Holy Tuesday 2021

Reflection given at St Philip’s Avondale Square for Holy Tuesday Mass

Holy Tuesday at St Philip’s Avondale Square, Diocese of Southwark

Some Greeks Wish to See Jesus

20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.

Jesus Speaks about His Death

27 ‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—“Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him.’ 30 Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people[a] to myself.’ 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. 34 The crowd answered him, ‘We have heard from the law that the Messiah[b] remains for ever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?’ 35 Jesus said to them, ‘The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.’

The Unbelief of the People

After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.

John 12:20-36

“27 ‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—“Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.” These words from Jesus give us an important reminder of his humanity. Looking ahead to his trial, degradation, and ultimate execution, Jesus is not filled with heroic bravery. Nor is he stoic and passive, simply accepting what’s to come as an inevitability or something he cannot change. Instead, he is filled with fear and dread. He is deeply troubled. It is no wonder, then, that at the end of this passage he goes away to hide from the world.

So why does he continue? Why put himself through this gruesome ordeal when he could simply ask God to spare him from it all? Jesus goes ahead because he knows the revolutionary consequences his death and resurrection will have. He knows that his resurrection after being murdered by the imperial powers will bring liberation to the oppressed and will drive out the ruler of this world. He knows that death will be defeated, the weight of sin lifted, the marginalised drawn near to him, and the powers of the world completely overthrown and delegitimised.

Jesus calls us to follow him in the way of the cross, to leave behind the life we know and love to join him in bringing God’s liberative kingdom on Earth. And Jesus asks this of us knowing fully how daunting and terrifying that is. Looking around the world today, I can see Jesus standing in solidarity with all those who have no obligation to fight for justice and for the oppressed, but who choose to do so, knowing the risk and consequences such an act could have. I think of those in cities around the UK at Kill the Bill protests, defiantly protesting to keep our democratic rights and freedoms. I think of those in Myanmar who stand against the military coup, facing down a regime that has killed 500 people since February. I think of those who speak out against racism, homophobia, transphobia, and misogyny in the Church, bravely standing up to institutional power. Jesus, God made flesh, who was terrified at his own passion, blesses and walks with all those who stand up to injustice.

We all face trials and challenges in our lives that we’d rather shy away from: things we know we can’t do by ourselves; things we know are risky and potentially life changing. But let us remember that Jesus too was scared, and that in spite of his fear, his passion brought God glory. May we in spite of our fear walk in the way of the cross, becoming co-liberators with Christ. And may we glorify God through our actions, seeking justice for our communities, knowing Jesus stands with us in our fear anxiety. Amen.

Photo by Evi Radauscher on Unsplash

IR Made Easy: The Riyadh Agreement on Yemen

Since withdrawing from the Riyadh Agreement in January 2020 in protest against violence in Shabwa province and declaring self-rule in April 2020, southern separatists in Yemen, known as the Southern Transitional Council (STC), have now announced that they will abandon their aspirations of autonomy in order to implement the peace deal with the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. With major implications for the politics, military, security, and international relations in the region, this power-sharing deal could reshape the conflict in Yemen. So what is the Riyadh Agreement and why is it important?

What is the Riyadh Agreement?

Signed on 5 November 2019 in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, the agreement is a power-sharing deal between the Saudi-backed Hadi government and the UAE-backed STC. It allows for power-sharing between north and south and the return of Prime Minister Moeen Abdelmalek to Aden to set up state institutions.

As per the agreement, both sides agree to nine commitments:

  1. Full implementation of newly created Yemeni state instituions.
  2. Reorganisation of military forces under the Ministry of Defence.
  3. Regoranisation of the security forces under the Ministry of Interior.
  4. Complete citizenship rights for all Yemenis.
  5. An end to all offensive media campaigns.
  6. To work together to restore security and stability in Yemen and to confront terrorist organisations.
  7. Formation of a committee specialising in monitoring, executing, and implementing the agreement.
  8. Discussion of a final political solution to the coup staged by Iran-backed Houthi Militia.
  9. Immediate issuing of instructions to all of state institutions by the President to implement the agreement.

Political and Economic Implications

The political and economic arrangements of the agreement are set out in appendix 1. A new technocratic government is to be set up that has no more than 24 ministers – 12 from the north and 12 from the south. Those selected to be ministers must not have taken part in or incited people to participate in any clashes between the two sides. Furthermore, the Yemeni President must appoint new governors for the governates of Aden, Abyan, and Dhale.

The appendix also sets out rules for how state revenue is to be handled. All state revenues are to be deposited in the Central Bank in Aden and the government must follow an approved budget. To ensure government spending is held to account, a regular report that is transparent regarding government revenues and spending is to be presented to the parliament for evaluation and audit. This is likely to be unpopular in certain governorates – namely Marib, Hadhramaut, and Shabwa – that have taken control of their oil revenues.

Military Implications

The second annex to the agreement deals with military arrangements. All forces and artillery that moved towards Aden, Abyan, and Shabwa since the beginning of August 2019 will return to their former positions and will be replaced by official security forces. The only exception to this is The First Presidential Protection Brigade. In additon, Military forces will be reorganised and placed under the control of the Defence Ministry, particularly those in the governorates of Abyan and Lahij.

Security Implications

The final annex outlines next steps for Yemen’s security forces. The STC forces will be incorporated into the Ministries of Interior and Defence. Government and STC military forces will leave Aden within 30 days and Saudi Arabia will oversee security inside the city. Tasked with protecting civilian infrastructure, the interior ministry’s director for security will create a defence force.

Destroyed house in Sana’a. Photo: Ibrahem Qasim.

Implications for International Relations and Obstacles to Implementation

The situation in Yemen is complex with many factions and international actors at play. Implementing the Riyadh Agreement requires a high level of cooperation between warring Yemeni factions as well as between Saudi Arabia and the UAE. This may prove too difficult for the parties and no progress will be made in resolving the conflict. Furthermore, the agreement will be supervised by a committee established by the coalition; following the UAE’s withdrawal from Yemen, this will be dominated by the Saudis.

For the agreement to be a success, the UAE must prioritise its relations with Saudi Arabia over its support for the STC. This will prove to be difficult, as Saudi-Emirati relations have long been strained.

The agreement has also been critisised for not including other factions outside of the Hadi government and the STC. These two groups fundamentally disagree over the future of Yemen, with the former seeking unity and the latter seeking separatism. The Riyadh agreement is thus not a hollisitc, long-term solution for Yemen.

Yemenis are optimistic that the plan’s implementation will bring some stability to the nation. Former deputy prime minister and presidential adviser Abdulmalik Al-Mekhlafi described the news that the STC will implement the agreement as representing the start of a “new phase” in bringing peace to Yemen. But this “new phase” will only come to fruition if all sides keep their commitments and work hard to implement the plans in the agreement. It’s fair to say that although progress has been made, there is still a long way to go on the road towards peace in Yemen.

Sources

“Yemen’s Riyadh Agreement: An overview” (Al Jazeera)

“Yemen: Why the Riyadh Agreement is collapsing” (European Council on Foreign Relations)

“War and pieces: Political divides in southern Yemen” (European council on Foreign Relations)

Text of the Riyadh Agreement (Middle East Monitor)

Cover photo: Kingdom Centre, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Photo by Hala Al Ghanim on Unsplashed.

Self-Care: Because You’re Worth It

“Self-care is how you take your power back.”

Lalah Delia

“Think positively!’, “Don’t think like that!”, “Snap out of it!”, and “Just go and do something and you’ll feel better!”, are all shit pieces of advice that are offered on a regular basis to depressed people, often without malicious intent but instead a lack of understanding. Though well meant, these attempts at helping do more harm than good; they invalidate the thoughts and feelings we have, and place pressure on us to hurry our recovery and just simply feel better. So why do we tell ourselves the same things when we’re feeling down?

In my last blog I talked about accepting the feelings we have and the situations we are in. Once we do this we can begin to help ourselves, and a key part of helping ourselves is practicing self-care. The NHS beautifully describes self-care as follows:


“Self-care is about keeping fit and healthy, understanding when you can look after yourself, when a pharmacist can help, and when to get advice from your GP or another health professional. If you have a long-term condition, self-care is about understanding that condition and how to live with it.” https://www.england.nhs.uk/blog/what-does-self-care-mean-and-how-can-it-help/

In the context of mental health, self-care is something we do deliberately and consiously to take care of our emotional and mental health. It should be nourrishing rather than draining and not forced upon us – although taking the first step towards helping ourselves can seem impossible, futile, or unwanted. If we think we’re worthless, why would we deserve self-care? What’s the point anyway if I’m just going to feel shit again later?

God is an advocate of self-care. In 1 Kings 19 we learn about how Elijah flees from Queen Jezabel, fearing for his life. He’s deeply unhappy and completely fed up – so much so that “he asked that he may die” (1 Kings 19:4 NRSV), or as the Common English Bible translates it, “he longed for his own death.”

What would people’s advice for Elijah be? Perhaps they’d tell him to snap out of it, to think positively, to just pray harder, to focus on the positives. But God doesn’t say any of this. God tells Elijah to get up and eat and drink something, because he has a difficult road ahead of him (1 Kings 19:7 CEB).

When we’re depressed, self-care is vital, because the road to recovery is long and difficult. And this is something that we have to aknowledge, just as Elijah did. If we don’t look after ourselves, we won’t have the energy to start getting better, to engage with those trying to help us, and we won’t see that we deserve to feel better. Depression does not care that we feel shit, and sadly neither does a lot of society. Therefore we have to be the ones who care about ourselves the most, who show ourselves the most love, who aknowledge that we deserve to treat ourselves kindly.

“Acknowledge, accept, and honor that you deserve your own deepest compassion and love.”

Nanette Matthews

Self-care looks different for every person, and it took me a long time to workout what it mean for me. It’s a phrase that gets bandied about far too easily and can become a meaningless thing that we don’t know how to apply, so it’s important to spend some time thinking about the things that make us feel better – however marginally – to a baseline point from which we can start to work on our recovery. For me, this means making sure I take care of my personal hygeine, that I eat regularly and healthily, that I exercise, and that I talk to my friends. It also means that I allow myself time to do nothing and rest, to indulge in some chocolate, and to take away the feeling that I have to be productive and succesful 24/7. Because God didn’t tell Elijah to feed himself so that he can get back to work. God told Elijah to take care of himself so he could face the journey ahead of him, so that he could face the world from a baseline. God wants the same for us.

When life gets tough, working out what we need to do in order to look after ourselves is vital. Spend some time praying and thinking about what self-care looks like for you, and try to incorporate some of these practices into your daily life. You deserve to be happy and well, and you owe it to yourself to treat yourself nicely. You are made in God’s image and because of this you are worth all the care and love in the world. So take a bold step, and offer some love to yourself.