the rich folks,
And the rich folks hate the poor folks.
All of my folks hate all of your folks,
It’s American as apple pie.

But during National Brotherhood Week, National Brotherhood Week,
New Yorkers love the Puerto Ricans ’cause it’s very chic.
Step up and shake the hand
Of someone you can’t stand.
You can tolerate him if you try.

Oh, the Protestants hate the Catholics,
And the Catholics hate the Protestants,
And the Hindus hate the Muslims,
And everybody hates the Jews.

But during National Brotherhood Week, National Brotherhood Week,
It’s National Everyone-smile-at-one-another-hood Week.
Be nice to people who
Are inferior to you.
It’s only for a week, so have no fear.
Be grateful that it doesn’t last all year!

– Tom Lehrer

It feels as if election campaigns are a chance for anti-National Brotherhood Month. For a few tense and intense weeks the general public express views that range from being mildly wary of immigration to downright racist. The media speculate openly about candidates’ class, speaking about “posh” people in a way that if the subject were the opposite would be unacceptable. Those not voting for the BNP or UKIP deride those that are, without considering their reasoning may be borne of personal experience and pain.

Yes, Nigel Farage is responsible for some of the rabble-rousing and anti-Brotherhood feeling, but he was also injured quite badly and deserves as much compassion as we would give people whose views we do agree with.

But I’m not that good. I do feel ashamed at my reaction to the prayer this morning: shame at my own failing to love my enemies, shame at my sheep-like enjoyment of following trends and reserving contempt for people I have never even met.

I am afraid of what other parties could achieve through power – and not just the more extreme ones. But what other options are there besides protest or prayer?


Oppressed by pleasure


lord for the years(sorry it’s a little blurred, was trying to be surreptitious in church… i don’t recommend it)

Lord, for our land in this our generation,
spirits oppressed by pleasure
wealth and care.

(Timothy Dudley-Smith)

Mr Dudley-Smith seems a cheerful soul. This particular verse ends with the sentiment: Lord, be pleased to hear our prayer. As if, thank God, these heathens with all their oppressive pleasure have realised they’d be far better praying.

I heard a brilliant joke by John Bell the other day. A friend of his had spent his honeymoon at Spring Harvest (no comment) and when asked how it was, this friend said:
“Oh wonderful. All through the consummation of our love we would stop to get down on our knees and pray to the Lord our thanks for being there together..”

To which John says: “Well that shows a terrible attitude, because you should be able to pray in any position.”

I find trying to pray while commuting really bloody hard: it’s a difficult exercise in focus and function. Inevitably you find yourself praying in the moment, but that particular moment could range from worry over work to discomfort over your neighbour’s body odour. And I’ve seen the crazies that close their eyes and mouth their musings to the Lord (I’m guessing), I don’t want to be one of them.

Hang on, is that last sentence what Timothy Dudley-Smith meant by “care”??

Commuter SM (Second Monday)


Another Monday and another talk. This time Brian McLaren who was Praying Naked and assured me at Track 1 that I was missing nothing by merely listening later. His confidence might suggest otherwise…

What, I can’t stray towards smut because he’s a respected Christian speaker?

At the beginning of his talk he invited listeners to join him in the Lord’s Prayer. This variation being that he would sing a line on one note and the audience sing it back, ascend another four notes per line, then process back down. He invited people to sing in thirds (or ninths, which confused me somewhat) and around North Dulwich I found my eyes welling with tears hearing several hundred people singing in simple harmony: “Our Father, above us and all around us.”

Whether it was the challenge to this ex-choir girl to find a harmony, or the abiding sense of communal spirit that still lingered in this mp3, I tried to sing along under my breath, but was stopped short by the full carriage of people around me.

I was reminded again of the man who had so loudly chattered away on his phone last week, like a seagull intent on making its presence known, but without offering a song or some natural beauty.

Would my singing along to the Lord’s Prayer be so wrong, when a girl to the left of me was singing softly to the strains of the latest pop song?

A little later in his talk, Brian alluded to the hypocrites who pray long and eloquently in public… could that also apply to someone singing a poetic version of the Lord’s Prayer in a crowded train carriage? The man had me coming and going!

This evening James Alison waxed lyrical on the joys of undergoing atonement, of sin as something that is recognised through the process of its being forgiven. He has a fascinating theory of God as our victim propitiating our sins because we have demanded it, thus demonstrating our own (or the Second Temple’s) bloodthirsty and destructive nature, which has now been overturned.

I feel for a Monday this is heavy existentialist and liturgical going for even the most hardened of commuter theologians, but I have just finished celebratory work drinks so most things seem a little too much effort. And I am, I would hope, not just any commuter theologian…