The Mayor has given himself a challenging theme for his Mayoral year that of peace and unity. In our current national context where fears around religious fundamentalism, or fundamentalism of any kind are rightly feared, it is so important to articulate a hospitable and generous account of what it means for people of different faiths and none to work together for the common good. This is something that the new Mayor, Ramesh Srivastava has committed himself to, which is a truly noble task.
This year provides a great opportunity for the people of
Rugby to be
further united and to work for peace; we have come together today to
witness to what it means to be people of difference who work for peace and
Thich Nhat Hanh, an internationally known Vietnamese Zen Buddhist Monk, writes that:
'The practice of peace and reconciliation
is one of the most vital
and artistic of human actions.'
Jesus says in the Bible reading we have just heard:
'Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.'
and Dorothy Thompson, an American journalist writing and broadcasting in the 30’s and 40’s, famously known for interviewing Hitler comments, that:
'Peace is not the absence of conflict,
but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict-
alternatives to passive or aggressive responses,
alternatives to violence.'
In a multi-faith, no faith and multi-cultural society we need to find a common language which is enriched by many traditions and perspectives, but which can unite diverse peoples in common goals. Religions have always sought to encourage people to look beyond the basic materialism of our existence in talking of the soul and the spirit and inviting people to raise their expectations of what human well-being looks like. Humanists may eschew such language and yet they too yearn for human flourishing and well being. How might we as a nation with a strong Christian heritage creatively intertwine other faith and non faith perspectives in our language of the common good?
The language of values has been adopted in many areas of public life to attempt to do just that. The Christian values of faith, hope and love have been accompanied by the secular values of tolerance, equality and inclusivity. They are in many ways in creative tension with one another and the different perspectives challenge one another. How is tolerance challenged by the concept of love, for example, and how is the concept of faith challenged by the idea of inclusivity? Perhaps if we could have a real dialogue between the varying world views each one of us would be enriched and so too would our society. The Church of England for example is rightly challenged by the value of inclusivity as its exclusion of women and gays has been criticised. Christianity similarly often challenges politicians about their concern for justice for the poor. Together the world views can critique and refine the particular ideologies. For that to continue to happen we have to value practices of peace and unity, where dialogue is not about winning the argument, but exploring the implications together of different understandings and perspectives.
Some of the criticism being levelled lately at the nature of the dialogue in our parliaments is about a desire for a more virtuous debate. One in which ideas can be robustly debated for their merits and weaknesses. Such a dialogue may perhaps serve the common good better, but for it to work practices of communication across the political world and the media world would need to be reformed. All of us sitting here no doubt know the limitations of reported communication. For society to move forward we all have to learn to listen better and condemn less. Unity requires a generosity of spirit, a willingness to accept the validity of another’s viewpoint or argument.
Another key element of this Mayoral Year is of course the Commemoration events for the start of WW1; we are particularly reminded in these of the need for people who practice the art of peace making as we remember the cost to human life when nations engage in war. Peace making in a violent world is deeply costly. Speaking peace into conflict situations takes courage and it also means accepting our weakness and vulnerability. Power, strength and invincibility are the values opposing the practice of peace (yet ones which are propagated mercilessly by movies promoting violence and super power) -Peace making makes us vulnerable, for the peace makers are meek, gentle, persevering and courageous: ‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth’. Their power is the power of steadfastness and inner virtue.
I am excited by The Mayor’s ambitions for his year and deeply moved already by his ability to bring people of different faiths together. He has shown his commitment to peace and unity and I will be praying for him and his team as they seek to promote and influence the town and council this year through their hard work, dedication and most of all determined commitment to the values of peace and unity.
I commend The Mayor’s year and his intentions to you all and to the mercy and blessing of God. Amen