Curtain poles have a purpose
“Finally,” concludes Stanisław Aronson in an excellent article in Wednesday’s Guardian, “Do not ever imagine that your world cannot collapse, as ours did.” Stanisław, now 93 years old and living in Tel Aviv, is a Polish Jew who survived the Warsaw ghetto, lost his family in the Holocaust and fought in the Warsaw uprising of 1944. And today he is alarmed. “I’m 93, and, as extremism sweeps across Europe, I fear we are doomed to repeat the mistakes which created the Holocaust.” Stanisław can see only too clearly the dangers of nationalism welded onto populism, above all the danger of lies. “Confronting lies sometimes means confronting difficult truths about one’s self and one’s own country.” His conclusion is chilling, we must not take our present, our way of life, for granted. “One moment I was enjoying an idyllic adolescence in my home city of Lodz, and the next we were on the run.” He could have been quoting here the dire warnings of the prophet Jeremiah to a people immersed in their own illusions. For they were banking on God’s protection irrespective of whether they were keeping their own side of their covenant with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So the prophet thunders in the temple which the people believed was inviolable. “Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!’” (Jeremiah 7:4) Even as they were threatened by the growing might of the Babylonian Empire, the people of Israel couldn’t bring themselves to believe that God, so to speak, would pull the rug out under their feet. And so they continued to do their own thing disregarding the steam of prophecies telling them to change and honour their God. Suddenly all changes. “Disaster overtakes disaster, the whole land is laid waste. Suddenly my tents are destroyed, my curtains in a moment.” (Jeremiah 4:20). We’ve been choosing curtains this week. In fact, only yesterday I drove away from Ikea – once we finally emerged – in car filled with curtain rails. For we are now in the next stage of moving into our new house now that the boxes are all unpacked. And we’re making good progress. In fact, we are enjoying moving into our new neighbourhood, a quiet suburban cul-de-sac backing onto fields. For the record (and this will take some believing) the estate agent was right – it is a pleasant place to live. And that’s the danger. For it is a real temptation to retreat from the world with all its confusion and uncertainties and live my life entirely within our new home with the occasional shopping foray and tourist visit. And then draw the curtains to keep the outside world outside. For it’s dangerous out there, especially nowadays when you factor in social media. Anyone gets involved will attract abuse from the internet trolls. Labour MP Jess Phillips reported this June: “In one night I received 600 rape threats. It was probably more, but I stopped counting." And our elected representatives face danger not just in virtual reality. Our own MP Rosie Cooper was targeted for a brutal murder at the hands of a banned neo-Nazi group. Even so, retreat into our own private world is never an option for a disciple of Jesus. We realise that we live in a transient world. Jesus teaches us not to be taken in by what would appear permanent like those huge building blocks of Herod’s temple. They were to disappear within a generation. Instead Jesus calls us to get out there, to be salt and light in our community, both local and even national. We cannot opt out – that would deny our vocation. So our involvement begins with a commitment to pray, even to pray for our fellow disciples who are seeking to bring God’s Kingdom into our messy world. “The first thing I want you to do” writes the apostle Paul to his friend is pray. Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know.” (1 Timothy 2:1) And that includes even Caesar and his officials, even those hostile to the Gospel. Even so pray for them. Then we are passionate for the truth: we refuse to be taken in by lies whoever spins them. As Jesus himself teaches: “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:32). Christians ask questions; we are not easily fobbed off. And then we resolve to work with our fellow disciples. Here we can be encouraged by sociologist Robert Belair who teaches “We should not underestimate the significance of the small group of people who have a vision of a just and gentle world. The quality of a whole culture may be changed when two percent of its people have a new vision.” But it’s not easy. “Christians are marked people,” writes Hugh Whelchel. “The world is watching. God’s major way of transforming the old society is to implant within it his new society, with its different values, different standards, different joys, and different goals.” Curtain poles have a purpose. They allow us to open the curtains and look outside. And they let the light in. For it is Jesus who is our hope for this dark world.