In my diary for Friday was an event I had been looking forward to. Guest at the official opening of Grace’s Place: children’s hospice. Grace’s Place has been developing a programme of care for very sick children and support for families in the Bury and North Manchester area for a couple of years. It was preparing for the long-awaited official opening. But then, with just a few days to go, the shock announcement that it will close. Despite the best efforts of management, staff and volunteers, sufficient money needed to sustain Grace’s Place has not been found. The amount given through state funding and the NHS has dwindled. It is impossible to make up such a shortfall through charitable giving alone. My question is, why is not the care of our children, the most vulnerable in society who rely totally upon us for their welfare, a national health care priority?
You may not have heard of a song called Slow Action of Love. It is by singer/songwriter John Coleman. John’s material is largely written out of his home in Australia. Nothing unusual in that. But John’s home is different. He lives in a L’arche Community in Hobart.
Another John: JeanVanier, founded L’Arche in 1964 in response to the treatment that people with learning disabilities faced in institutions. There are now more than 150 L’Arche communities in 38 countries around the world, where more than ten thousand people with and without learning disabilities create places of welcome and celebration, sharing in life together. Jean died on 7th May aged 90. Slow Action of Love is a description both of Jean Vanier’s love for people with learning difficulties but also God’s love for us. Bit, by bit by bit that love spreads out through time and space till one day everyone will now what that special love feels like. Jean Vanier’s special love and John Coleman’s expression of that love in his music give us a glimpse of just how amazing God’s love is.
- Since moving in we have been making a special room – a Godly Play Room.
- It is a room full of stories – so many stories it is like thousands of years of stories.
- It is a room for everyone but especially children – or people like children.
- It is a listening room, a sharing room, a creating room.
- Bring a child and come and see!
This week I have been on a Holocaust pilgrimage with 31 others from the Bury area – Jews, Christians and non-religious – but all sharing the same sense of purpose to learn about why and how the Holocaust was allowed to happen, to learn its lessons and back home to work to ensure it can never happen again. We walked in the footsteps of countless murdered men, women and children. We heard some of their stories. This one is about a Champion for Children’s Rights, this one is a homage to Janusz Korczak. You can read more about him at an online resource from where I have drawn some material for this blog. https://www.korczak.org.uk/
Janusz Korczak was the founder and principle of two orphanages in Warsaw. During his lifetime he was both renowned and loved as a doctor, writer, educator and fighter for the rights of the child.
He devoted his life to the needs and plight of children regardless of nationality and religion, even to the point of refusing to abandon his Jewish orphans when they were taken to the death camps of Treblinka. He refused to desert them so that even as they died the children would be able to maintain their trust in him. Janusz Korczak died with his children in 1942. His abiding legacy must be the championing of children. I wonder how far Korczak’s principle rights for the child are realised today in 2019?
“I call for a Magna Charta Libertatis concerning the Rights of the Child.
Perhaps there are more, but I have found these to be the principle rights.”Janusz Korczak
- The child has the right to love “Love the child, not just your own.”
- The child has the right to respect “Respect for the mysteries and the ups and downs of that difficult task of growing up.”
- The child has the right to optimal conditions in which to grow and develop
“We undertake to eliminate hunger, overcrowded conditions, neglect and exploitation. Suffering bred of poverty spreads like lice – sadism, crime, and brutality are nurtured on it.”
- The child has the right to live in the present
“Children are not the people of tomorrow. They are people today.”
- The child has the right to be himself or herself
“A child is not a lottery ticket, marked to win first prize.”
- The child has the right to make mistakes
“There are no more fools among children than among adults.”
- The child has the right to fail
“We renounce the deceptive longing for perfect children.”
- The child has the right to criticise “Children are not permitted to notice our faults and shortcomings. We appear before them in the adult garb of perfection.”
- The child has the right to be taken seriously
“You will never understand children if you belittle their qualities. Who asks the child for her opinion or consent?”
- The child has the right to be appreciated for what he is
“The market value of the very young is small. Only in the sight of God is the apple blossom worth as much as the apple.”
- The child has the right to protection
“We undertake to protect the child from all forms of violence and abuse.”
- The child has the right to respect for his secrets
“If a child trusts you with his secret, be grateful, for his confidence is the highest prize.”
- The child has the right to “a lie, a deception, a theft”
“He does not have the right to lie, deceive, or steal.”
- The child has the right to respect for his belongings
“No matter how insignificant or valueless – they are not just bits of rubbish!”
- The child has the right to education
“One is struck by the fact that everywhere military spending is greater than that for education.”
- The child has the right to a future on this planet
“We plunder mountains, cut down trees and destroy animals”
- The child has the right to forgiveness
“More often than not we are their harsh judges, rather than their counsellors and consolers.”
- The child has the right to protest an injustice “We must end absolute authority. Always listen and try and see things through the eyes of the child.”
- The child has the right to happiness “Let children drink in the joy of the morning. Show them love, kindness and understanding – set an example.”
- The child has the right to respect for his grief
“Even though it be for the loss of a pebble.”
- The child has the right to a Children’s Court where he can judge and be judged by his peers
“We are the sole judges of children’s actions, movements, thoughts and plans. I know that a Children’s Court is essential. I hope that in fifty years there will not be a single school, or institution without one.”
- The child has the right to be defended in the juvenile justice court system
“The delinquent child is still a child, who has not given up yet, but does not know who he is. A punitive sentence could adversely influence his future sense of himself and his behaviour. Because it is society that has failed him and made him behave this way.”
- The child has the right to commune with God
‘Do allow children to find him in quiet contemplation – in their souls’
- The child has the right to die prematurely “A mother’s deep love for her child must give him the right to a premature death. Not every bush grows into a tree.”
I spent an afternoon in a primary school on Thursday with Year 3’s. They were having an RE day investigating the story of the prophet Jonah.
Then next day I saw children from all over the country following the lead of Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg who decided to go on school strike at the parliament to get politicians to act on climate change.
My contribution to the school visit was the story of Jonah the Backward Prophet. This was not my story but a lovely script by Jerome Berryman, the creator of Godly Play. The story is told with beautiful wooden objects: the city of Nineva, a boat, a whale, and of course, Jonah. God tells Jonah to go to Nineva and tell the people they must change and become good. Jonah gets on a ship going in the opposite direction as far from Ninevah as you can go. God sends a storm and the sailors ask Jonah for help but Jonah does not help them. The sailors ask Jonah to pray to his God to save them but he is silent. Jonah does all the things a prophet is not supposed to do. He is a backward prophet. Eventually, Jonah tells the sailors to throw him into the sea and the storm will stop. They throw him in and the storm stops. Finally, after three nights in the belly of a big fish Jonah prays to God to save him. The whale vomits him up (the children like that bit) on the beach and he does go to Ninevah and tell them what God wanted him to say. It’s not the end of the story though. The people become good but Jonah is not happy. He wants God the punish the people for being bad even though they have become good! He sulks. When we wondered together about what was important in this story and what Jonah might do next the children of course were spot on. Jonah realised that he needed to listen to God even if it wasn’t what he wanted to do or what he wanted God to do!
The story of Jonah is the human story, our story. First we don’t want to listen to God, let alone follow what he might ask us to do. We are good at finding all sorts of ways to be far away from God. But, if we do decide to listen and follow we still want life our way, not God’s way. It must be so very trying for God. This can be likened to the way world leaders are responding to the burning issue of climate change. We are rapidly reaching the point where the damage we are doing to the planet is irreversible.
“Nelson Mandela once said: “Our children are our greatest treasure. They are our future. Those who abuse them tear at the fabric of our society and weaken our nation.” Human planetary abuse is, in a very real sense, child neglect.”https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/13/school-climate-strike-childrens-brave-stand-has-our-support
Thank goodness our children are taking matters into their own hands and becoming forward prophets about climate change!
This morning I stood in awe at the most amazing sunrise revealed behind the leafless skeletal branches of the trees opposite the White House. Here was a moment of breathtaking beauty. But the scene also revealed another image. The black trees cut through the distant blood-red glow, breaking the light into fragments. This reminded me of a well-known other image about the cracks that let the light in. This is an enduring image we can find in Hemingway and in a lyric from the influential singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen.
In 1929 Hemingway published a novel set during World War I titled “A Farewell to Arms”, and he discussed the universality of human pain and resilience, that we are all broken. That’s how the light gets in.
Cohen picks up this motif in a lyric: Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack, a crack, in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.
The words of Hemingway and Cohen have also been merged to yield the idea that breakage typically causes cracks, and light symbolically represents spiritual strength and insight.
This morning I felt keenly this image of brokenness and my brokenness. A bishop once described those in ministry, particularly the parish priest, as like a cracked, fractured pot, but still a vessel where we try to hold everyone in our hands and on our hearts to God. There will always be failure, there will always be brokenness but it is the cracks that let the light in.
Last week’s edition of Church Times ran a feature on courses and daily reflections for Lent. The titles include subjects such as learning to pray from those who talked to Jesus, hope and redemption, adversity to maturity, daring to see God now, and the beauty of the cross. The season of Lent reminds us more than any other season of the church year that we are broken as Jesus was broken but the cross, like my sunrise trees splintering the sky, is indeed the crack that let the light and as the poet, Emerson puts it: there is a crack in everything God has made.