Justice and Mercy

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Justice and Mercy have met (Psalm 85)

Without fail the annual Northampton Diocesan Senior Leaders’ Conference makes me think, challenges the big issues of the day and develops my knowledge and understanding. This year’s reunion at the gloriously autumnal setting of Woodlands, Hothorpe Hall, Leicestershire, is no exception. Wandering around the grounds earlier today I spotted a sign saying something along the lines of ‘I must not believe I will remember it if I don’t write it down’ and that truly resonated. I am at that stage of life that if I don’t keep notes, thoughts vanish with very little prompting! So, here they are.

As part of our performance management cycle at St Anthony’s Catholic Primary School and Nursery, all teaching staff are expected to record six pieces of personal and professional development during the course of each academic year, with the following list of learning and possible actions becoming one piece of my own evidence. At the same time, I figured I might as well kill two birds with one stone and revisit my abandoned blog, with the vague aim that others might read this and learn something too. I recognise that my audience (are you both there?) may be interested in some sessions more than others, so if one paragraph doesn’t grab you, please scroll down and check out another before you move on.

First of all, should I choose to take back to school a little relaxation and renewal, I have a neat little stash of photos of the aforementioned quotes. These can be easily put into a PowerPoint, set to music and used for reflection at the start or end of a staff meeting. A gift!

Secondly, the very first session of Day 1 could, with a little simplification and adaptation, become a one hour workshop for in service training (Inset) or a guided prayer session in a different context.

Session One

‘Justice and mercy have met’

Psalm 85

Tarcisium Mukuka from St Mary’s University, Twickenham, London

There is one key message to take away from this: economical, political and sociological arguments against immigration and asylum seeking tend to omit love. ‘What’s love got to do with it?’ (Tina Turner’s line) – just as with the fallout from Brexit, the Christian message of unconditional love and truth have not been at the forefront of the media’s approach to these challenging issues. We need to raise our game. As Tar pointed out, the message of ‘peace’ is undersold – many consider it to simply mean free from conflict. In reality, peace translates as ‘shalom’ (is this Hebrew?), a sense of wholeness and completeness. Peace is about our relationship with our self; our relationship with others; our relationship with our environment.

Immigration, migration, refugees, asylum seekers – these not just contemporary issues. Using links to scripture, a historical picture of acceptance, rejection and completeness can be visualised – see the photograph of notes herewith. Incidentally, the number three in the Bible equates to completeness, with escalating degrees of completeness from three through 3+4=7, etc; 7×10=70 is REALLY COMPLETE! The scriptures used can be investigated as a class or as groups – for an Inset, I would do the latter. Key references are:

Gen 12.1-3
Ex 1. 1-7
Ruth 1. 1-5 (this short book was discussed as perfect to use in a number of ways, with migration lying at its core)
1 Pet. 2. 11-12
Eph. 2.11-22

Once these have been explored, further texts can be used to conclude and summarise the key messages. These are:

Gen. 1. 26-27
Deut. 10. 17-19
Rom. 12. 9-13
Heb. 13. 1-3
1 Pet. 4. 7-10
Lk. 12. 12-14

To conclude:

  • We are all made in God’s image so all are worthy of respect and goodness
  • Many of our spiritual ancestors were themselves economic and social refugees, as is the case with our genetic ones (ask your audience if they have ancestors who migrated here; whether they are migrants themselves)
  • The second commandment applies specifically to asylum seekers
  • What is our response? First and foremost, we must express love, as Christians we are hospitable. Day by day we must endeavour to emulate the example of Jesus

Incidentally, if you do decide to adapt this for your own training, don’t overlook a key fact – extracts can be dangerous as we can always find ones to match our message; it is probably equally ‘easy’ to find examples to counter these discussions. This was without doubt a strength of Tar’s presentation – it was balanced throughout and fully acknowledged anxieties, fears and prejudice in all societies when faced with an influx of ‘strangers’.

However you choose to do this, if you are able to get Tar to lead this for you, he will be ten times better than I! A warm, inspiring and endearing speaker.

Session two:

How ‘Family Lives’ works to support parents

Ruth Brenner-Ungar

Family Lives is a national family support charity providing help and support in all aspects of family life. They are there 24 hours a day, seven days a week, believing that happy children come from happy families. At the time of checking, their home page includes an article about becoming a father for the first time – I can imagine few parents who would not be interested in this insight!

The training session included a personally challenging task when we worked individually on a timeline of our life, charting times of loss, then sharing with our neighbour. It was humbling to hear some of these stories as we explored the impact of loss on children, linked to a parent being in prison, for example (in 2010, 17,240 children in the UK ‘lost’ a parent to imprisonment- explore Action for Prisoners’ and Offenders’ Families, part of Family Lives). From this session I will take back to school two things – the web link http://www.familylives.org.uk for our school newsletter to parents (almost 40% of parents feel no need for further support once they have engaged with this listening, supportive and non-judgemental service), and a discussion with child AB’s learning mentor, about providing him with a diary and art opportunities to give him a forum for expression – I am very concerned about how withdrawn he has become since learning about his father’s sentence.

At a personal level, a key message resonated: loss means change, but it is this change that brings about the greatest personal growth.

Learning mentors and teachers working with children as they deal with loss, could follow possible models which we discussed: ACT and AIM

           Acknowledge feelings (“I can see you’re feeling sad today”)

C             Connect with the child

T             Tools – what tools do I have to help? (What practical steps can be put in place to      support?)

As I write this, just two days on, I am already confused by my notes! Are ACT and AIM used together and individually? If you know, do add a comment in the space below this blog.

A            Acknowledge

I              Identify needs

M           Move things on

A number of interesting YouTube clips were signposted to us and one of my next steps is to check them out. They are:

Drinking tea (linked to issues of consent)

Dove Evolution Films – ‘A girl from Pisa’ (the effects of photoshop on body image)

If I have any secondary school teachers reading this, it is worth know that Family Lives run a series of workshops for schools, in particular a teenage programme aimed at the growing problem of porn addiction, ‘Planet Porn’. They also offer a programme that covers cyber bullying, name calling, media manipulation and how to stay safe in school – this is worth investigating from Year 6 upwards. If you want to explore any of these further, please contact me via the form below.

Session three:

The challenges refugee children face and they support they may need

Tesfamhret Tsegazghi, South Yorkshire Resettlement Manager for The Refugee Council

If you believe in human rights (most of my readers do, I imagine), this session could not fail to move you. Originally coming to the UK as a refugee from Zimbabwe, Tesfamhret captured our attention immediately with his first task. Each of us was told we were in group 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5, giving us different identities (as a group 3 member I was six years old). We then had to imagine we had just three minutes to pack five items before having to flee conflict.

At the first checkpoint, you have to bribe the guard to look the other way. What item do you give him? Shortly after that, you cross a minefield – most of you get to the other side safely, but group 3 get separated from their father and don’t know if he made it. Then you need to cross into another country, what item do you give up as a bribe?

Eventually your group makes it to a refugee camp and seeks asylum (incidentally, there is no such thing as a ‘bogus’ asylum seeker – the 1951 United Nations Convention gives each and every one of us the right to seek asylum under a set list of criteria). Group 3 – you are turned away as there is no male of working age in your group able to contribute to that country’s economy. Group 5 (seventeen year olds), you have to prove you are under 18 with the items you have left …

Tesfamhret then asked our group if anyone was an economic migrant, or had an ancestor or descendent who was. There were very few without a link in one or both directions! He made us think further – had anyone present moved from the north of the UK to the south, seeking work? You, too, have migrated.

This thought provoking activity and follow up discussion, then led naturally to the challenges faced by refugees once granted asylum. Incidentally, here is just one upsetting statistic – 48% of the children that the Refugee Council resettle have witnessed murder or abduction of a family member. It is inevitable that a range of barriers face refugee families as they try to rebuild their lives, hopes and dreams: language and cultural differences, trauma, family separation, fear, uncertainty, hostility.

The session continued with discussions about how to support these families (I have extensive notes elsewhere if anyone wishes to know more) and left me thinking that I must clearly identify those in school in particular need (most of ours are economic migrants; we do have at least one family seeking asylum) and focus on whether we are doing enough. The other key fact that I will take back to our context is not to use children as translators – investigate ‘Language Live’, a 24 hour translation service. Incidentally, I may have recorded this incorrectly – a quick search on Google is not bringing it up – please let me know if you have any suggestions.

Session four

What would it take to be a school for peace?

Matt Jeziorski from Pax Christi

Pax Christi is a Catholic group set up in post war 1945, with the mission to build peace not just at a political level. For example, they supported reconciliation in day to day lives between ordinary people in France and Germany. We started off by considering what it means to be a peacemaker, using a passage from Matthew 5: 38-42.

The verse about ‘if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also’ was explored through drama – in first century Palestine, the left hand was considered unclean and it was scandalous to use it against your enemy. This linked into those with power controlling those without; the scripture was neatly interpreted as meaning do not ignore conflict – do something about it (Matt did a much better job of explaining this!).

The next line about ‘going the extra mile’ again links back to the historical fact that Roman soldiers could stop anyone they chose and insist that person carry their bag; counter this request but continuing to walk with the luggage, irrespective of whether the soldier wants it back! Balance the power.

The final line about giving your cloak as well as the requested coat lost me somewhat – my note taking failed to keep up – but basically the entire passage is a blueprint for Christian peace making.

  • Seize the moral initiative
  • Meet force with humour
  • Recognise your own power
  • Do something about injustice
  • etc …

Another workshop activity really made us think, when the story of the Blessed Franz Jagerstatter inspired a task where we had to choose to stand against the ‘violence’ or ‘nonviolence’ wall. This went something like this, resulting in lots of movement to and fro as we considered, and reconsidered, where we stood.

  1. ‘Your country has asked for volunteers to fight. Where will you stand?’
  2. ‘Compulsory conscription is now in place. Where will you stand?’
  3. ‘You have a young family to support; there is no work. Now where will you stand?’
  4. ‘It is 1943, you are a German citizen. Now where will you stand?’
  5. etc, until finally …
  6. ‘You ask your priest for advice, he says fight for your country. Where do you stand?’
  7. ‘You ask your bishop for advice, he says you must fight for your country, now where do you stand?’
  8. ‘You ask your young wife, she says do what you think is right. Now where do you stand?’

There are many versions of this story online, do find one and read the outcome – I recommend www.catholiceducation.org

We then worked in four groups to decide what peace looks like in a school, using the headings campaigning, solidarity, education and prayer/liturgy, with a variety of practical ideas shared.

All in all, a very thought provoking conference with a number of practical outcomes that can be applied in a range of schools, not just those in the Catholic system. If anyone dares to challenge the cost of attending, reflect on the pricelessness of applying the lessons learnt. Through justice and mercy, we really can make a difference.

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This entry was posted in career, Catholic, Church, Diocese, education, Faith, Human rights, love, Parenting, prison, refugees, School, Teaching, Education and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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