Tag Archives: forgiveness

Cobblers Column: What would Jesus say to Ched Evans?

For the Dagenham programme on 17th Jan.

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After much speculation, Oldham Athletic have announced that they have decided against signing striker Ched Evans to play for the club, after staff and their families were, quite appallingly, subjected to threats from members of the public who disagreed with their initial decision. Evans was not a usual signing. He was convicted in April 2012 for rape, and was released on license in October last year after serving half of his five year sentence.

A lot has been written about him in the last few weeks with questions and arguments varying widely. Should he be allowed to continue his career as a professional footballer? Whatever happened to criminals having served their time? Or are some crimes so bad, that convicted criminals should be barred from certain prestigious professions? Should finding work post-prison be dependent on an apology and admission of guilt? Others are questioning whether his actions actually were rape in the first place. As I said, the arguments are aplenty and I’m not going to rehearse them all here. Needless to say, this whole sorry situation, so easily avoided, has ruined his life as well as that of the woman involved. For the purposes of this column, I am assuming that the jury made the correct decision in finding Evans guilty.

As a minister, it is my job to apply what the Bible has to say to us in real life situations. What would Jesus say to Ched Evans? And what would Jesus say to us in regard to the story?

There is an incident in the Bible where a woman was brought to Jesus. She had been caught in the act of adultery, which was against the religious laws. They wanted to stone her to death (or at least to trap Jesus into saying so). It is worth noting that the man caught committing adultery with her was not accused, exposing the double-standards of the people involved.

The woman is scared and awaits her judgement. Jesus shows compassion, whilst at the same time, upholding the law. First he says “Let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone”. Hearing this, her accusers started drifting away, aware that they too are guilty of something or other. Soon there was no-one left to condemn her. Jesus then turns to the woman and says “I do not condemn you either, go and sin no more”.

There are a couple of points here. First, the woman appears to be repentant – she is sorry for what she has done. Second, Jesus forgives her, but expects a change of lifestyle. So the good news for Ched Evans is that forgiveness and rehabilitation are possible if he is willing to repent, but the response to forgiveness is to change. None of us know the contents of Ched’s mind or soul, however, we have not heard much in the way of repentance from Evans, who maintains his innocence. Added to this, the actions of his supporters in harassing the victim are despicable. Ched needs to “call off the attack dogs”, admit his part in the saga, and commit to a new way of life. But the invitation from God to a new life free from the past is there for him as it is for all of us.

There is another interesting application from the Bible story above. When Jesus said “let those without sin cast the first stone”, the people, previously out for blood, started drifting away. There is another part of the Bible where Jesus is talking about judging others, and is quoted as saying “Why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.”

We may not have committed rape, or been convicted for anything, but the likelihood is that we have wronged others or messed up in some way or another. There are parts of our own lives that need addressing – this goes for everyone.

The point is not that we shouldn’t judge others, but before we judge others, let’s take a good hard look at aspects of our own character and work on those. This is likely to make us more compassionate and forgiving towards others.

Let’s hope that the guys continue their good form and make light work of Dagenham today!

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Cobblers Column: A new Start

I’ve been asked to write a column in the Northampton Town F.C. match day programmes for some of the home games. Here’s todays offering for the game against Mansfield.

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sixfieldsI’m sure no-one will disagree with me when I say that last season was difficult for Cobblers fans. A poor start, some injuries and a bit of bad luck led to us spending 7 months in relegation zone. We ended on a high after our great escape and a good run of form at the right time, and condemned poor Bristol Rovers to life in the Conference. They only spent 70 minutes in the relegation zone all season, but it is the place at end of the season that matters. 

But that was last season, and here we sit at the start of a new one with a new sense of optimism. We get to start again with a clean slate. Mathematically at least, everyone has the same chance of finishing in the promotion places. Last season is history.

It’s not often we get to start again with a clean slate in our own lives. Our history, good or bad, becomes part of us and it follows us around. Cleaning our slates is more difficult. Grudges get picked up and are hard to shed. Reputations are hard to restore. Actions cannot be undone. There may even be things we want to erase.

Difficult but not impossible. For a new start, we need to acknowledge our past in order to start again.  Words like ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘I forgive you’ can help heal relationships. ‘I made a mistake’ can restore integrity. ‘I don’t hold it against you’ can help us drop grudges. These recognise the past without making light of it. The past does matter, but we do not have to be bound by it. We can make steps towards a fresh new beginning.

Like all of you, I will be cheering the lads on this season, starting today with the visit of Mansfield. Last season is history and I’m sure we’ve learnt a lot from it. This season we have a whole new opportunity.

Never too late.

AK-47_type_II_Part_DM-ST-89-01131

A couple of weeks ago I came upon this story in the Independent newspaper: The Dying Remorse of Mikhail Kalashnikov.

Kalashnikov invented the infamous automatic rifle, the AK-47, and as the article says, it’s the “weapon of choice, for revolutionaries, drug cartels, terrorists, kidnappers, pirates and soldiers”. Despite the 100m weapons in circulation, Kalashnikov made surprisingly little money from his invention. It was simply designed and easy to copy. Still it has been responsible for who-knows-how-many millions of lives to be cut short.

Earlier in his life, Kalashnikov justified his invention like so: “It is not my fault that the Kalashnikov was used in many troubled places. I think the policies of these countries are to blame, not the designers.”. He may have half a point. The designers of a bread knife cannot be held responsible if that knife is used in a fatal attack. Yet an AK-47 is not a bread knife. It was designed in order to put together and shoot quickly and repetitively. It’s purpose is to kill.

Yet still, the burden of this knowledge must have become a weight upon him. At the age of 91 he first entered a church, and asked to be baptised.

“My spiritual pain is unbearable. I keep having the same unsolved question: if my rifle claimed people’s lives, then can it be that I… a Christian and an Orthodox believer, was to blame for their deaths? The longer I live the more this question drills itself into my brain and the more I wonder why the Lord allowed man to have the devilish desires of envy, greed and aggression”.

The same day I read this article, I happened to be reading a section of Matthew’s gospel, and the parable of the workers in the vineyard. A landowner is looking to hire labourers for a day’s work on his land. He goes down to the market place (the job centre of the day) and hires some men who have not yet found work, promising them a denarius for their day’s work – this was the going rate for a labourer at the time. A little later, around lunchtime he goes down again and hires some more men. And twice more, in the mid and late afternoon he finds some more men. At the end of the day the men line up to receive their pay, starting with those who came last. Those who had worked only a few hours received a whole day’s pay – one denarius. As did those who were hired in the afternoon and at lunchtime. When the turn came of those who were hired first to be paid, they thought they may  be entitled to more, but they received exactly what was promised to them – one denarius for a day’s work.

It seems the Church is there, as it should be, for the spiritually broken, no matter how severe the crimes or burdensome the guilt or how late in life they come. This is the point of faith, that we all have messed up and called far short of God’s standard, yet through the sacrificial death of Jesus, we can hear the words “You are forgiven” and be welcomed into God’s family. We all get the same reward, whether we’ve been trying to follow Christ for our entire lives, or whether, like Mikhail Kalashnikov, it takes us until our tenth decade to discover him.

Well done to the Orthodox Church for welcoming him in, declaring his sins forgiven through Christ, for easing his guilt. He has received the same reward available to all who come to Jesus.

Truth telling and forgiveness by @scotmcknight

Telling God the truth awakens forgiveness. Sometimes one gets the impression from misguided experts that God is holding a club over our heads, and the moment we tell the truth he cracks us a good one and then says, “you ugly little sinner!”
But Abba is not like that. The promise of the Jesus Creed is that Abba loves us. He creates us to love him; he desires our fellowship. So, truth telling is not an opportunity for head bashing, but an opportunity for the heart of Abba to be thrilled by reconciling forgiveness.

Scot McKnight in The Jesus Creed

Why Forgiveness is important in society

From Walter Brueggemann in ‘The Prophetic Imagination’

If a society doesn’t have an apparatus for forgiveness then its members are fated to live forever with the consequences of any violation. Thus the refusal to forgive sin (or the management of the machinery of forgiveness) amounts to enormous social control. While the claim of Jesus [to forgive sin] may have been religiously staggering, its threat to the forms of accepted social control was even greater.

A message of hope from the Queen at Christmas


In her Christmas speech today which is broadcast live to over a billion members of the British Commonwealth worldwide, the Queen spoke about Jesus as the bearer of forgiveness and with the power to heal.Finding hope in adversity is one of the themes of Christmas. Jesus was born into a world full of fear. The angels came to frightened shepherds with hope in their voices: ‘Fear not’, they urged, ‘we bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general, important though they are, but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.

Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It can heal broken families, it can restore friendships and it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God’s love.

It is worth watching.

The Secret Life of Bees

Having just finished the novel, The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd in advance of our book group meeting tonight, it just leaves me enough time to write a quick review of it. I have actually read this book before, about five years ago after coming back from a long summer of work experience and holiday in South Carolina, where the book is based and where the novel is set.

It is also, following Generation A by Douglas Coupland, the second book running that our group has read where some of the major developments rely on bees.

Set in the deep south the 1964 , the year the civil rights act was passed, it follows a young teenage girl called Lily Owens who lost her mum when she was four. Her father was a bitter and angry man who ran a peach farm. Since her mother died she was being brought up by Rosaleen, one of her father’s black workers who he plucked out of the fields to work as a nanny. Lily misses her mother and misses real love and affection from anyone except Rosaleen and she treasures the few trinkets she has as a memory of her mother – including an icon of the black Madonna which bears a handwritten inscription, Tiburon, SC.

One day when Lily was about 14, she was accompanying Rosaleen into the nearby town to register to vote. Many of the white men didn’t want blacks registering and Rosaleen gets herself into a scrape which results in her being charged, beaten up and jailed. That night, afraid of the fury from her father, Lily breaks Rosaleen out of the hospital where she is being held and they run away  – towards Tiburon.

There, they stumble into the place which was the origin of her mother’s Black Madonna icon, a pink house of middle-aged black sisters, August, June and May, who keep bees and make Black Madonna honey.  Lily lies about who she is but it later transpires that they knew from the outset – as her mother had been there ten years earlier. She is welcomed and is slowly healed of her hurts and pain, and gradually learns the truth about her mother and the accident that killed her.

It is beautifully written, with deep characters and rich descriptions of the pink house, the process of keeping the bees, and the rather odd rituals of the sisterhood of women. There are also two scenes of racial tension which transport you into the mood of the time. The novel speaks of out need to be loved and accepted right from early on in our lives. When this isn’t there it pervades and colours everything else and one cannot really move on until it is dealt with. In the house, Lily is loved and accepted. There is no pressure for her to tell the truth about who she is but the sisters allow that to come out in her own good time, only after she knows she is safe. Lily had to learn how to trust, receive love without feeling undeserving, and ultimately, to forgive herself for her unwitting part in her mother’s death.

There are many phrases and quotes of the book which I liked. For example, when Lily first enters Tiburon and finds herself staring face-to-face with the same picture of the Black Madonna which is adorning a honey jar in the general store, Lily muses:

I realized it for the first time in my life: there is nothing but mystery in the world, how it hides behind the fabric of our poor, browbeat days, shining brightly, and we don’t even know it.

Some of this mystery comes alive in the author’s description of keeping the bees.

She was also looking for herself. As August was telling the story of a statue of the Black Mary whilst they were both preparing the honey jars, Lily reflects:

I was so caught up with what August was saying I had stopped wetting labels. I was wishing I had a story like that one to live inside me with so much loudness you could pick it up on a stethoscope, and not the story I did have about ending my mother’s life and sort of ending my own at the same time.

Everyone needs a story greater than themselves: this is, I believe, a universal truth of human nature. However, so often, the stories we do construct for ourselves are uninspiring or unhelpful and merely obscure the person we were created to be. Lily learned that she had to own parts of her true story and come to terms with it, as the same time as realising that this story didn’t define her. There was another story of who she was and what she could become.

Ultimately, the novel is about healing, redemption, self-awareness, forgiveness and love. Not romantic love, but the everyday love and stability of a close-knit community that does wonders for an individual’s self-worth and self-perception – the simple act of living life alongside each other. Lily needed to love herself and know that she was loved.

Score 4.5/5. I wonder what the group will think this evening!

There is also a rather fine movie of the book starring Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Hudson, Queen Latifa, Alicia Keys, and Sophie Okenedo